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.

Strata–Both Kinds

Maybe it’s the foodie in me, but with all the discussions and hearings lately about Strata Corp’s proposed granite quarry and rock-crushing project along the upper Minnesota River, I keep thinking of that other kind of strata. The kinder, gentler, savory bread pudding kind.

This post is not meant to be some kind of cruel joke–it’s really about both things. But, to channel M.F.K. Fisher’s brand of culinary wisdom–sometimes in dark hours and with the wolf snuffling ’round the door, we need a repast that is, for all its humble ingredients, a celebration of light and hope and that channels our best intentions for good outcomes from scrappy beginnings.

It starts with a loaf of bread. I made two a little over a week ago from a rye starter that went bubbly from wild yeasts. The loaves are dense, but tasty, and I took the second of the batch out of the freezer last night for just this project. Usually, you’d use stale bread for a strata, but mine wasn’t. It’s not always possible to plan perfectly for these things.

I sliced it thin, and layered it in the bottom of a small buttered casserole. On top of the bread, I grated a little nubbin of very good cheese a friend shared with me quite some time ago. It was almost too hard to sliver, but it had a good, heady aroma. The next layer was roasted vegetables from the summer garden, and on top of that more bread, more cheese, more vegetables.

With the layers completed, I cracked eight eggs into a bowl–hard to make strata without cracking some–and whisked them with milk. That mixture went over the top of the layers in the casserole–with a pause for a bit to let the bubbles come up and the custard soak in.

The most important thing about a strata is that it wants to take its time. You can’t just pour in the egg mixture and bake it straight away–the bread won’t have time to soak up the moisture. So, even though I made it early this afternoon (when I was hungry! I ate something else then), I am just now baking it for a late supper.

Strata is a humble and democratic dish–it takes whatever you’ve got–any little bit of this or piece of that–brings it together, takes its sweet and sometimes frustrating time, and comes out with something quite wonderful and beyond what any of its one ingredients could’ve accomplished.

So, perhaps my thinking about the one strata and the other Strata are not so unconnected. Or maybe I am about to stretch a clumsy metaphor way too far.

As I’ve written previously, I’m against that mining project. I think that the long term and widespread economic benefit of preserving the natural beauty of this place far outweighs the limited economic benefit to having our granite outcrops blasted, crushed, and exported for the aggregate taxes.

And, I’m inspired when I see citizens out in public exercising their right to oppose the Strata quarry–people of all different stripes–people who’d probably not sit on the same side of the aisle in most other matters–coming together. It’s good stuff. It’s local democracy. It takes time, and its messy and sometimes a little weird, but the end product is often very much better than any one of us could’ve come up with on our own.

This Sunday at noon, those opposed to the Strata Corp mining project are gathering at the Memorial Building in Clinton for a potluck and discussion session. If you’d like to join in the discussion, please come and bring a dish to share.

Since that’s two days from now, and my supper will only stretch so far, I’ll bring biscuits instead.