Happy-Merry-Goodness

The last couple of months have been a blur of activity–traveling and working between my home and that of my fiance ninety minutes away. But the Christmas cheer is no less because of it–I haven’t had a “family” Christmas in years, and I’m thoroughly enjoying this one.

Our menu is a bit international, with John and I and our two exchange students all participating in food preparation. Last night, I assisted our Spanish student making paella (his first!), and tonight, our student from Hong Kong is prepping a soup from his home country. I feel honored that he’s asked me to make the rice, as he’s determined I’m the most capable in the household of doing it right.

This morning, I prepped my own contribution: a sort-of New England style fish chowder. It has smoked salmon, plus potatoes and onions from my gardens. But that chowder will be for Christmas Day–as non-traditional as the thing turned out to be, two cardinal rules of fish chowder-making will be observed: it will ripen overnight, and it won’t contain corn.

Our sons Martin and Jacob haven’t been participating in the cooking, but they certainly have been eating–especially John’s pecan-mint-chocolate chip cookies! They also helped finish off decorating the tree this afternoon.

After tomorrow’s lunch, we’ll be packing up and heading off to Norway for a week to visit more family (nope, neither of us are Scandinavian, that’s just where the family is congregating). I’m excited in that, not-really-sure-what-I’m-in-for kind of way. Just going with the flow and making sure I don’t forget my passport, a couple of good books, and a half dozen little clementines to munch on during the long flight.

Have a great holiday, holidays, or just wonderful days whatever you celebrate or don’t!

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Strong Showing for County Commission Write-Ins; County Questions Soundly Defeated

It’s a mixed bag of election results this morning–lots to be excited about, and some that have me feeling a little glum.

I’m sorry to hear that after so many years of excellent DFL representation for Big Stone County on the state level, our redistricting, which coupled us to a more northerly, and more conservative population base, has resulted in a loss for DFL State Senate candidate (and Big Stone County resident) John Schultz.

The 12A State House DFL candidate Jay McNamar defeated his challenger, Scott Dutcher, and in our old district, Rep. Andy Falk and Senator Gary Kubly’s successor, Lyle Koenen both prevailed.

Some exciting news on the county front: both write-in challengers for commission seats had strong support in their respective districts. Mark Block, in District 3, garnered 37% of the vote, and Mike Hartman in District 5 got 35% of the vote.

Considering both candidates had only a month to educate voters, and that many of their potential constituents had already received (and many returned) their ballots by the time the write-in candidacies were announced, the fact that both of them still managed to persuade over 1/3 of voters to write in their names is an incredible feat.

Of course, in Ortonville Township, where the results of commissioners’ jurisdictional overstep on the Strata Quarry CUP are most keenly felt, Hartman beat the incumbent Berning 28-21.

Write-in campaigns are notoriously difficult to win (though congratulations go to Sarina Otaibi in Granite Falls, who pulled off hers), and especially in a presidential election, where the electorate comes out in droves to vote for top-of-ticket candidates they’ve seen on TV while being more or less uninformed about local decisions.

It’s a sad truth that a lot of little ovals get filled in for what appear on the ballot to be uncontested races. Education of uninformed voters is made more difficult when district residents are reticent about putting up yard signs for fear of retribution should their candidate fail, a sentiment that has been expressed privately to me by more than one household.

But, the incredibly strong showing of the two write-in candidates indicates that an extremely high percentage of those paying attention in districts 3 and 5 made the effort to write-in for change.

Another bellwether of change in Big Stone County is the sound defeat of three questions on whether or not the positions of county auditor, recorder, and treasurer should be elected or appointed. While current commissioners encouraged the change to (their own) appointment for these positions, the public’s response was a resounding “no”–with nearly 80% of the electorate giving their thumbs down in order to keep the decision on these positions securely in the citizens’ hands.

It remains to be seen whether the big picture behind these election results will be reflected upon by the county commissioners as they serve their upcoming terms–or whether the simple fact of retaining seats will be seen as a mandate for more politics as usual.

Considering the strong turnout for write-ins and clear message that county auditor, treasurer, and recorder positions should remain a choice of the electorate, it would be wise for county government to carefully consider how it might strive to act more closely in accordance with the will of the people.

[Update: Some of the percentage calculations were way off in the initial post; corrections made to account for those errors.]

Annexation Rules Change for Proposed Quarry Site Hearing Details

Both meetings are on MONDAY, OCTOBER 15 (tomorrow, as of the date of this posting).

City of Ortonville Planning Commission public hearing (to consider a change of rules regarding how annexed land is zoned): 3pm, City Hall, 315 Madison Avenue, Ortonville, MN 56278

City of Ortonville City Council meeting (to consider recommendations of planning commission/adopt annexation rule change): 7pm, Public Library Media Center, 412 2nd Street NW, Ortonville, MN 56278

I don’t know why I was hearing there would be a special meeting of the city council at 5pm in city offices–first and third Mondays of the month at 7pm in the basement (sidehill entrance) of the library are the council’s regularly scheduled meetings, so it sounds like that is where and when the language will be considered/adopted. If I find out anything different, I will post ASAP.

These meetings are PUBLIC. And, the public is strongly urged (by me, and by all those who oppose annexation of the proposed quarry site in Ortonville Township) to attend.

If you care, do what you can to be there.

Democracy & the (Im)Polite Objection

How annoying to hear the commentary following last Thursday night’s vice presidential debate.

I’m talking about all the, “Joe Biden was too aggressive” crap. Apparently, it’s “not done” for Democrats and Progressives to call out their opponents on their bullsh…er, malarkey. We’re supposed to be the polite objectors–the effete, “I say old chap! I’m sorry, but I don’t quite agree with what you’re saying over there,” foils to the brutes and bullies stepping on our heads.

Well, I think Joe was great. He called out all the ways in which Ryan and his Mitt’s policies would harm the working class, the middle class, the elderly–the majority of people in this country. And he looked like he was having a great time doing it. It’s not that the issues aren’t serious, but quite frankly, a professorial tone isn’t the best way to reach that majority of people Joe was defending.

And, it’s not that I don’t appreciate calm and rational discussion of facts and the merits of policy. Civil discourse is a great thing. But when opponents are anything but rational and civil, well, the gloves have to come off. And it always amuses me how utterly horrified and alarmed the reaction is from those who seem to think they have a right to wield power.

Just a reminder: the whole point of democracy is that power comes from the people. If you misuse that power and mistreat the people, the power you’ve been given can and should be taken away.

Lately, I’m seeing some of this horrified-and-alarmed reaction on a local level–though here in Big Stone County it isn’t about whether one is a Democrat or Republican. It’s more about whether local government’s process should be by the people and for the people–or whether it should be by a corporation and for them, too.

For one, the citizens have learned that calling out public employees and elected officials on false or misleading statements, conflicts of interest, and non-transparent governing processes regarding permitting a destructive quarry, overstepping jurisdiction, and land-grabbing through annexation is Just. Not. Done.

In the Just-Not-Done view, it’s OK for a public employee to publicly ridicule and attempt to undermine a local government’s state-sanctioned right to engage in their own land use planning process (First Amendment rights!), but it’s Definitely Not OK for local citizens, who are contributing to that person’s salary through their tax dollars, to publicly question how those behaviors affect good relations in and among governing bodies in the county.

One might follow that “logic,” to say that some people have more First Amendment rights than others.

In terms of First Amendment rights, it’s true that the rules for disciplining public employees on their speech are somewhat tricky. But a little research about Discipline and Workplace Rights makes clear that, “[E]ven if the speech addresses matters of public concern, when the employee’s speech rights are outweighed by the disruption that the speech causes to the operations of government, the employer can discipline the employee for speech.”

Shoot. That wasn’t very polite to point out, was it?

The other totally impolite objection to those currently in power in Big Stone County is occurring in a couple of races for county commission. In two districts, write-in candidates are opposing incumbent commissioners who overstepped their jurisdiction and ignored constituent voices in approving the Conditional Use Permit for Strata Corp’s proposed aggregate quarry at the headwaters of the Minnesota River.

In District 5 (which includes Ortonville Township–site of the proposed quarry and current city annexation fight–as well as Precinct 2 in Ortonville City, Odessa Township and the City of Odessa), Mike Hartman is running as a write-in against incumbent Joseph Berning. In District 3, which includes the Cities of Clinton and Correll, as well as Townships of Almond, Akron, Artichoke, and Otrey, write-in candidate Mark Block is running against incumbent Brent Olson.

Reports have it that at least one of the incumbents is completely shocked (shocked!) that someone would run against him, as he thinks he’s done a fine job.

Of course, in a democracy, it’s not really about what an elected official thinks of the job he or she has done, it’s about what the people think of the job he or she has done.

So, it will be interesting to see how well the write-in candidates can get their messages heard and names recognized by the public in the weeks leading up to the election. Write-in campaigns have a notoriously low success rate, but with a small population it may well be easier for those candidates to let the public know they have a choice.

However impolite that may be.

Annexation–Without the Mess!

In order to make Strata Corporation’s plan to blast and crush the outcrops along the headwaters of the Minnesota River as smooth and painless as possible, the Planning Commission of the City of Ortonville is holding a public hearing October 15th to give lip service to the idea of democracy.

The idea here is to change the zoning rules following annexation of that proposed quarry site, so that the City won’t have to go through yet another messy public participation process to change the zoning on the piece of land they’re planning to steal (legally, of course!) from Ortonville Township in order to allow Strata to make a bunch of money and destroy local residents’ quality of life.

If you think this looks like a poor excuse for government “by the people and for the people,” I’d like to personally invite you to attend the hearing on Monday, October 15th at three o’ clock in the afternoon (I’m sure they didn’t mean to pick such an inconvenient time!) to let the commission know what you think.

After this meeting, rumor has it that there will be a special meeting of the Ortonville City Council at 5pm to consider…er, most likely just pass the duly recommended change in language.

And, you can come to that meeting, too! Both should be excellent and educational examples of your local government at work.

Be there, or quit complainin’ about the government. Democracy is not a spectator sport.