Friday, January 20, 2017

City Council Meeting January 11, 2017

It always seems like right after the New Year I start too many new projects and then I tend to get behind in everything! Maybe I should make a resolution to start one new project at a time so I can get the blog posts out there in a more timely manner!

At any rate, thank you for being patient, here is the meeting summary!

The Council met for the first meeting of the year on the 11th, everyone was present so we moved on to the public forum.

Denny Fitzpatrick spoke to the Council urging the Council to do what is possible to acknowledge and prevent Climate Change either through the Carbon Fee and Dividend program or other programs that the City could consider.

After Denny spoke, no one else chose to speak, so the public forum was closed.

We then moved on to the Consent Agenda, which contained the usual three items (Approval of previous meeting's minutes, current meeting agenda, and city bills). There was no conversation about the Consent Agenda and the motion to approve was unanimous.

We then moved right along to the report of the Planning Commission who had three items for the Council to consider:

1. A resolution for 2 apartments to be made into 3 apartments at 21 W 2nd St. The Planning Commission went through the request and found that it was in correlation with the ordinance and voted unanimously to approve the request. The Council followed suit with a few questions, but seeing that it was in line with the ordinance and didn't change the nature of the area, approved the request.

2. The second item was a request for a variance for a sub-standard lot on 8th Ave W for construction. The proposed structure that would be built on this property would meet or exceed all of the set-backs and other stipulations of the zoning ordinance; the variance was asked for because the lot is 15 feet short of the minimum width requirement and thus 2,320 sq. ft. short of the minimum 10,000 sq. ft. lot minimum. The Planning Commission found that the construction plan was in line with the nature of the zone and that the lot would be undevelopable without the variance and thus requested approval of the variance unanimously. The Council heard the conversation and was glad to have the opportunity to open up another "in-fill" lot to development and voted unanimously as well.

3. The last item on the Planning Commission report was a request from the Planning Commission to adopt the temporary moratorium on commercial construction over 5000 sq. ft. in the C/I Zone as permanent only until the City has had time to complete its Comprehensive Planning process, which will give us the appropriate information to make an informed decision regarding the future of development in the City. This comes following the report from our previous meeting stating that the Council has three options to respond to this: a.) let the moratorium expire and not adopt any new language b.) draft new language now to capture the desires of the community c.) adopt the interim ordinance (moratorium) as permanent until we have collected the information necessary to properly rewrite the ordinance.
It was made clear by the Planning Commission and the Council that removing the protection given by the moratorium without having a full understanding of the needs/desires of the community would be dangerous, so option a.) was removed. The Planning Commission then reflected that there simply wasn't enough time to draft, proof, and have two readings of a new ordinance before the moratorium ran out, so they looked to option c.).
This option was not a very popular option, but it did seem to be the best option available to the Council to make sure that the community visioning process could be completed without compromise. I stated that I will make sure that the adoption of the moratorium is temporary and will get down to work to draft a C/I zone ordinance that is effective in revitalizing that area of town and making it more valuable to City residents and others.
In the end the Council agreed with the Planning Commission and had the first reading of the ordinance to adopt the interim ordinance (moratorium) as permanent.

Following that discussion, George Wilkes of the Public Utilities Commission came forward and made a presentation about a proposed program called the "Carbon Fee and Dividend" program.
This program is a concept developed as a cost-neutral way to create incentive for energy companies to do research for and develop renewable energy. It is a little complicated, but I will try my best to explain it. I added a little image below to help explain it as well:
1. When fossil fuel energy is extracted, there is a fee put on that activity. So when we suck oil or natural gas out of the earth, the company going the work is assessed a fee based on the amount that is extracted.
2. That money is collected and then issued to consumers as a dividend based on the amount of electricity they use (which is mostly calculated by family size and composition).
3. Energy prices go up to compensate for the fee, which is off-set for consumers by the dividends they are given.
4. This creates incentive for the energy companies to invest in renewable energy options because it puts the cost of renewable energy closer to on par with fossil fuel energy.
5. The fee continues to rise year to year, which continues the incentive for pursuing renewable energy at very little expense to the consumer.

**This plan does raise the expense of energy it should be explained. It will not however, raise the expense of energy beyond what it should be or beyond what it would be if the world was using only renewable sources of energy.

The PUC signed on last year to promote this solution to carbon mitigation and Mr. Wilkes was returning to the Council to see if the Council would sign on as well. Last year when this was brought up to the Council we stated that we would like to hear what our electricity producer, Southern MN Municipal Power Agency (SMMPA), has to say about it. SMMPA did not take a formal stance on it, but it was made clear that SMMPA is composed of its member cities, so Grand Marais is SMMPA and thus a statement by one of the cities in the agency speaks for the whole agency.

The Council thanked Mr. Wilkes for his thoughtful presentation and then voted to support the Carbon Fee and Dividend program and promote it for adoption through the state and federal governments.


Following that conversation we moved on to appointments to boards and representative groups.

The City had several openings on City Boards:
2 on the Library Board
1 on the Park Board
1 on the Planning Commission

There was one person who asked to be re-appointed to the Park Board, so the Council re-appointed Barb Backlund to her seat. Thank you for your service Barb!

We are looking for City residents for the other boards however! If you are interested, please contact me or inquire at City Hall for an application. It is a short application and the work is very rewarding!

Library Board applications can be found at the Library Service Desk as well.

The Councilors voted to retain their same assignments to the various committees and boards as well. I have included that list below:

Moving right along the Council designated the Cook County News Herald as the City's official newspaper and voted to continue to work with the following list of banks for City deposits:
Grand Marais State Bank
North Shore Federal Credit Union
Security State Bank
LMC / 4M Fund (investments and reserves)
Morgan Stanley Smith Barney (investments and reserves)

Those were all of the items on the agenda so we moved on to Council reports!

Councilor Mills reported that the Park Board is going to be "tweaking" the Park Master Plan to make it more applicable for the application for Greater MN Parks and Trails Legacy monies. It doesn't sound like there is a lot that needs to be changed, but it will need to include some updated information about projects that have already been completed and capture any changes in direction that the Park has taken since the plan was originally written.

Councilor Kennedy reported that Spectrum Health has been in contact with the EDA concerning developing Assisted Living in Grand Marais and would like to come and look at some properties for potential development. The City has offered several plots of land for consideration.

Councilor Benson reported that the North Shore Management Board cancelled their latest meeting due to weather and lack of participation, but that she is going to be starting to push them more and more to allow for participation over the phone. She also stated that she wants to be a part of the conversation about collaborative projects between the City and North House to celebrate 20 years of partnership. 
She also asked for an update on the Comprehensive Planning process, which I gave shortly thereafter. 
(She also brought jelly beans to the meeting, which I ate a lot of during the meeting...)

My report was pretty brief, but focused on updates on the Comp Plan process/Community Visioning. We are getting close to the end of the first stage of the process where we gather information regarding what the values of our community are. We have gotten roughly 900 surveys turned in and have done over a dozen other activities around town to engage people. Some of the information that we learned was a little troubling: 38% of respondents were NOT from Cook County. We have the ability to filter out those responses, but it is OF THE UTMOST IMPORTANCE that we hear from community members!

Also we did not have many younger respondents, so... please fill out the form!


**I proposed that the City consider appointing a Greenstep Coordinator to work on helping the community continue to develop efficiency, carbon minimization, and renewable energy work... So that's something to consider!

**I also reported that there has been talk about getting Grand Marais reviewed as a potential Blue Zone, which is a place in the world where people live longer than the average. There was some conversation that Grand Marais may be one of these places, so there is interest in reviewing that. The Council seemed to think that was a good idea, so I will move forward with that.

That was about it! As always, if you have any questions, please let me know!

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

A Time for The Community to Pull Together.

As I write this I am torn up inside due to the tragedy of losing Gunnar Anderson. I knew who Gunnar was as he was a senior the first year that I coached Cross Country and Track, and I knew of  Gunnar through stories relayed by friends and just seeing him around town.

I never heard a bad thing about him.

I am sure that he had his moments, as we all do, but the stories that I heard were of him volunteering to build a doghouse for a customer he was building a garage for, just because he liked the dog. I remember seeing him talk to and encourage the younger football players as they walked, no, strutted out to the practice field with their cleats clicking on the sidewalk. I heard time and time again about his good attitude and his zest for life.

I feel so epically bad for those that were close to him and I send my deepest possible condolences to his family.

What a rough way to start a New Year...

One thing that we CAN do is that we can all remember his zest and put some of that into our own lives... in Gunnar's memory. We can care for and reach out to others in our community and give them a shoulder to cry on or an ear to listen. We can go out on a limb and build that dog house just because you like the dog or say thank you to the person behind the counter for being there every time you need gas or a cup of coffee.

We live in a place where the loss of one person is not just significant, it's personal. I didn't know the impact that Gunnar had on so many, I just knew what his impact was on me, "He's a good guy," that's what I thought and what I still do think. Let's help remember Gunnar by taking care of each other and continuing to be the kind of community that can produce young men like Gunnar.

Blessings to you all and if I can be of any assistance through this process, please let me know.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Final Council Meeting of 2016: 12/28/16

Last night the City Council met again to complete the work of the year. The meeting was called to order at 6:30pm with myself, Councilor Moody, Councilor Benson, and Finance Director Dunsmoor in attendance, which is enough for a quorum and for getting work done.

I opened the Public Forum, but no one was in attendance, so I closed the forum and we moved on to the Consent Agenda.

The Consent Agenda had the usual three items on it (Approve the Agenda, approve the previous meeting minutes, and approving the bills). It passed without any further discussion.

Then we moved on to the approval of the final City tax levy, which was reduced slightly from the previous number that was proposed due to a deduction in the cost of heating fuel for City Hall.

The final City levy was set at $700,560.00 for the General Operations of the City and an additional $209,433.88 for Debt Service payments on past City projects, for a grand total of $909,993.88, an increase in the general levy of 4.38%.

The Council saw these numbers as sound and proceeded to approve the budget as proposed. It passed unanimously.


The next item on the agenda was the the adjustment of the salaries for our Non-Union employees. The City negotiates with the AFSCME Union (American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees) roughly every two years to negotiate the wages and benefits of all Union City employees, but not all of our City employees are Union workers. Our department heads are not Union workers because of the nature of their job supervising other Union workers. Therefore, when we negotiate the wage increases for our Union employees that has no effect on the pay for our Department Heads. It is common practice, though to offer the same increases to Department Heads. The suggestion was made to offer this same increase of 2% to all Department Heads. Councilor Benson asked a very good question, which was, "What does the City perform for performance evaluations?" This is a question that has been asked several times since I was elected in 2014 and it is just as valid today as it was then. It is very important for the City to be able to commend the good work that has been done by its employees and also to suggest ways to improve or streamline the performance of each of the Departments. With this conversation, the motion was made to approve the 2% increase of the non-union employees with the expectation that in 2017 the Council will investigate and work to incorporate a means of performance evaluation for our Department Heads, and eventually all City employees.

Next on the agenda was the second reading of Ordinance 2016-15, which is the revision to the City's ordinance governing non-conforming uses of properties. Since Councilor Benson was not able to be at our last meeting where we had the first reading, she asked for a summary of the changes to make sure that her reading of the new language was accurate. The summary provided was basically that the new language was written to apply generally and theoretically to as many non-conforming situations as possible, whereas the previous ordinance language seemed to identify and deal with specific concerns that were raised and was not effective in giving clear direction to either the Planning and Zoning Commission or to community members with non-conforming uses on their properties.
The new ordinance language passed unanimously and thus was adopted.

There was no addtional business at this meeting, so we moved on to Council/Staff Updates:

It has been a few quiet weeks and Councilors Moody and Benson stated that their meetings were either rescheduled or simply not scheduled over the holiday season.

I reported on a few meetings that I attended: The Active Living Group had a meeting where they took a look at a model for assisting in directing policy making to be more effective. It is called Health and Equity in All Policies and it is nicknamed HEAP. This method is used to make sure that all policy changes or additions are in line with some guidelines approved by the community to ensure that they promote improvements in the general health of the community, promote equity among all residents, and is uniformly across all policy decisions. The concept of equity is roughly and very generally explained via the image to the right... This isn't exactly how it would play out in our City policy work, but it is a useful illustration.

I also attended a meeting of the Cook County Local Energy Project, who are continuing to work on Residential Energy Efficiency Project (REEP) energy audits for people in the community even though the funding for that project has been fully used. They are hoping to secure continuing funding to be able to offer those energy audits at a discounted price again next year. The audits provide homeowners with concrete suggestions, based on the observed and tested performance of their homes, of ways that they could improve the efficiency of their homes. It is a very useful tool to decrease your heating and cooling expenses as well as other utility expenses. CCLEP will also be offering the builder's workshop in February again, which will focus on Thermal Heat Pump Technology, Passive Building Techniques, and Thermal Enclosures & Airtightness, all information that is very useful to builders in our area. It also counts toward continuing education requirements for contractors... so sign up soon!

The final meeting that I reported on was a set of meetings actually that had to do with how we can create a more walkable environment in Grand Marais. This is especially poignant now after all of the terrible weather we have had. There were 2 meetings that each had about 30 people in attendance to brainstorm ideas that we can hopefully have implemented here in town to improve the safety and general experience of walking around Grand Marais. This was seen as a priority due to the fact that Hwy 61 will be all torn up in 2019! The clips for the meetings are included below.
https://youtu.be/mekVEtkU1Qo

The final update was on the Comprehensive Planning/Visioning Process. The Steering Committee has had several very good meetings and have gotten the word out to groups that we normally don't hear from and I have been pursuing getting out to the Senior Center to hear the thoughts of those folks as well as connecting with Harbor View residents. If you can think of any other interesting ways to get the word out, please let me know and I will do what I can to make it happen if possible!

That was all for last night! I hope you all had a Merry Christmas and please be safe New Year's Eve! Let's start 2017 out strong and positive!

*As always, if you have any concerns or questions, please let me know.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Truth in Taxation/City Council Meeting 12-14-16

Last night the City Council held its usual meeting with the addition of the Truth in Taxation hearing at the beginning.


The meeting was called to order at 6:30 with all Councilors present except for Councilor Benson.


The Council opened up the Public Comment Period with the clarification that this Public Comment Period was the Truth in Taxation hearing with the direct purpose of giving residents the opportunity to speak directly to the Council specifically in regards to their views of the 5.49% increase in the tax levy proposed for 2017.


Three residents spoke during the comment period.


The first resident, Bob Mattson, who has been a community resident since 1969 and a city employee for a good chunk of that time acknowledged that the City's levy was not overboard, but that when all of the increases get lumped together it becomes brutal to residents in the area. He mentioned that the cost of living is staying consistently ahead of inflation. He acknowledged that many of the services that the City provides are getting pricey to provide, but he encouraged the City to prioritize necessities and luxuries and to tighten the belt on all of those items that are not mandated.


The second resident, Joyce Heiskari, mentioned that her City and County tax portion on her tax document were almost identical, which she saw as surprising. She again acknowledged that the City has been pretty conservative over the years, but asked the Council some of the details of the City healthcare plan, i.e. what's the share that the City pays? What's the share that the employee pays? What is the deductible for individuals and for families? What are the premiums?

Financial Director Dunsmoor was able to answer most of these questions and said that she would find the answers that she did not have readily available.

The answers were as such: The City contributes about $200/individual and $500/family for healthcare costs and offers a plan with a $1200 deductible for individuals and $2400 deductible for families. The premium information is something that I am waiting on and will share that when I get it.

She also asked us how much, out of the revenues of the Rec. Park and the Liquor Store, goes into the General Fund each year. The answers to that are that the Council has not concluded the amount for the Rec. Park for this year, but the Liquor Store contributes a set $200,000 each year to the General Fund.

She also noticed the saturation of tourism in the town and asked if the City has been forced to hire more people for seasonal work due to this saturation. The quick answer to that is that seasonal staffing has stayed pretty steady, so not particularly. Her suggestion was to see if there was some way to get some of the 1% lodging tax to offset those expenses if the City experienced them... I'm not sure that would be possible, but I am looking into the details of the 1% lodging tax language...

Her final question was about Library staffing, pointing out that the full-time expense for Library staff went up dramatically for 2017. I explained that this was due to decreases in full time staff expenses in 2016 due to some employees requesting to be taken off of full-time work and due to a struggle to keep enough part-time work on hand to perform the work of the Library. The jump in full-time employee costs was due to the hiring of an assistant director for the Library, which was identified by the Library Board as a priority to allow the Library to begin to actualize its goals of providing top-notch services within the Library walls in addition to beginning to offer library services to the edges of the County. *We told Joyce that we would get in touch with her and provide those details that we were unable to give initially.


The final resident, Evelyn Larson, echoed the sentiment that when you add up all of the taxes from the different tax districts it gets burdensome and encouraged the Council to look at any possible spots where we can cut expenses.

She also asked why the Council voted to purchase the Tomteboda property for the Public Works facility instead of sticking with the plan to develop the facility in the Business Park. Councilor Kennedy explained that the concern with the Business Park idea was that in order to get as large a spot as we needed in that area we would have to purchase 3-4 lots and face a grade and fill expense of nearly a million dollars in addition to wetland mitigation expenses, so the flat property located at the Tomteboda property would save us most of these expenses, thus taking that expense off of the project and saving the City money. In addition, Kennedy pointed out that the City will only be utilizing 3.5 acres of the Tomteboda property, so there will likely be one or two lots with Hwy 61 frontage that will come back up for sale on the private market. *That decision hasn't been made, so I mention that as a possibility.

Her final question was about affordable housing, asking why it wasn't considered to locate the current EDA housing project in the Business Park. Councilor Moody explained that the EDA started considerations for the project based on the feedback received from the housing study that was completed and considered 100+ properties for the proposed location and decided on the current location due to the location of infrastructure, the availability of land, the expense of development, etc... I offered to sit down with Ms. Larson to continue these conversations and she told me that her kettle is always on, so I will be taking her up on that!


Following that I closed the comment period, which was also closing the Truth in Taxation hearing for the City.


The Council then moved along to the Consent Agenda, which had the usual three items on it (Approve the Agenda, Approve the Previous Meeting's Minutes, and Approve the Bills). There were no concerns for the Consent Agenda so it was passed unanimously.


The next item on the agenda was the annual report from North House Folk School and Greg Wright (NHFS Director) was present to walk us through North House's year.

He reported that all numbers for class registration have been up consistently showing roughly a 10% increase over the previous year, which was a 12% increase over the previous year. North House has been providing programs for homeschool children in our area, elementary students throughout the community, has a youth deckhand program, and other school programming. September 2016 was the highest month for registration in the near 20 year life of the school. On that note, Greg pointed out that North House is going to have some significant 20th birthday celebrations including a few, which he wanted to share with the Council.

For the 10th birthday of North House the school offered and built a number of timbered benches that were scattered about town and that are still there serving the community. He was interested in starting the conversation with the Council to identify a project or two that North House could work with the City on to celebrate the 20 year relationship between the two. The Council thought this was a great idea and said that we would identify someone to work with Greg on brainstorming some projects that would assist the City in accomplishing some of its goals while celebrating the 20 year relationship with North House.

The other conversation that Mr. Wright brought up was to sit down and have a further conversation regarding the current lease with North House. North House is partially located on City land and has paid a set lease amount based on a 25 year lease, of which about 15 years remains. When this 25 year lease was created, North House was given a number of goals to aim for and accomplish. Considering that North House has achieved or exceeded most of these items, and that North House is looking to invest again into their campus, there is interest in revisiting the lease and seeing if there is possibility for re-working that arrangement to guarantee North House's presence in Grand Marais and to give the City reassurance that this arrangement is beneficial for it as well. I volunteered to be on that conversation with Administrator Roth, Mr. Wright, and a Board member from North House.


Following that conversation it was time for the Planning Commission Report:


The first item on the Planning Commission Report was a request for a variance to allow the Curtis's to redesign and reconstruct the front of their home. The reconstruction will not extend beyond the existing footprint, but it will modify the roofline of the building, and will improve the liveability of the property, which are all reasons for approval of the variance. The Commission voted 5-0 to approve the variance and the Council agreed, so the vote was taken and the variance was approved unanimously.


The second item on the Report was some proposed improvements for the zoning ordinance in regards to non-conforming uses Citywide.  This was a pretty significant change as the Commission pretty much scratched all of the existing language and took the ordinance away from governing case studies of non-conformities to addressing the basics of what non-conformities are and how we want to have them function and how to we want them to be preserved or forfeited. I have the language for this new ordinance and will attempt to attach it to another blog post here in a few days... I feel that it is pretty important that residents can see this proposed ordinance change if their property has a non-conformity. *This was the first reading, so the Council will be taking this up again at our next meeting, so please get comments in as soon as you can!


The final item on the agenda was a Resolution that identified that the City will be borrowing some money in order to finance the Public Works facility. We have to identify that we are going to be borrowing money and that we intend to use that money for a project, or else we can't use it for that project! This is one more of the protections put in place to make sure that public money is used for projects that are appropriate. This was merely a formality and passed unanimously. The only question that was asked was the amount identified that the City may borrow, which was $4 million. This seemed a little high, but Administrator Roth said that this was merely a cautious number to make sure that the City wouldn't be stuck with money that we borrowed, but couldn't use on the project.


There was one more item added to the agenda at this point. It was a conversation regarding the Community Visioning process and part of the reason that the City took this on, which is the moratorium on commercial construction in the C/I Zone. This moratorium will expire in February of 2017 and because the City is in the middle of the community engagement process and has not gotten to a point of resolving the problems with that zoning ordinance. The team that we have been working with on this situation provided us with three options that we can do to address this.

They are:
a.) Continue as we are, get through the community engagement process, continue gathering information and drafting ordinance language as we get to it and perhaps finish the project in June 2017. The pros for this option are that it will not interfere with the larger Comprehensive Plan goal that the City has and it will allow for more conversation about the C/I Zone. The cons for this option are that the moratorium will expire in February without any change in the ordinance, which wasn't the purpose that we put the moratorium in place for, and thus, without any changes to the ordinance there will be no changes to what types of development is allowed in that zone.

b.) We can draft new language for the C/I Zone now and adopt it before the moratorium expires. The pros of this is that we can pass changes that roughly reflect the City's desires for the C/I Zone and we can get some ideas in place that allow for development in the C/I Zone that is felt is consistent with the City's characteristics. These could always be changed at a later date, but the goal here would be to get things almost completely done. The cons for this one is that there would be literally no community comment on these ordinance changes, which I don't think is a very good idea at all... Another con is that Councilor Kennedy stated that reworking the C/I Zone would take a LOT of work and likely would not be done in a quality way by the time it would need to be adopted.

c.) The final option was to draft some language to update the ordinance, or adopt the interim ordinance as permanent with the expectation that this is a stop-gap measure to offer basic protections until the community has an opportunity to weigh in on how the C/I Zone should function. Pros of this approach would be that the community would still get to weigh in and ultimately have the decision of what happens in the C/I Zone and there would be basic protections against "unwanted" developments in the meantime. The cons for this is that we will be stuck with inadequate ordinance language for a time. Councilor Kennedy also mentioned that he thought it would be hard to even get this done unless we adopted the interim ordinance as a permanent ordinance, which I don't believe everyone wants.
*It seems that a.) and c.) are the only real options here. We will continue this conversation and will make a decision on this early in 2017.

Also, the Council appointed Councilor Mills to be considered for the County's new Parks and Trails Commission. He was concerned about the time investment, but was very interested in being a part of it. His qualification would be that he is the City Park Department representative and having that uniformity would be really valuable.


On to updates:

Councilor Mills reported that there was a Park Board meeting where they talked about the Greater Minnesota Parks and Trails application for funding. They are working on the Park Master Plan to make sure that it is appropriate for the application for funding to accomplish some of the major goals of this plan.
Mills acknowledged that Park Director Tersteeg does incredible work there and has been incredibly important to the visioning process for the park. Big kudos to him.

Mills also went to a Northwoods Food Project meeting where they were looking at how agricultural land is assessed in the County. There is state language that oversees this, but that language doesn't address most of the unique characteristics of our land up here and that should be looked at to see if there are other ways to categorize agricultural land to better meet what that looks like up here.


Councilor Moody reported on the EDA meeting where they discussed their budget concerns and was wondering how joint agreements between the City and the County would be affected in the instance that the County cuts its funding to joint entities... There isn't really any answer to that question, but my response was that it is in the interest of the City to budget for expected expenses. If the County cuts funding for something, the agreements that we have would have to be looked at to see if we are expected to commit less as well.


Councilor Kennedy reported that he will be going to a walkable community presentation on Friday to see how we can improve walkability in Grand Marais as a part of the Hwy 61 process and on a policy level for the City. There is also a bikeable community workshop that the City can apply to have brought to town. There was interest in this, so I believe that the City will apply for this.


Administrator Roth had a update on the Community Visioning process, which has identified a great number of events at which the City can do some information gathering. I went to the snowmobile club rally (great raffle prizes by the way!), we went to Ruby's Pantry, I am looking for an opportunity to go to the Senior Center for lunch to gather information... and many others! If you have any ideas for ways the City can engage with residents, PLEASE LET ME KNOW!


My update had a number of items:
-The Nordic Nature Group, a group of young homeschooled students, approached the City to take part in a survey to get a "grade" based on our sustainability and environmental awareness as a city. I have done this survey and we will be getting our grade early in 2017, which will have suggestions for ways the City can improve these elements of the City.

-I attended a CrimeNet Meeting, which is the state policy board that oversees how the state works on improving information systems for law enforcement. They are having many conversations about what the end game is for that group and who is going to pay for it. They have made incredible steps forward in getting the correct information to the correct people as fast as possible so that law enforcement becomes more accurate, more efficient, and safer.

-I have had a number of conversations about stormwater stuff concerning the City and have gotten a lot of ideas pertaining to how we could improve the overall stormwater situation. Thank you for that input!

-There is a grant available for the City for sustainable development. This could be used to assist with the renewable energy aspects being considered for City buildings.

-CCLEP has also said that they are interested in helping gather information with regard to these sustainability efforts.

-I may be doing a proclamation to celebrate School Choice Week in January. It is supposed to be a day that celebrates the choices we have for education in our community.

That was it for that meeting! As always, please let me know if you have any questions or comments.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Conversations About Stormwater Solutions

After this particularly wet fall there has been a lot of conversation happening about the downtown flooding concentrated in the municipal parking lot. 
Downtown flood 1960

I wanted to take a moment and bring everyone up to speed on where we are with this and the conversation / planning that has been taking place in regard to the situation. 

*I want to make it clear that this is a summary. There is a great deal more information in the form of engineering reports and past project planning that I will mention, but don't have the space here or the training to be able to do much more than that... I will do my best though.

Historically the area where the Municipal Parking Lot is located was a pond. There are several photos at the historical society that show young people skating on what is now the parking lot. The photo below may give some idea of the historical condition of that area. These ponds were (and still are) the low points for the downtown and functioned as the water collection point for the downtown. There was also a canal that ran across town in order to assist the draining of the area. Eventually the pond was filled in and the resulting gravel lot was often used as an overflow parking place and a venue for large trucks to get dirty. The area still served the same purpose though: collecting stormwater.
Bally in center, parking lot right, City Hall left

In 2001 the City performed a comprehensive stormwater management plan that provided description/analysis of the hydrology in the area, the watersheds and their boundaries, locations of concern, and roughly 20 pages of proposed actions that could be taken to mitigate the problems that were happening with stormwater. 

These included actions that would improve the efficiency of the creek and stream system around town, that would direct the continued development of the City's stormwater sewer system, proposals to assist the City in not exasperating the problems when there is future development, the need for retention ponds throughout town (which transformed into rain gardens...), and a number of ordinance and best practices for the City Council to adopt to make the plan effective. 

As a result of this stormwater plan the City invested significant resources and sought grant funding to actualize some of these recommendations, which helped fulfill the goal of improving the water quality of Lake Superior around the City.

Also as a result of this plan the City did a complimentary drainage analysis in 2002 with the intent of:
-Reviewing the capacity of the existing storm drainage system that conveys water from the east downtown area to Lake Superior.
-Determine what improvements could be made to increase the drainage system capacity and reduce the periodic flooding that occurs within the downtown areas.
-Provide preliminary construction cost estimates for potential drainage improvements. 

This analysis showed that the first floor of City Hall is at 606' above sea level, the low point of the parking lot is at 604', and the storage pond (behind the Coop and Stone Harbor) is at 602 feet. In 2002 the average water level of Lake Superior was around between 600' and 601'. That means that when the pond fully drains out, it would have about 3-4 feet worth of water storage in the pond, or about 8,215 sq. ft. of storage... Now, that doesn't mean a lot to me, but it certainly doesn't seem like a lot to handle the draining of that area... It worked decently well though. With the paving complete and with an improved storm drainage system in place, that area was no longer the swampy, muddy, gravel lot that it was previously and suffered with only occasional flooding that would quickly drain. 

In 2007 the City performed another, not quite as complex Stormwater Management Plan based on identifying projects that the City could perform to continue improving the stormwater situation. This list of projects included a lot of culvert replacement, ditching, dredging, and berming that would slow down the stormwater before it hit the downtown area and the lake. Even though our rain events were becoming more severe even in 2007, the lake level in 2007 set the record for the lowest water level ever in February at 599.7'. This low lake level increased the storage volume of the downtown storage pond. 

Since 2007 the lake level has rebounded to near, or above the 602' level, the highest in a seventeen year period, which reduces the storage in that pond. Likewise, there has been more paving happening in the downtown area, which decreases infiltration and increases runoff. In addition, our rain events have become more extreme. All of these things correlate with and explain the increased occasion of flooding in the parking lot. 

In 2009 the City revisited and reassessed the Stormwater Management Plan, but mainly to check off things that had been done. 

At our last City Council meeting Cook County Soil and Water approached the City Council to encourage the City to weigh in on potentially getting some funding from the State to refresh our stormwater plan with the changed reality of higher lake levels and more severe weather events (we have had three "50+ year" weather events in the past 10 years...).  The Council identified this as a prudent action because our problems will likely only get worse unless we identify real solutions for the struggles that we are having right now. As a result, the City will be working with the County Soil and Water Department to pursue funding to do this study. 

Within the scope of Comprehensive Planning and Community Visioning, the Council feels pretty comfortable that it is a priority of the City's residents and business owners to manage our stormwater more effectively either to maintain our drinking water source, or to prevent property damage. (The Council has already heard from several residents and business owners that stormwater infrastructure is a major concern of theirs).


So, that is the history, where do we go RIGHT NOW with this problem?

I have been discussing this issue with several engineers across the state and have received several ideas both anecdotally and actually. This is a brief summary of the most viable of these ideas:


Hwy 61 Redesign-- The idea of using the Hwy 61 Redesign as a tool to effectively cut off all stormwater coming down the hill from ending up in the parking lot is a great idea and will definitely be included in the 2019 project. There are a few problems with this proposal though: a.) 2019 is a long time away and b.) where are we going to send that water? 
I believe that we cannot wait until 2019 to find a solution to this problem, but we can definitely still put elements of a solution into the redesign. When it gets included, how are we going to get all of that run-off into the lake without dumping a huge amount of sediment and other pollutants from our streets directly into our drinking water source? It would likely require a large (or larger than currently exists) culvert to run under the downtown area with some kind of filtration... As you can see, this is an element of the solution, but not the solution itself...


One of our local business owners, an engineer himself, proposed a solution that included connecting the storm drainage pipe that empties into the pond to a pump that would, when triggered by a flooding parking lot water level, would pump the water into the pond, thus artificially elevating the pond until infiltration brings the level back down. This would require some pretty significant engineering and equipment, as well as maintenance on said equipment, but I do definitely see that this would be a way to solve the situation... if we can pump enough water into that pond to not flood the back sides of the businesses there...


Another engineer advised me more on the theory of the situation than an actual plan. He stated that there are three things at work here:
1. Too much area draining to the parking lot
2. Too much water entering the drainfield too quickly
3. Infiltration happening too slowly
As for the area draining to the parking lot... well, I believe that we addressed that in the Hwy 61 Redesign idea. As far as the speed of the water is concerned, we could dig ditches... but we live on a hill. It can be hard to beat gravity... As for infiltration happening too slowly, well, we want slower infiltration because fast infiltration doesn't catch all of the pollutants... These are the ideas we have to work with though. It is good to have them identified.


Yet another engineer that I spoke with sought to find a more cost effective solution with minimal compromises. 

We talked about three concepts: 
1)      Dredge the pond in the hopes of improving its ability to release water
2)      Increase the amount of live storage by enlarging the pond, using the land to the northeast
3)      Create a spillway to release water at a certain elevation
We agreed that the most attractive approach seemed to be to do both 1 and 3. Increasing the size of the pond would likely not give us the increased storage we need and would change the nature of that area to a point that it may create other issues. 

I do not believe that the pond has been dredged in many years though, and it may very well be clogged up with silt and sediment, thus hampering its ability to drain properly. Removing the accumulated sediment would be a good idea anyway as that sediment probably contains most of the pollutants from the parking lot all of these years. Removing it wouldn't have a significant impact on the pond's ability to filter either as the pond was designed without the soil in there...

The spillway. An interesting idea and one that was included in the stormwater analysis in 2002. However the 2002 plan wanted to put a massive concrete structure on the beach and a Tideflex valve to drain the pond in cases of overflow. This wasn't a popular idea because it wasn't beautiful (as you can see from the photo) and it was extremely expensive. The Council at the time was not convinced that the lake wouldn't just pummel that thing and break it within a few years either, so nothing was built. 

This engineer believes that the City can, for not a lot of money, landscape a spillway (a low spot armored with an articulated revetment mattress like on the Gunflint Trail ditches) into the east wall of the pond at a height of about 605' so there would be maximum water retention in the pond for normal weather events and an overflow that would stem the flooding in the parking lot.

But what about the pollution in the overflow water? Well, that is the compromise on this plan, but it may be as bad as you may think. This is how it was explained to me:

When you get a rain event the first flush of the rain will succeed in washing off most of the junk from the roads. After that there is very little left on the roads to be problematic. The pond has already proven itself able to handle most of our rain events up here, but is increasingly unable to handle the massive weather that we have been seeing. In the cases of these floods in the parking lot there is either a tremendous amount of water in a short time, in which case most of that water is going to pour directly into the lake without being treated because of its velocity OR there is a long, continuous rain, in which case most of the pollutants will be washed out and filtered as the pond does its work. It would likely be relatively clean water that would be overflowing because of the pond's ability to allow the pollutants to settle...

I understand that this may be a rose-colored-glasses approach to this and there haven't been any formal plans written up for any of these suggestions (other than the Hwy 61 project... MN DOT knows we want to do stormwater there...) nor has the Council voted on any of these ideas, and there would likely need to be some kind of engineering done on this project so we can be sure that it will function like we want it to and so it won't be a waste of time and money. 

The proposal of the dredging and the spillway would be, by far, the cheapest option here, aside from doing nothing. 

We need to ask ourselves a few questions about this situation:
1. How much money is it worth to have the parking lot not  flood even though it was designed to be additional stormwater storage space?

2. How much water are we ok with in that parking lot?

The correlation between these two questions is important. If we are ok with the occasional 2 feet of water in the parking lot, then we don't have to spend any money and we leave it as it is. We already know that this isn't how a lot of people feel.

If we are ok with the occasional 1 foot of water in the center of the parking lot, then we can pursue mitigation efforts that are aimed at slowing down the water coming down the hill for a minimal investment and not focus on a redesign of the pond.

If we don't want any water in the parking lot at any time (this seems to be the leading perspective), then we are likely looking at a redesign of the pond of some sort and efforts to slow/divert the water from the downtown area at a larger expense. 


I think that is about it. I hope that wasn't too boring. If you made it all of the way through... wow. You are dedicated! I would love to hear your thoughts on potential solutions for the stormwater situation if you have any that differ greatly from the ones proposed here.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

City Council Meeting 11-30-17

We had another City Council meeting tonight... It is the third to the last meeting that we will have this year.

We started with the Roll Call where everyone was present except for Councilor Benson, who was out of town.

I then opened up the Public Comment period, but no one spoke so we moved right along.

The Consent Agenda was composed of the usual three items, approving the meeting agenda, the previous meeting's minutes, and the City's bills. There were no concerns about the Consent Agenda, so there was a motion and it was approved unanimously.


The first thing on the agenda was Cook County Soil and Water.  They had two presentations for us.

The first was that they have been testing water quality for three years at strategic locations along the shore so they can have some baseline numbers for water quality. They are the first group on Lake Superior that is formally taking these measurements! There are 5 spots, East Bay, right off shore of the water plant, the marina, the harbor in front of the Trading Post, and in front of the rec park boat launch.

What are they gathering? E. Coli numbers, temperature, clarity, Chlorophyll, phosphorus, chloride, Nitrogens, different solids in the water, dissolved oxygen, conductivity, PH

The site by the East Bay sewer plant had the lowest E. Coli number, which means the treatment plant is doing its job. The marina had the highest pollution numbers, which isn't a big surprise. They will continue doing these monitoring activities for another 2 years so that they can have a solid baseline.

Their second presentation was a historical trip through the City's stormwater management plans and other associated information. There was a plan in 2001, another plan in 2007, and an update in 2009.

Most of these plans addressed the perceived stormwater concerns at each time. Soil and Water brought up the new concerns and future concerns for the City:
The Municipal Parking Lot's issues,
how development changes our area's hydrology (i.e. more paved area causes more run-off, more infrastructure limits the lakeward flow of water, etc),
a changing understanding of what is acceptable with stormwater runoff,
etc...

They proposed that it is time for a new stormwater management plan and there is some funding available.

This management plan would have:
modeling of precipitation events,
a stormwater inventory which would include checking culvert size and placement,
answer the question of "Where is the water coming from and where is it going?"
identify necessary projects to mitigate stormwater problems,
costs of these projects and scheduling,
and assessment of projects' effectiveness.

Our watershed is not typical, instead of having a steep slope and a nice flat plain before the lake we have a water break at the top of the hill and then a steep hill leading right down to the lake... This makes the development of our stormwater management plan more difficult, but necessary.

They shared with us that there is a lot of grant monies that are available for such a plan: we can likely leverage $25,000 of City resources in order to get $188,000 in total grant funding. We are a Tier 1 Priority area, which moves us up the queue of grant funding...

They want to know if the City would like to commit to up to $25,000 so that we can capitalize on this opportunity. Since the City has had this conversation several times at this point over several years and the stormwater issues faced by the City are coming to the forefront we committed to investing $25,000 in the instance that we would be able to apply for and secure the additional funds, which would allow us to complete the study and to complete a few of the projects that the plan calls for. This was concluded as a situation where the City can actually be money ahead by ending up with both an up to date plan and with a good start on the projects that were identified by the plan. In the end we voted to commit the funds in the instance that we can secure the other funding.


Next, we had Dave Tersteeg of the Parks Department come and give us an update on the performance of the Rec. Park in order to give us some perspective on our budgeting process for 2017, mainly to make sure that we were writing somewhat accurate numbers into the budget and that we would be able to distribute the monies into the appropriate locations. Tersteeg's report basically showed the facts that the Rec. Park has consistently, over the past 10 years, increased its revenues in spite of the recession and the Park Board has adopted new, more innovative approaches to increasing revenues. This all was to help the Council understand what to expect next year. Part of the reason for this conversation was to support the next item on the agenda, which was...

The Financial Report provided by the City's Kim Dunsmoor had a number of different items, one of which related to the Rec. Park. It was the Finance Director's suggestion that the City officially create an assigned fund for the Park Department and to fund that account at an amount that is roughly equivalent to half of the year's operational expenses. The Council had been talking about this action for several years and was really pleased to see the suggestion supported by the Finance Director.

The next item on the Finance Report was concerning the Golf Course. The Golf Course hasn't made money for the last 12 years. It has been something that the City has financed consistently with General Fund monies for the past 12 years. This raises certain issues with the Golf Course itself, but the request from the Finance Director was to have the Council move the Golf Course account from an enterprise fund for the City to the General Fund. This move would more accurately reflect the nature of the Golf Course since enterprise funds are supposed to make money. The City also moved all of the City's other enterprises into the General Fund several years ago, so it made sense to consolidate them in the same place. The Council thought that this made sense, so the vote was taken and it was done.

The final item on the Finance Report was concerning the Library's restricted accounts. The Library has two restricted accounts, one that is composed of several gifts made to the Library and the other that is composed of a generous bequest by the Hazel Matthews estate that happened quite some time ago. The request was that the Council move to combine these accounts into one restricted account since the covenants that govern both of these accounts are exactly the same. I asked several questions about whether the Library Director was asked about this and whether this would change the way that the Library was able to use this money. The answers to these questions did not pose any concerns and the Council voted to combine the accounts.

Following that, the Council heard the second reading of the ordinance that we would like to opt out of the state restrictions on "Granny Pods" imposed by the state earlier this year. This passed unanimously.

The final thing that the Council heard was the recommendation from the City Personnel Committee to hire the new Assistant Library Director who will start around the beginning of the year. I have to confirm the name, but the selection has been made from a pool of very well qualified applicants. There were 5 interviews and three very good candidates. The Committee felt very lucky to have to make this very difficult decision.

Then on to Councilor Updates:

Councilor Moody had a question about whether sledding at the golf course is going to be allowed this year on the golf course. There has been some confusion about whether or not that is allowed.

Councilor Kennedy reported on the County's efforts to establish a Parks and Trails commission which is calling for one City representative either Council or staff on the commission. We need to have a conversation about who that person should be. Just about all of the Councilors present showed interest, but there was some discussion about Councilor Mills since he is on the Park Board here in the City.

The PUC's rate increases were approved. 2% for electric fund, 2% for water fund, 3% for sewer fund to reflect increases in purchase rates etc.

Greater MN Parks and Trails Commission is up for renewal in membership in this group to continue advocating for development of trail infrastructure in greater MN, including the Gitchi Gammi Trail.


My report was composed of a summary of my experience at the latest meeting in Beaver Bay concerning the sexual exploitation of young people in MN. We heard a presentation from a young woman who was actually exploited and trafficked within the State and her experience being exploited. She made it really clear that the people that are doing the exploiting most of the time study and know human psychology and are able to identify those that are vulnerable almost immediately...
The conversation will certainly continue, but will focus on trying to find ways that we can meet the needs of the young people in our community and thus remove the access or appeal of the exploiters.  There is a lot of stuff here and it isn't easy to tap into.

The other meeting was a North House Board meeting where they discussed the continued growth of the organization, future planning, the 20th anniversary, accommodating the new (but now postponed) overtime and labor rules, a new staff handbook, etc. It was overall a very positive meeting with a great deal of good information.

I couldn't remember the last item on my list during the meeting, but I remember it now... I will share it in another post because I think that it warrants its own post...

That was it! We were done and adjourned the meeting a little after 8.

As always, if you have any questions, please let me know!



Monday, November 14, 2016

The Best Ways to get Involved in Your Community...

A few days ago, after my re-election to Grand Marais Mayor (thank you to all of you who voted for me!) I put out an invitation on facebook telling people that if they would like coaching on how they can better get involved in their community, I would be willing to work with them to help them find a way to do that.

*As a definite caveat, I write this not because I know it all or because I have any secrets, but because the response that I got from that simple shout out was very, very strong and I haven't had enough time to get back to most of the people that contacted me, so I thought I would write up a few thoughts and observations that I have had from my experience. This won't, by any means, be complete, but it may serve as a decent place to get started!

**As another caveat, I am going to throw out a lot of ideas that don't require much if anything beyond having a willingness to stand for something. There are, of course, many positions within cities and counties that you can serve formally in, but it is much more powerful to live out what you want to see happen and work to bring others with you in that lifestyle...

First of all, the simplest thing that you can do is to KNOW WHO REPRESENTS YOU and build a relationship with them. This doesn't just mean you send them letters when you are angry. This means that you know who they are and, as much as you can, communicate with them about your views on the situation for which they were appointed.

For example: Every district in our county has a school board member. Sending your school board member a message when they make a decision that you agree with is very good for them. Sending a message saying how proud you are of the volleyball team (well done this year ladies!) or that you noticed students doing science work outside of the building and you think that's great speaks volumes about what the community puts value in and helps those people do their jobs better.

Being respectful when a decision is made that you don't agree with and asking how that decision was reached can help significantly as well. Educating yourself is easiest when you get the information from the "horse's mouth" so to speak. Then you can start a conversation about how you feel about the process that led up to the decision and not only the decision.

*Calling people names never gets you what you want.

There are dozens of these boards and commissions in our county and there are even more in more populous places! We have:

Mayor and Council
Public Utilities Commission
Economic Development Authority
Planning and Zoning Commission
Library Board
Parks and Recreation Board
School Board
Hospital Board
Visit Cook County Board/Grand Marais Area Tourism Association/Lutsen Tofte Tourism Association/Gunflint Trail Tourism Association
Grand Portage Tribal Council
County Board of Commissioners
Airport Advisory Commission
Board of Adjustment
Board of Equalization
Broadband Commission
Emergency Communications Committee
Community Center Board
Cook County Invasives Team
Cook County Soil and Water Conservation District
Univ. of MN Extension Committee
Human Services Board
Local Water Management Plan Advisory Committee
Revolving Loan Fund Committee
GES Board
School Curriculum Advisory Committee
School Health and Safety Committee
School Academic Team
School Communications and Collaboration Team
School Long Range Planning Team
School Extracurricular Activities Team
School Health and Wellness Policy Team
...and I haven't even gotten into the non-profit boards around here!

**I know, that sounds like a lot of people to get to know and to build a relationship with, but I'm not saying you have to know and have a conversation with all of them, but did you know that we have an Airport Advisory Committee? Did you know there was a Long Range Planning Team at the school?

All of these committees were listed on the webpages for the City, County, and School. Check it out and if there is a part of everyday life that you feel very strongly about, like invasive species or emergency communication, then reach out and make a connection there. Your board members will appreciate it!


Secondly, since I went through the trouble of listing out all of those boards and committees I figured that would be a good place to segue to the conversation about actually getting on a board or two. Many of the boards and commissions that I listed (and non-profits that I will list below) have community representation on them and THEY ARE the folks that make decisions concerning everyday life in regards to those specific topics. You may have noticed on the ballot this election there were a number of people running unopposed for seats on many of these committees. There are also a number of non-profits that would LOVE to have some new folks come in and sit on their boards.

**You: "But it takes too much time."
Me: Valid concern. Very valid. Many of us are working quite a few hours and those that are not often have other concerns to deal with within our families and homes. No guilt there AT ALL. Life happens. Take care of your own first! You can't impact change in your community if your own home is in shambles!

BUT,

Many of these boards and committees are structured to allow for busy schedules and are very flexible to work with and sometimes even do meetings via group phone call or skype, which means you don't have to leave your house to participate! Also, if you have interest and energy to be on one of these, I can bet you that the existing people on the board will bend over backwards to make it work...

SO SECOND: Find a Committee or Board to sit on. (Check out Number Three first though).

Cook County Higher Education
Boreal Community Media
Coldwater Foundation
Grand Marais Art Colony
Arrowhead Center for the Arts
Grand Marais Playhouse
North House Folk School
North Shore Health Care Foundation
North Shore Music Association
WTIP Community Radio
Sawtooth Mountain Clinic
Violence Prevention Center
Cook County Local Energy Project
Superior Cycling Association
YMCA Council
Northwoods Volunteer Connection
Social Justice Project
North Shore Ski and Run Club
Norpine Trail Association
Friends of the Library
Empty Bowls
Arrowhead Animal Rescue
Cook County Ridge Riders Snowmobile Club
Cook County ATV Club
Deer Hunters Association of America
(I'm missing about a hundred I think...)

THIRD: Don't get involved specifically, but represent what is important to you fairly and publicly. This is probably the biggest thing that you can do honestly. Ask yourself what you are really good at and what makes you love where you live. Is it that cup of coffee with friends at the Blue Water in the morning? Is it saying hello to someone that you vaguely recognize at the Post Office? Is it buying that kid at the next table a dessert because she has been so well behaved? Do these things and encourage others to do the same. If they don't, no worries, but every little bit makes our community stronger.

Do you have a personal connection with a topic? International Workers? Domestic Assault? Drug Abuse Prevention? Environmental Protection? Something else?
Find a way to encourage these things. Offer to help/host an international worker, stand up against domestic assault, buy into a community solar program, etc...

**The one thing that I cannot stress enough in this area is to not assume that your beliefs are superior to someone else's. You have to bring what you have to offer as just that, something to offer. It doesn't have to be taken. Which gets me to the next point:

FOURTH: LISTEN and EDUCATE YOURSELF. Listen to what people are saying even if you disagree with it. Ask questions to clarify. Ask the person who you have the issue with, not the fourth person down the chain. Be respectful. It is much harder to make headway in a compromise if you can't talk through something enough to know what you have in common!

We lose nothing by talking to people as we would like them to talk to us. This doesn't mean you have to be passive, but is does mean that you should wait to judge someone until you have had a chance to talk with them about what you disagree on. If there is a leader in the community who you often disagree with, contact them and ask them how they got to their decision. Then you can inform them of WHERE you disagree with them, not just that you DO disagree.


Well, those are 4 things that can give you a place to start.

If you have read this and have an idea of how you can get involved in your community, great! If you still need some help formulating your thoughts, let me know and I would be glad to help think it through, but it may take me a little while to get back to you...

So, in conclusion: Find out who your representatives are in your community (and beyond) and start communicating with them. If you find a topic that you really believe in and that drives your desire to get involved, then research an organization or ask people who are already involved how you can get involved (then be clear about your time constraints).
If not, represent your beliefs in a way that will encourage others to consider them and ask questions so you can better understand the situations that you don't like.

AND, if any of you get a wild hair and want to run for an elected position, let me know. I can help you organize that (even if it is just to get you information to get registered on time... I have learned that is really important...). Thank you all for being great community members. I look forward to serving the Grand Marais area for another two years and am willing to be a resource for people from other areas to help them get involved as well!