Saturday, May 28, 2016

I hear Tom is running...

In recent days, I have had several people encourage me to run for Hastings City Council. I really appreciate everyone’s thoughts and several offers of significant financial and logistical help. I’ve also had local elected officials tell others that I am running, without actually asking me. However, I already have several things on my plate that I would need to sacrifice in order to run and serve in an elected capacity for a minimum of four years. 
Plus, I believe I can have a much larger impact on my community and achieve my goal of getting more residents involved in their government on the outside of City Hall than occupying a chair on the inside. Also, on a personal note, while my wife’s health is currently good, the next three years are critical in determining her long-term prognosis.
I’m energized about the coming months and years here in Hastings, and I plan on remaining very involved in the community. For instance, this fall, I will begin serving as a council member on the Flint Hills Resources Community Advisory Council (CAC), representing Hastings, monitoring activities and environmental conditions at the Pine Bend refinery and their effects on surrounding cities.
I will continue hosting “Everybody Loves Politics,” my monthly politically oriented show on Hastings Community TV — which will undoubtedly be a blast during the upcoming presidential campaign. This is one of my favorite things to do and I’d have to give it up if I ran for office.
I’m part of a growing group of citizens that’s reviving the Hastings Democracy Project, an initiative that existed 10 years ago and had a major impact on the city — giving birth to HPAAC and contributing ideas to build a better city trail system. Look for more on that soon, with many new people already on board and plenty of opportunities to involve even more in the near future.
I’m also going to continue, and expand, what I’m doing with Hastings Happenings, which started out as a community website in 2008 and has evolved into a blog and popular Facebook page with more than 1,700 followers. For example, over the past few months, I have spent more than $300 promoting Facebook posts to build awareness of the city council election filing period, encourage people to run, and provide links to helpful resources. Several challengers have since filed for election and there’s the potential of having three new council members starting in January. Stay tuned for even more coverage of community issues from Hastings Happenings.
And, I’ll continue to be a proud member of HPAAC, having worked on their gala event last fall and assisting in communications and PR efforts for this amazing and talented local group of artists. With the new Artspace building on the way downtown and additional outlets for the arts happening in Hastings, I can’t wait to see what’s coming next.
You can indeed make a big difference where you live without running and serving as an elected official. The notion that somehow you can’t ask questions, seek more information, or expect a more responsive and well-run government as a private citizen is just false. Many people who should be contributing their perspectives to community decisions buy into this and never get involved because they think they’d have to run for office, or spend countless hours in meetings.
Because I have dared to share my opinion and offer my perspective, I’ve actually had several local elected officials tell me “if you don’t like the way I do things, why don’t you run?” So, by that logic, if I disagree with something Governor Dayton does or says, I have no right to question or criticize it unless I run for governor?
Elected officials sometimes forget who the boss is — the citizens. And the minute you start limiting access to their viewpoints, tuning them out, telling them to “sit down and shut up” at meetings (yes, it happened here in 2014), or writing nasty social media posts to constituents, is the minute you need to be replaced.
So there you have it. Not running, but more involved than ever.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Update: Hastings City Budget now online (as of May 16)

2016 budget is now online - after nearly five months of waiting.
Not sure what was the magic formula, or if City Hall was receiving questions from someone other than us, but the 2016 Hastings city budget appeared online suddenly on the morning of May 16.

While this is good news, one has to wonder why the Hastings city government waited this long to show exactly how they are spending taxpayer dollars. Why wait 4 1/2 months into the budget year to place the detailed budget information online?

What comes next? Joining the rest of most Minnesota cities and have the detailed budget for the following year online and accessible to the public before it is voted on by our elected officials. Hastings doesn't do this for some reason.

Does anyone honestly think that the City of Minneapolis, for example, could get by with just issuing an "overview" of the coming year's budget during the Truth in Taxation meeting in December, but not share any details of where resident tax dollars would be spent? This is why cities hold budget meetings - open to the public at times when most folks can attend (no, not at 7:30 am on a weekday) - so citizens can see the budget details and then consult with their council members prior to any vote taking place.

Not so in Hastings. The full, detailed budget for the coming year isn't placed online until after it is formally approved by the Hastings City Council in mid-December. In 2014, the full 2015 budget was placed online on the day after it was approved by the council.

That was bad enough (no citizens saw the budget before it was voted on), but in 2015, even this didn't happen. Residents had to wait until May 16 to see all of the line-item details in the 2016 budget - a full 4 1/2 months into the year.

Here's a thought - For the 2017 budget, the City of Hastings should set a date well in advance of the Truth in Taxation meeting and council approval meeting to place the detailed 2017 budget online. How about November 1? Or even November 15?

A date in November would surely enough time for the council's budget committee and City Administrator to create the document, store it as a PDF, and place it online for public consumption. If changes are made to it after this time, simply make a note of them and add the edits to the document.

The citizens of Hastings have a right to see where their money is being spent - well in advance of when their elected officials approve the budget. It only makes sense.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Why isn't the detailed 2016 City of Hastings budget online?

An article on MinnPost today describes the dysfunction of the Lake Elmo City Council. But at least that city has placed its full, approved 2016 budget document online. 
Curiously, Hastings still has not placed the detailed 2016 budget online. It's bad enough that the budget line-item detail isn't made public before it's voted on and approved in December, but why not place it online? It's March next week. 
And no, I'm not running for council. I would just like to see my city government do the bare minimum when it comes to informing people how it is spending our money - $25 million.
Despite having a dysfunctional council, the 2016
Lake Elmo city budget is online. Why isn't ours?
The final, approved Hastings budget is missing from the city's budget page (as of Feb. 23).  Yes, there are "preliminary" documents and the "proposed budget snapshot," but not the final document. It's bad enough not to have the budget details made public prior to the Council vote in December, but not even posting it after it has been approved? Huh? 

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Using fear as a weapon

Today I’d like to talk a little bit about fear. There’s certainly a lot of it going around nowadays. It seems like every time you see the news, there’s a report of another terrorist attack, mass shooting, or both, in a foreign country or even right here in America. Lately, it even seems hard to keep track of the reasons why our flags are at flying at half staff. So it’s natural that we are all a bit nervous that something might happen to us or someone we know. 

Since the beginning of time, fear has been a great motivator. Sometimes just the mere hint of a pending invasion by another country was enough to make nations surrender. Leaders know that the scarier they make something appear, they can get their citizens to respond in ways that often seem irrational. 

During the Cold War, as America and the Soviet Union faced each other down in Europe and built stockpiles of nuclear weapons, all of us lived in fear of an all-out nuclear war. They called it “Mutually Assured Destruction” or MAD, and it worked incredibly well. Just search YouTube sometime for examples of films like “Duck and Cover,” which were shown to young schoolchildren convinced that their classroom desk could save them from a Soviet ICBM. 

In the 80s at the height of the Reagan era, I went to high school in Omaha, Nebraska – not too far from Strategic Air Command – otherwise known as “Ground Zero, USA” because so many Soviet missiles were aimed at it. In fact, Strategic Air Command always kept a plane flying in the air over Omaha with a general who held the launch codes for an all-out attack on Russia. Needless to say, it felt quite ominous when it flew over my house. 

In our personal lives, fear also governs much of what we do. We put up fences around our homes, buy extra padlocks and alarm systems, and avoid certain parts of town after dark. And in the American tradition, if owning one gun is good, owning two must be even better, right? 

So it’s not surprising that some individuals running for political office through the years have used fear in order to rally people behind their cause. In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson suggested that Republican Senator Barry Goldwater was eager to use nuclear weapons against North Vietnam. In 1984, Democrat Walter Mondale ran a TV spot against President Reagan, saying that the Strategic Defense Initiative or “Star Wars” would actually lead to an escalation in the nuclear arms race. 

And not to be left out, the Republicans have certainly used fear in their campaigns. In 1988, George Bush painted Democrat Michael Dukakis as “soft on crime” and aired the famous Willie Horton ad, featuring a man who committed a rape while he was furloughed from prison in Massachusetts. The implication was that if Dukakis were elected, the gates of America’s prisons would swing open on Inauguration Day, allowing hardened criminals to roam the streets.

Most recently on the Republican side, fear has been the preferred campaign weapon of choice for billionaire and professional talker Donald Trump. First, Trump warned us about rapist Mexicans coming to steal our jobs, then it was women in the news media, then it was Senator John McCain, then he mocked disabled people, then it was immigrants from everywhere. He has encouraged his fans to “rough up” Latinos and African-Americans at his rallies. And now he wants to ban all Muslims from entering the United States, even if they are citizens or returning from serving abroad in our armed forces.

Why do glorified carnival barkers like Trump use fear when running for such an important office? Because it works, pure and simple. But as long as we understand what it is, and recognize when it is being used, we don’t have to stand for it. 

It’s time for all of us, Republicans, Democrats and Independents alike, to find leaders who can motivate us through optimism and positive ideas for our country, rather than seeking to divide us. There’s no reason it can’t happen if we want it to. 

Monday, November 23, 2015

Ace Hardware to fill portion of Goodwill property

Contacted this afternoon, Zander Fried, leasing agent for the former Goodwill property in Westview Center, confirmed the hardware store planned for the site will be an Ace Hardware. No additional details are available at this time. 

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Hastings Happenings reaches a milestone - more to come!

As you have probably noticed, Hastings Happenings has primarily been active on Facebook over the past year or so. We continue to see steady growth in the number of Hastings residents (and others) who see the page as a place to see news, information and opinions related to our great community. In fact, earlier today, we reached a milestone that is worth mentioning - we reached 1,500 "likes" (followers) on our Facebook page. (We also have 667 followers on Twitter - @hastingsminn).

Judging from the positive response we have received to this approach in the past year, it is clear that readers enjoy having the opportunity to learn more about what's happening in Hastings, freely share what their organizations are doing (events, fundraisers, celebrations, etc.), and openly contribute their opinions as well. 

In recent months on our Hastings Happenings social media channels, we have shared posts from other news sources and simply asked readers to give their opinions. And at other times, we have raised questions that are particularly "hot" at the moment and solicited feedback from residents. In the near future, we will be writing more original stories here at HastingsHappenings.co and posting them to our Facebook and Twitter pages. 

In other words, our objective is to increasingly be known as a multi-channel news source for all things Hastings. A few things to keep in mind: 

- We are locally owned, not run by an out-of-state corporation with news outlets in multiple cities.
- We are dedicated to providing accurate information about issues affecting Hastings residents and business owners. 
- We believe a news-gathering organization has an obligation to cover all sides of the news and keep an open mind.
- We will share our opinions on issues (and endorse candidates) just as other news outlets have done. But our endorsements will come from us, not someone who doesn't live or work in Hastings.
- Guest opinion pieces and news stories are welcome. Please feel free to send us an email with your letter or story idea. 

Thank you again for your support for Hastings Happenings since we started in 2008. The best is yet to come!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Hastings City Council approves own double-digit salary raises

In a vote that came as a surprise to no one, the Hastings City Council approved salary raises for itself last night in a unanimous 6-0 vote. Mayor Paul Hicks, who received a 12.5% raise effective January 2015 (he will now earn $9,600 annually), was on vacation and not present for the Oct. 20 vote. Also in January, council members will receive a 16.7% salary increase for their part-time work representing Hastings residents. They will each make $7,200 annually.
One of the council members present Monday night, Tony Alongi, made a point of reminding the viewing audience that members of the Hastings City Council had not received a raise since 2000, and had even decreased its pay for one of those long 14 years, seemingly in solidarity with the Hastings city staff, before returning its pay to its original level the following year.
Fast forward to 2014 and it was Alongi, along with Council Members Schultz and Nelson, who formally recommended the very raises that passed on Monday night. As members of the council Finance Committee, the three officials said they studied other cities’ council and mayoral salaries and learned that Hastings was paying less than the average. None of that is in dispute.
What some in the community may call into question is the large leap the Hastings council is taking to “catch up” with other cities. Many of those other cities have been, and still are, in better economic shape. If it’s critical that Hastings council members get paid the same as other cities our size, why not just increase salaries in 3-5% increments over time?
We also thought it was telling that, during his commentary on Monday night, Alongi described the salary he receives as a “stipend.”  Some folks may think that $600 per month (after the raise) qualifies as a bit more than a stipend – some might even call it “grocery money.”
So, if the “stipend” our council members and mayor receive is so insignificant, why the need for such a large increase? And if it’s truly such a token amount of money, why even collect a salary at all? Why not just earn $50 per meeting? Or, better yet, if the mayor and council would work for nothing, as true “public servants” and “volunteers,” that would put another $52,800 back into the Hastings general fund.
I’d like to see at least one of the council members (or mayor) turn down this raise and give it to the charity of their choice. $1,200 would be a great donation – and think of the positive publicity.     (breath not being held).