Mary Rossing

Candidate for Mayor

rossingI am running for the office of mayor of Northfield because I believe I can provide vision and leadership while helping the community find creative solutions to the many challenges we face.  I believe the citizens of Northfield are ready to move ahead in a positive manner. I will work hard to rebuild an effective working relationship between the mayor, city council, and city staff as well as foster good working relationships with surrounding townships and entire school district so that we can tackle our resource issues together.

As a community, we will need to prioritize facilities needs and establish long-term plan that we can afford.  Then the council and staff can work on a road map to get these accomplished. An expanded library and safety center much be at the top of our list.  The discussion needs to include the feasibility of partnering and sharing space in our facilities whenever possible and ensure that we take a green approach to all future city projects.  I will establish an advisory panel of former mayors, councilors and civic leaders to add historical perspective to the council as we move forward.  I will also establish an energy commission to further the goal of positioning Northfield as a state and national clean energy leader.

I support adopting and implementing the Comprehensive Plan as well as a comprehensive transportation plan that encourages non-motorized transportation, safe walking routes, and more extensive use of transit systems.  We also need to push forward on upgrading highway access to I35 and to the north, as this will be crucial for future business success.  Our priority for business development must be to promote in-fill and redevelopment of land already within the city.  However, we must move forward on an innovative master plan for newly annexed land so that we are poised to accommodate a variety of business needs into the future.

I have developed a leadership style that is inclusive and transparent through my work with local organizations such as the Northfield Historical Society, the Northfield Arts Guild, the Northfield Downtown Development Corporation and the Chamber of Commerce.  I am a small business owner and have in this capacity dedicated myself to the success of our historic downtown.  My job as mayor will be to keep the sucess of the entire city in perspective while we tackle each individual need.  I look forward to the challenge of helping Northfield move forward over the next four years!

Return to Election 2008 page.

Responses to questions submitted by 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?

I have not been a landlord, but I have been a renter.  I first rented an apartment in a private home as a student at St. Olaf College.  I know from personal experience that a young renter needs to be taught what is acceptable behavior and what the expectations are for living in a residential neighborhood.  Expected behavior guidelines should be a part of a student lease. Buy-in with the colleges is essential. Enforcement of the law (noise, public urination, ZAPP) can be used to curb behavior issues by the city, followed by reprimands from the colleges.  Student renters should also know that the deans of the colleges would be notified of problems as negative behavior reflects poorly on the college.  Communication and enforcement of ordinance standards are the best ways to resolve behavior issues.

The passing of the current rental ordinance cost the city an incredible amount of money this year.  I believe that the impetus for the changes were primarily behavioral on the part of renters.  The landlords also have a responsibility to keep their property in good repair and in a condition so that it does not detract from the rest of the neighborhood.  But these standards are not sufficiently addressed in the current ordinance.  The focus has rather been on limiting the amount of rental properties in a specific block and limiting the number of unrelated persons renting together.  Though well intentioned these do not address the real issues. 

The 20% rule does not address bad behavior.  The “3-unrelated” rule discriminates against lifestyle choices, and this could become a human rights issue for the city.  With the deepening economic crisis, more people may need to rent and homeowners will be stuck if they are unable to sell or are on sabbatical leave. The rental code board of appeals needs to get up and running. Then we can decide if we need to revisit the ordinance.

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 twenty years historic downtown Northfield will be economically viable, will be vibrant, and will be a truly authentic downtown—a place to live, work, shop and eat, that serves as a gathering place for citizens from all corners of town and from all walks of life.  We will have an eclectic mix of shops, restaurants and places to gather.  Downtown will be the heart and soul of our community and will finally make use of its greatest asset—the beautiful Cannon River. 

It is important that the library remain in downtown as a valuable anchor.  Expansion plans must include a comprehensive discussion about parking as well as public space and amenities that would enhance the downtown.  This could mean performing arts space, meeting rooms or conference space.  The city is not necessarily in the business of providing all these amenities, but an expanded library must be planned in such a way that future public/private development can build on our public investment.

The EDA should continue to support the work of the NDDC and the NEC who are their feet on the street with small businesses and start-ups.  The Streetscape Taskforce must also reconvene and continue planning streetscape improvements with earmarked TIF monies that will come available over the next years.  More bike racks, signage, pedestrian features and public art will continue to enhance the downtown--the heart and soul of our community.

We should include Bridge Square improvements and a master plan for Ames Park in the parks budget as development of these two parks drives the redevelopment of the downtown as a cultural and recreational draw.   We need to plan for downtown to be the trailhead for the mill towns bike trail. Public art should be a part of the streetscape, and a visitors center must located in downtown. We need to continue to provide in-kind money for the Showmobile and banner change-outs to add to downtown events and work with the CVB, the Chamber, the NDDC and private businesses to promote downtown as a destination.

We need to get the building code board of appeals up and running so that appropriate and necessary improvements can move ahead in a timely manner.  The city must expedite snow removal downtown and lower insurance requirements for outdoor dining permits so that the sidewalks can be made available for public enjoyment during the summer months.  Meanwhile the city needs to grow the tax base so that we have the resources to continue to improve the infrastructure and expand the recreational, cultural and artistic amenities that make downtown so special.

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 have proven my ability to be an effective leader through the positions I have held in the community.  I have the ability to run an efficient meeting, to engage a variety of people in discussion and to then thoughtfully help them move ahead with an effective decision.  During my tenure as president of the Northfield Historical Society, we faced a number of significant transitions of staff and facilities uses.  I was able to successfully articulate the mission and vision to the staff, membership and wider community thereby growing the base of support and moving us forward in a positive way.   I worked to match volunteers with opportunities throughout the organization that would best utilize their skills and where they will be successful.

As mayor I will sit down with each of the council members, inviting them to share their goals and what they want to accomplish during their tenure. The best way to understand the group dynamics as well as how to best make use of each council person’s unique skills is to understand their motivation for serving.  This will set the groundwork for a council that respects each other’s opinions even during difficult discussions.

It is important for all those serving on boards and commissions to feel appreciated and respected.  They do diligent research, have informed discussions and put careful thought into their recommendations.  If the council is clear about the intended direction and this is communicated effectively to the boards and commissions then we can all move ahead in an efficient way.

The mayor must be a team player.  She must respect the time and talents of citizen volunteers and staff members, giving clear guidance without micromanaging.  She must have emotional maturity, be approachable, must be able articulate the big picture and keep a positive attitude about both the process and the final product.   It is essential that Northfield once again take pride in their city government.

I strongly encourage voters to talk to any of the people I have served with to get an idea of the strengths I bring to this leadership position.

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

Over the next few weeks I will be meeting with at least one member of each of the board and commissions to learn about the personality, history and inner workings of each group.  This will be important information moving ahead as the mayor recommends appointments to fill upcoming vacancies.  It is essential that boards and commissions be well balanced in terms of skills, backgrounds and personalities so that they are both credible and effective.

I am also in the process of meeting with key staff members who are involved in the areas which are in line for capital expenditures—the liquor store, the safety center and the library.   This is important information gathering that will help to guide decisions as we move forward.  No one can be expected to have all the answers to all the issues we will face as a community over the next four years.  It is important that our leaders are pro-active in seeking out new information.

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

The Energy Task Force of the Environmental Quality Commission has compiled a report outlining recommendations for steps that Northfield can follow to become a clean energy leader.  The next step for the council is to name a permanent Energy Commission that can carry this work further.  I strongly support this move and would like to consider hiring an energy coordinator to monitor and manage energy use, seek opportunities for savings throughout the city, and continue the discussion of viability of community based energy development.  The energy coordinator would also assist citizens and Northfield businesses in making decisions to cut energy use and make investments in alternative energy.

The Energy Task Force recommends that it does we do not pursue a municipal utility at this time, because the costs are too great.  Although this is disappointing in some respects, we must revisit this prospect as energy costs continue to rise.  It is important that we also continue talking about the possibility of creating a special energy district for major energy users, especially as we expand business and industrial development to the west of town.  The Task Force also recommends that the City work with key stakeholders to ensure that any new industrial park be powered by renewable energy. I support this whole-heartedly and will advocate for the EDA to also be proactive in recruiting companies who are interested in being part of an innovative development model and those who offer “green collar” jobs.

It is also essential that all future planning for the city and its facilities include best energy practices, as this will be an investment in our future.  We should have the goal to meet or exceed state guidelines for carbon neutrality by mid-century.

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?

It is important that we recognize the investment that our top three employers have made and continue to make in our community.  I believe that Northfield should be a town where we should be able to work as well as live.  As energy costs continue to grow it will be especially important to grow our job opportunities locally so that fewer citizens will be forced to commute to the metro area for good paying jobs.  As a community we need to commend the growth strategies and longevity of commitment that Carleton, St. Olaf and Malt-O-Meal have made to providing jobs for Northfielders.  We must see them all as valuable partners in the economic success of our town.

It is unfortunate that we did not have appropriate land available for Malt-O-Meal to build their distribution center in Northfield, and that this will instead be located in Faribault.  We need to have an inventory and variety of land set aside for commercial and industrial development so that we can accommodate the needs of local businesses.  This is why the 530-acre parcel to the west must move ahead, and that we must insist that it be set aside exclusively for industrial and business development.

Carleton has recently made a significant investment in the community through its planned Arts and Culture Center in the old Middle School.  This will be a facility that will not only enhance the arts community within Northfield, but will also include performance space that will attract visitors to the downtown area. 

St. Olaf has just completed their new Regents Science Center.  This will be a tremendous magnet for talented studenst and faculty, and will set them apart as a leader in science education.  I can imagine some wonderful research and perhaps business partnerships in the future due to the proximity of the campus to the hospital and the 530 acres soon to be annexed. 

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

My top priority is restoring citizen pride in local government.  We have faced some tremendous difficulties at city hall over the past couple of years and I believe that the citizens are crying out for positive change.  Throughout the town we have people that have been working on making their community a better place by volunteering in the schools, in service organizations, sports organizations and neighborhood groups.  It is time that we have the same attitude at city hall—one of service. 

A large part of this will be to restore trust between the mayor, city council, the staff and the boards and commissions.  There has not been clear direction from the council to the staff and there has not been appropriate respect for the work of the boards and commissions.  The infighting must stop and we must get everyone moving ahead toward accomplishing clearly defined goals.  I am already meeting with representatives from all the boards and commissions to get their input on how their group operates, what kind of support they may need from staff or council and what sorts of skills we might look for when filling up-coming vacancies.  My leadership style is very inclusive and my recommendations for appointments will be transparent.

The other two top priorities are connected under the umbrella of economic development.  We have to expand our tax base so that we can afford to pay for the capital improvements that we need.  We have some large projects on the horizon including a new safety center and a library expansion.  We need to agree on and prioritize these projects, commit to a logical and affordable timeline and then move ahead in a methodical and care-full way to getting them accomplished.

The key to getting these projects accomplished without bankrupting our businesses and burdening our homeowners is to simultaneously push hard for economic development.  Our priority must be for infill and redevelopment, as the EDA has recommended, but we also need to move ahead with making more land available so that we have a varied portfolio when companies come knocking.  The EDA must have the tools it needs to recruit and follow up on business opportunities.  The council must direct staff, insisting that we all go forward with a “how can we help you succeed?” attitude toward business.  Of course all projects will be weighed against the goals of the comprehensive plan, and those that pass this test can move forward.  I will insist on a creative approach when forming the master pan of the 530 acres and emphasize green technology so that future development can be something of which we are proud.

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

First of all we need to show prospective hires that we have done our homework and repaired the problems at city hall.   We need to hire good people and then support their work.  One of our biggest decisions that the council will face in the next year is to hire a new city administrator.  We must look for someone who wants to become authentically engaged in our community—not use this job as a stepping stone to a larger position in a larger city a couple of years from now.  We must hire an administrator that not only is comfortable with civic engagement, but someone who welcomes it—because we certainly have that here!  They must have a genuine interest in green development, in alternative energy, and be willing to fully support the ideals of the new comprehensive plan.  I would like us to possibly recruit talent from other college towns or look for someone with a diverse background that would thrive in our community.

9. In 2009, the council will hire a permanent city administrator. How do you think the council should go about this important process?

The council will have to look carefully at what the city needs at this time in an administrator. What skills are necessary to lead us through our economic crisis, our budget shortfalls, potential energy crisis and major capital projects?  We are also suffering from a crisis of confidence, so the new administrator will have to have immediate credibility and be comfortable with a high level of transparency.  Good public relations skills and a willingness to be engaged in the community will have to be a part of the package.  After making a comprehensive list of qualities and skills, the council will need to proceed to find a good fit.  We are blessed to have the good fortune of an effective interim administrator in place so that we can take our time to make a quality hire!

We need to think outside the box on this hire. We can’t do what we’ve done in the past—this is a crucial time in the history of our town. We have some significant projects on the horizon and also some amazing opportunities for economic growth. Our new administrator will need to have a variety of strengths and competencies to help us achieve our goals. This person needs to be dedicated to the plans that Northfield is adopting as well as in line with its ideals.  We need someone who is a team player and who has a positive, forward-looking attitude. Most of all they need to become engaged in the community!

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

My understanding is that the money is gone.  Though this is a hard pill to swallow, it appears to the fact of the matter.  We have been the victims of a fraudulent scheme, and the money was actually never deposited in the CD’s as promised.  I think the important thing now is to put policy in place that prevents this from happening again, and to use only reputable, local investment firms.  In the mean time I will direct staff to keep abreast of the federal investigation.  If there is any opportunity to recover a portion of the lost funds we will pursue this!

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 mayor, are you willing to ask for and use this question of capacity BEFORE you consider and approve new growth?

First of all, I think the statement that the Northfield Planning Commission and City Council are so growth oriented that they are not interested in asking the question of capacity is untrue.  The council has made economic growth a priority now because the city tax base needs to grow and our development is out of balance.  But this does not mean that environmental concerns have been thrown to the side.  In fact, business development would use much less wastewater capacity than housing.

But to the question of capacity, I believe that the City of Northfield needs to be mindful of this.  With every development we add sewer and water charges.  Some of this goes to up front costs and some goes to ongoing infrastructure needs.  Meanwhile we are continually investing in the wastewater system.  In 2008 we installed a sanitary sewer segment under the Cannon River, which is part of a larger project that will eventually eliminate the 34-year-old lift station that serves Dundas.

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?

This was a tragic loss, and one that must be an impetus for action.  I don’t have an answer, but would welcome citizen input on how to proceed.  I was surprised to learn that children attending Bridgewater School that live just across Highway 246 are bussed to school, even though they may only live a few blocks away.  I would guess that crossing guards could be employed during the hours before and after school to allow for walkers and bikers to cross safely.  I would like to see all of Northfield be more walk-able and bike-able.  Using non-motorized means of transportation should not make you a second-class citizen or render you unsafe.  Well marked pedestrian crossings made of a distinctly different color than the road surface have been successful in the downtown area and might be considered to better define this as a pedestrian area.

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

We must work on building a city in which its citizens can afford to work and to live.  This means expanding our base of living wage jobs and affordable housing.  Work is already being done by the HRA to address some of our housing needs.  The economic piece is the key to our future, and the council and mayor must take leadership in this area, supported by the EDA.  Light industry and manufacturing, particularly in the high tech, green, bio tech and related areas, would provide jobs with live-able wages. 

Another important service that we can provide as a city is dependable transportation.  We should look into expanding our transit system so that it can be reliable enough that shift workers can make use of it.  Maintaining a regular route might not be economically feasible today, but might be as part of a business park expansion.

14. Do you have plans or goals for the City of Northfield regarding the health, welfare, and wellbeing of children in the community?  Specifically, I see on the City of Northfield's website that the City Council has pledged its commitment to the 2001-2010 International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Nonviolence for the Children of the World.  I would like to know how you plan on supporting this effort.

There are so many organizations in the town that are already providing wonderful opportunities for our kids.  From sports to music, the arts, girl scouts, and after school programs,  there are lots of things in which kids can be involved.  However, the key is to get kids involved in something that is meaningful for them at a particular time in their lives, is affordable and where they can have contact with caring adults.  In middle school and beyond, the recreational opportunities start to dwindle, and these kids are looking for more real life experiences.

One of the best things that happened early on in this campaign was the involvement of the kids from the Union of Youth.  They took the initiative to organize a number of events for the mayoral candidates and put together a thoughtful platform of youth issues.  I very much appreciated the opportunity to talk with them about their concerns.  A couple of weeks ago I was also fortunate to participate in a “Summit on Marketable Skills”, sponsored by the Mayor’s Youth Council.  The discussion centered around ways in which the community can help youth with opportunities to become engaged through mentorships, internships and service learning projects.  I will support the work of the Youth Council on this initiative and also the Union of Youth as it pursues its programming and space needs.  I will encourage citizens to become mentors.  I would also like to see a community-wide clearing house where non-profits can post opportunities for youth to become involved, whether for a special event or in an on-going manner. 

15. What is your position on North Avenue?

North Avenue would have been a viable choice for a through route 20-30 years ago, but because of decisions made since then, and the development that has occurred, this is no longer an option that should be pursued as part of our transportation plan.  Staff and council should not waste any more time in discussing this, but should put their time and energy behind planning a route further north.  When Ms. Hauberk’s property is available we must be ready to act and make this happen.

The recent reintroduction of North Avenue as part of the proposed transportation plan shows again that we need advisors for staff and council that have history with these issues.  If the transportation plan had gone to the planning commission before it came to the council, then the issue probably could have been avoided.  I would also like to have an informal group of past mayors and council members that the staff and council could contact to clarify the history on such matters so that we don’t waste precious time rehashing old decisions.

16. What role should the mayor play in job and wealth creation, and what are your plans in this area, if elected?

The mayor needs to provide leadership and articulate a vision so that we can move ahead and act on economic opportunities.  I want Northfield to be a town where its citizens can afford to live and work with amenities that enhance our lives.  Supporting business in Northfield and growing our tax base must be our highest priority if we are to afford the needs and wants of the citizens.  If we simply raise property taxes to pay for capital improvements then we are in danger of harming the small businesses that are the backbone of our local economy. 

Retention and growth of local business is ultimately more efficient than seeking new business.  We must support the work of the EDA as it works with local businesses, helping them to grow and thrive.  Meanwhile we need to find additional tools to use when recruiting businesses to Northfield.  We need to work with the alumni associations of the both of the colleges to invite innovative entrepreneurs back to town, as well as area and state wide economic development organizations.

One of my first initiatives will be to hold an Infill and Redevelopment Summit bringing representatives from the EDA, NDDC, and the Chamber to the table with Landowners who have developable properties within the city.  We need to assure that there is a variety of land available and to keep a map of these lands updated.  Moving ahead on a comprehensive area transportation plan is also essential to support development

17. How would you address the needs and concerns of Northfield’s college students? As mayor, how interested would you be in staying in direct contact with students?

I believe that if students make the choice to vote locally rather than voting in absentia from their family’s homes they are making a commitment to be informed on local issues.  I applaud their desire to become engaged citizens—wherever they choose to declare their residence.  That being said, I am approachable, available, and willing to listen to the concerns of all the citizens of Northfield. 

A significant portion of our adult population is made up of alumni from both Carleton and St. Olaf who have decided to live, work, raise a family and retire in Northfield.  This relationship started when they were students, and now as alumni they have chosen to be a part of this amazing community.  It is important that we provide opportunities for current students to intern, volunteer and engage in the community; just as we make use of the facilities and assets that the colleges offer us.  We are all the richer for this relationship.

18. What is your understanding of the role of the mayor in respect to the staff, the council and the public? What personal qualities does the mayor need in order to work successfully in the role of that office?

The mayor sets the tone of the administration and must constantly work to articulate the vision of the city, of its comprehensive plan and economic development goals to the staff, the council and the public.  All decisions and initiatives must be held up to these goals and it is the mayor’s job to keep the interest of the community as a whole in perspective. 

However, we must remember that the mayor is only one vote on the council.  The council will have to work together to establish concrete goals for the next four years.  The boards and commissions can advise and do the legwork of the council.  They must do the diligent research, and provide the careful detailed background to their recommendations.  If the council and the mayor are clear about the intended policy direction and this is communicated effectively to the boards and commissions then we can all move ahead in an efficient way.  It is the responsibility of the mayor then must make sure that direction for staff is clear and concise so that we can accomplish our goals together. 

The mayor must be fiscally responsible and a team player.  She must respect the time and talents of citizen volunteers and staff members, giving clear guidance without micromanaging.  She must have emotional maturity, be approachable, must be able articulate the big picture and keep a positive attitude about both the process and the final product.   It is essential that Northfield once again take pride in their city government.

19. How will we know when Northfield city government has grown too large?

It is a matter of balance.

The city is primarily a service industry and staffing is the number one expense in the general budget.  These are good jobs for citizens in our community.  Employees provide essential services from fire and police protection to street maintenance and inspections and permitting.  My experience is that most staff people are hard working and conscientious and that they have the good of the city at heart.  Certainly it is important to look at the staffing structure occasionally and see if there are ways to consolidate and be more efficient.  Ultimately the goal is to provide good service to our citizens at a reasonable cost.