Joe Gasior

Candidate for Council-At-Large (2-year term)

gasiorHi, my name is Joe Gasior and I am running for Northfield City Council – At Large (2-year seat).   

I chose to run for the city council because I believe that Northfield is facing some very difficult challenges in the next several years.   

Some examples of these challenges include attracting new businesses to Northfield.  New businesses will help increase our tax base without increasing the burden on already over taxed homeowners.  The city’s annual budget over the next few years will also be a challenge. Though we are looking at growing our tax base, we are not there yet.  The general state of the economy, along with limits imposed by the state may negatively impact what the city is able to raise to offset continually increasing costs.  These pressures will require some creativity on the part of the council to balance the budget while minimizing the impact on services that the city is able to provide.

While these are just a few of the many challenges facing Northfield, leadership by our city government will be imperative.  Cooperation, along with strong and decisive leadership by our next mayor and council is needed to shape the future of Northfield.  I believe that I will bring to the council the skill set and experience necessary to face the many challenges ahead.

I appreciate the opportunity to be part of this forum presented by Northfield.org and I look forward to your questions.

Return to Election 2008 page.

Responses to questions submitted by Northfield.org participants:

1. Have you had experience as a landlord of rental properties? What do you think about the current rental ordinance? Would you recommend changes? What enforcement mechanisms do you recommend?

My experience with rental properties is exclusively from the tenant side of the relationship.  Though I currently own my home, I rented apartments throughout college and for several years afterwards.  Regardless of whether you are a tenant or a landlord, I believe the current rental ordinance is a good start.  It provides some clear expectations of each individual’s role in the tenant/landlord relationship.  It provides tenants with the piece-of-mind that proper inspections of the property have occurred and that the unit is safe for occupancy.  It also helps to ensure that the tenant has a clear means of recourse if some deficiency is not corrected in a timely manner.  For the landlord, it provides a set of expectations for their tenants and a means to remove any problem tenants.  In addition to the tenant/landlord relationship, both parties have an obligation to their neighbors.  Many of the items in the ordinance help to ensure that the relationship with the neighbors can be a good one.

I believe that much time and effort was put into crafting the current ordinance.  There is a means in place with the board of appeals to address any issues that may rise.  With feedback from that board, future changes may be proposed, but for now, we need to step back and allow it to work.

2. What will you do to help ensure the economic vitality of our downtown area? What vision do you have for what Northfield should be like in ten or twenty years?

In ten to twenty years, I believe that Northfield will be a city with a thriving downtown that is not only a gathering place for residents, but also a prime tourist destination.  Northfield will have increased its commercial and industrial development and brought it back into balance with its residential development.  To achieve this vision is to ensure the vitality of downtown.  This future vision cannot be achieved without it.  The city can help this to happen by continuing to invest in improvements downtown and by working with businesses and building owners to ensure that any changes are in keeping with the historic, small-town charm that helps to define Northfield.

3. What are the particular skills you bring to the council? What are the most important personal attributes a council member can bring to the table?

I believe I bring several skills and experience to the table.  One of the most important is budgetary knowledge and experience.  During the course of my career, I have been responsible for budgets ranging from a few thousand dollars up to several million dollars.  This experience runs the range from initial budget development through to execution.

Another important skill is my ability to listen to what others have to say and then work with them to achieve a consensus.  Most of the activities the council is responsible for require a lot of listening to residents, staff and other council members.

Listening only gets you part of the way to the end result.  Decisive leadership will get you the rest of the way to results.  There comes a time in every debate where it is necessary for the debate to come to an end and a decision made.  Council members need to be able to make the difficult decisions, especially at times when not everyone is in agreement.

Finally, I believe that a council member needs to be prepared to deal with unhappy people as well.  Not everyone is going to like every decision that is made and as a council member, you need to be prepared to accept that.

4. Can you identify an area where you will need further information or experience before you can be an effective council member?

Being on council is a job that requires some “on-the-job” training.  There are no classes that one can take that prepare you for everything that you encounter.  I believe you need to approach the job realizing that you won’t know everything.  This doesn’t mean that council will initially be ineffective.  On the contrary, I believe that all council members will be effective from the beginning.  Whenever you join a mixed group of individuals working towards a common goal, you quickly find your place in the group.  The strengths of one member will compensate for the lack of experience of another.  I believe members will quickly find where their deficiencies might be and work quickly to correct them.  Whatever the make-up of the next council happens to be, I believe we will have an effective group to move the city into the future.

5. What role does the city play in developing a sustainable energy supply for its citizens? What plans should be set in place?

The city needs to do its part in conserving energy and promoting sustainability into the future.  The city has a real opportunity to take a leadership role in promoting sustainable energy uses with some of the projects on the horizon such as the safety center and the library.  These projects could be evaluated with an eye toward LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification.  The energy efficiencies we would gain and the resulting long-term savings they would generate may make certification an attractive option.

6. What is the state of relations between the city and its major employers, particularly the two colleges and Malt-o-Meal? How should these relationships be improved and sustained?

I believe that the relations between the city and its various employers may have its ups and down, as any relationship does, but I believe the relationships currently in place are good ones.  The three companies specifically mentioned are all businesses that each hold a unique opportunity to help the city grow and move forward.  It is important to continue to foster a good relationship with these businesses.  When working on items of mutual importance to the city and one of these businesses, it is important to work towards the common goal and view the relationships as a partnership.  It is important to remember that typically, what benefits one will benefit everyone.

7. As a candidate, what are your top two or three priorities for the next two years?

My top three priorities are:

Safety Center – We need to move towards a final design on this project and determine what we will do.  Council needs to get a better handle on what produced the cost increases over the original projections.  We need to ensure that what we are getting in the building will be able to meet the city’s need well into the future and that it is something the city can afford.  I also feel that a new safety center will be a positive for any new businesses looking to move to town.  These new businesses need to feel confident that the city has the ability to provide adequate police and fire protection.  The public also needs to feel confident that the level of service they receive is not going to be compromised as the city grows.  By moving this project forward, the city is showing its commitment to both groups to ensure adequate protection for years to come.

Balanced Budgets – There are many constrains facing the city over the next several years that could make balancing the budget a difficult task.  The state has imposed a levy limit on the city, but could also cut back on the aid they provide if the legislature has problems balancing their own budget.  The economy also doesn’t help as it will have an impact on the taxes the city is able to take in.  The task before the next council will be to navigate through all of these issues and to balance the budget while minimizing impact on public services.

Hiring a new city administrator – Whoever ultimately fills this position will need to be able to hit the ground running and will need to gain the confidence of both city employees and the public very quickly.

During the hiring process, the council will need to work to ensure that the process is a transparent as it can be made.  Public input that is more than just window dressing is also a must in this situation.

8. What steps should be taken to ensure that the city employs talented and motivated public servants?

I believe that the root of this question goes back to the selection of a city administrator.  The city administrator runs the day-to-day operations of the city and as such is ultimately responsible for the morale of the employees.  To help this situation, the council needs to first select an administrator that not only can provide staff with the leadership they need, but who also views his/her employees as the assets to the community that they are.

9. How do you think the council should go about hiring the permanent city administrator?

The process that is ultimately used to select a new administrator needs to be as transparent to the public that we can legally make it.  The public should be afforded with the opportunity to provide some input on the individuals being considered for the position.  This can be accomplished through various means such as the candidates meeting with the various boards and commissions as well as through an open house format similar to a candidates forum.  Council would take whatever feedback is generated from those various sources and review that as part of their overall hiring process.

10. What will you do to try to recover the missing 2.3 million city dollars.

At this point in time, we need to allow the investigation that the FBI is conducting to move forward.  I believe that the mayor and council should receive an update from staff on the progress of the investigation on a regular basis.  Once the investigation is complete, council should decide what, if any, steps to take next.

I believe the larger task before the council is to ensure that something like this doesn’t happen again.  We can accomplish this by setting minimum standards for the brokerages with which the city will do business.  We also need to work with more than one investment firm.  This will help to minimize any future losses if something like this were to ever happen again.

11. Northfield and Dundas share a sewer plant that may be approaching its capacity. In an effort to not find out in 2012 that we "broke the plant" in 2010, the Dundas planning commission and city council have in place a simple worksheet that is used to evaluate every platting request to see if it would make us exceed the capacity. This should keep us from finding out after the fact that we have overpromised this growth-limiting resource to developers. This simple analysis will also let us not have to go to taxpayers and have them subsidize other people's profits in an unjust way. As a city council person, are you willing to ask for and use this question of capacity BEFORE you consider and approve new growth?

When looking at any new addition to the city, I believe it is important to review all of the services that will be required from the city and its impact on the overall availability of those services.  This not only includes wastewater, but also other critical services such as police and fire protection.  I agree that these questions should be asked and the answers reviewed regardless of whether we have available capacity at the time of review or not.  If we are not asking the questions now, the city is being set up for problems in the future.  Rather than being able to plan appropriately for future services and adequately anticipating future needs and expenditures, we would find ourselves reacting to our lack of planning after the fact.

12. Given the fatal traffic accident that occurred at Jefferson Parkway and Division Street, if elected how would you prioritize the concern over the safety of this intersection against the other infrastructure plans?

The fatality concerned in this question is not the first to occur at this intersection, and unfortunately, if nothing is done I fear it won’t be the last.  This intersection has many issues with it that lead to the dangers it poses.  Anyone who has driven east through the intersection as the sun rises knows just how difficult it is to see anything as the sun is shining in your eyes.  The sheer number of traffic lanes coming into the intersection leads to some motorist confusion as to who has the right-of-way to proceed.  To make matters more concerning, this is the main pedestrian crossing for those who live in the area east of 246 (Division) to cross in order to travel to one of the three schools on the west side of the highway or to points further west.

Looking at all of this, it would appear to be an easy decision to make and that the city should have this intersection at or near the top of its infrastructure plans.  Unfortunately, it’s not so easy.  Though many of us see the north-south route as Division Street, that stretch of road is also known as state highway 246.  This means MnDOT becomes a player in deciding what can and cannot be accomplished.  It is necessary for whoever is elected to the city council to take on the role of advocate for the residents of the city and work to make this issue a priority with the state.  In addition, if elected, I would recommend that the council seek a partnership with the school district on this issue.  Both governmental bodies have constituencies that would benefit from changes and the louder, more unified voice provided by this partnership would give us all a better chance of being heard.

13. What is your plan for integrating the working poor into the economic growth potential of our community?

I would like to share with you something that I recently saw reported by WCCO on their website.  They did a story on a report recently released by the non-profit group Jobs Now Coalition.  This report provided some interesting numbers about the current job availability in Greater Minnesota.  According to the report, there are currently 3.5 people looking for a job for every job available.  This is a rather disconcerting figure.  If you are interested in viewing more on this, please visit their website at www.jobsnowcoalition.org.  There is one other figure from their site that I would like to share with you.  That figure is $11.79.  This is what they estimate as the minimum hourly wage required by each worker in a family of four with both parents working in order to meet the basic needs of that family.  Since this figure was for all of Greater Minnesota, the figure may be slightly different for the Northfield area, but the significance is still clear.  Minimum wage jobs are not going to be sufficient for the working poor.

In all of the debate about bringing new businesses and industry to town, the focus has been primarily on increasing the city’s industrial/commercial tax base.  This is definitely needed and a worthy goal.  However, as the previously mentioned numbers show, the jobs these businesses will bring are just as important.  When the city is looking at businesses to lure to town, we need to look at the types of jobs being brought into town as part of the overall package.  When we ask questions such as what type of services will the city need to provide, we also need to ask about what types of jobs the business will provide to the city.  As a city, all of Northfield will benefit if we are not only able to increase our tax base, but also increase the financial stability of our poorest households.  This will happen through the addition of jobs paying a living wage, not just the minimum wage.