Sunday, October 23, 2016

Rochester Politics | Chicago Style w/a Slice of Turkey

Campaign mailer prepared and paid for by the National Association of REALTORS Fund*

At bottom, the Court's opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self government since the founding, and who have fought against the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering since the days of Theodore Roosevelt. It is a strange time to repudiate that common sense. - Justice John Paul Stevens (dissenting), Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission

So, first off, this is not about the incumbent city council president - not mostly anyway. It's not like he asked the National Association of REALTORS (NAR) to spend $16,184 on behalf of his re-election campaign. But, they did and the campaign lit has started to drop in some local mail boxes.

The view from Chicago

From 350 miles away the NAR offers us three reasons to re-elect the incumbent city council president.

(1) "Implementing a new public transportation system and completing the Transit Operations Center $4 million dollars under budget." (emphasis in the original)

First, can we reach a “civil consensus” that very few of us know what the heck the NAR is talking about here? If we have a “new public transportation system," then the city government transparency problem is far more serious than we thought.

Secondly, I’m supposing the other achievement refers to the Public Works and Transit Center. According to reports in the Post Bulletin the center was a project that was approved in Spring 2009 and opened in Fall 2011 and completed sometime in 2012. What's interesting about those dates is that the incumbent city council president first joined the council in 2011 and became its president in May 2013. So, I am not sure to what part of the project he is being credited with completing or how it is he saved the city "$4 million dollars." Perhaps someone might risk checking with the NAR. I say risk because these days contacting business HQ's is regarded as bullying in some quarters and earns you a sternly worded letter threatening lawsuits.

(2) "Supporting entrepreneurs who want to bring new housing, restaurants and business to Rochester." (emphasis in the original)

It was nice to see that what has shown up so far is not an attack piece on the candidate's opponent. So, points for civility. Indeed, since this statement includes a healthy bit of the challenger's resume, one might even read it as a tacit - albeit unlikely - endorsement of Mr. Allen.

A less generous reading might recall the incumbent's leadership on food trucks and his recent lone dissenting vote on bringing Uber and such to town. Or a long overdue comprehensive plan that's now a year longer and overdue under his watch. Or...well, like I said, it's not about the incumbent - mostly. Anyway, and finally:

(3) Improving our infrastructure, walking paths, public spaces, and developing our business district. (emphasis in the original)

This reads to me like a bit of filler. Certainly not a strong close for a campaign appeal, but then not a very strong campaign message anyway.

Frankly, mailers like this are pretty much yard signs that show up in your mailbox. Maybe you notice the bold-face type, maybe you don't. The hope is you catch the name as you are tossing the glossy card stock into the trash. Of course, I have offered to extend the messaging by posting the photo above. That helps too.

Oh, that slice of Turkey

A local resident** has tracked down the two stock images used in the layout. It seems those three young urban professionals pictured waiting to use the "new public transportation system" are doing so somewhere in Turkey. Also, those notably not very diverse folks pictured enjoying the improved walking paths and public spaces are doing so from an undisclosed location, presumably not Turkey.

Of course you should,


*     image by Jessica Schmidt.
**   research by Abe Sauer. 

Friday, September 16, 2016

Mayo Clinic wants me dead

"...who would these fardels bear...?" - Wm Shakespeare

Mayo Clinic wants me dead.

As you might imagine that is quite the thing to have Mayo Clinic want of you. But there it is. And, yes I have proof. Documentation on our kitchen table that leaves no room for doubt. I would not make so bold a claim were it not true. Nor would I do so had I not the proof. Mayo Clinic wants me dead and therein too lies a great regret of things unsaid. The undone of my undoing. Who bears this fardel? I, of course, for it is my death they want.

Why does Mayo Clinic want me dead? Because I am not dead yet. Truly they do not mind so much I am alive, but their keen interest comes from me not yet being dead. Even more so that I have not yet been dead for all my life - so far and this far. It makes them curious. What’s up with that? They wonder. What could he be thinking after a lifetime of not yet being dead? Or even capable of thinking?

And so it begins. Doing my bit for Mayo Clinic's Alzheimer's Disease research starting with a series of humiliations of cruel design. Playing out on an I Pad, images from a deck of cards appear. If you have not seen that card before, hit this key. If it is a card you have seen before, hit that key. Again. Again. Faster this time and more cards. Faster and more cards. The I Pad beeps when I hit the wrong key. It knows what I have seen even if I don’t. “It’s OK,” she says, “ it’s supposed to be hard.” But, she should have asked if I had ceased to care. Because: I had ceased to care. I got your beep right here, I’m thinking. Besides I get grumpy when I am hungry and you know Mayo Clinic, they never want to see you fed.

As you might expect, next they draw blood. Lots of it. Drained into little vials. More vials than I had ever seen - even when dire surgery loomed I had not seen so may little vials. The final one she kneels to fill. Really? "This one goes to Atlanta," she offers by way of explanation sensing that a kneeling phlebotomist might be unnerving. "They need it drawn below the plane of the needle." Why? "Something about the blood cells." she shrugs. I can only conclude she is probably right. I'm sure she knows much more. I'm sure it's complicated. It is going to Atlanta.

Then the snack. An assortment of juices or water or coffee. Fruit and breakfast bars. I feast. I am in a better mood. It won't last. Down the hall there are more tests.

No I Pad here. Pieces of paper. Dog-eared and stained little flip books of images. Bits of cardboard cut-outs - circles and triangles. Puzzle pieces. All very low tech. All will be deployed in the next thirty minutes to gauge what I can gauge of words and shapes and small, simple pictures of this and that. Then this:

I had been identifying objects. Common objects. Everyday objects. Well, everyday for me. When I asked how the study accounted for cultural bias - well, let's just say the kneeling phlebotomist was more helpful. I'd think being shown a picture of something and being asked what's missing assumes a lot about what you've been seeing all those not dead yet years you've accumulated. But hey, it's not my rodeo. Anyway among the series of everyday objects these two turn up. A protractor and a compass or is it a compass and a protractor. I tell the guy - it's a guy now - I know the two words associated with these two things but you know what: All my life. All those not dead yet years, honestly, I could never keep the names straight. Dunno why. One of those things. Never could. Can't today. Even with the juice and the breakfast bar I got nothin'. "I can't write that down," he says. "Guess." How about this one's either a protractor or a compass and the other is what the first one isn't? "Guess." Well,  it seems to me you want to know what I know and I'm telling you what I know. That's a protractor or a compass and that's a compass or a protractor. "How about you just guess."

I believe in science. I have some appreciation for the scientific method, experimental protocols and such. But there in that room, on that day, science was letting us down. At Mayo Clinic. Millions in grant money. Blood heading to Atlanta. The fella says, "Guess." So, I do. I guess. Did I get it right? Can't recall. See. Told you.

Is this what I regret? Guessing. No. Not my data. Besides I am no scientist. I am a rhetorician. I have a rhetorician's regrets. Such regrets are rarely about data per se. Well, at any rate, it depends. Besides, at this point I have yet to learn that Mayo Clinic wants me dead. That comes next when I am ushered in to see: the doctor.

I figure right quick that this is a doctor who sees subjects not patients. He has been practicing "interacting" but it's clearly new to him. Nice enough guy, just not in his element. First thing he asks me is "how's your blood pressure?" I don't know you all took it this morning when I got here. How was it? "No, I want to know how you think your blood pressure is." Well, the best I can do is say you folks have me taking pills for it, so there's that. Not much otherwise. So....awkwardly.... We move on. He explains how he's now going to be doing things to me. Bit of an examination. I stand and he puts his hands on my shoulders and moves me just a little to the left, then back a step or two. Not sure why. Next it is mostly tapping me here and there with metal objects. Reflexes. Muscle tone. No turning my head and coughing. No gloves. So, not bad and he's done.

Back down we sit. He pauses. Looks at me. Rolls his chair back a bit. Smiles and says, "Well, you know, we're with you to all the way now." Now, I pause. Not sure yet what he means. With me all the way? Oh. Ooooohhh. You mean, to the end? "Yes," he says relieved that I got it. Ok. " So. You're going to die, right?" Yeah. "Well, can we do an autopsy?" he asks. Cupping his hands, he offers them up in a gesture as if cradling something "Because we're going to want to look at your brain." He's now miming holding my brain in his hands. Showing it to me. Then he offers me instead some forms and a brochure.

You want me to tell you now? "No, no. You think it over. Talk it over. Your wife will need to sign this. I mean she really needs to agree to do this because, well, you know...." Right. I won't be around. "Yes, right." How soon do you need to know? "Well, you're one of our younger, there's time. Yesterday I was talking with a man 102 years old." Right, so you need to know from him much sooner probably. "Yeah" he nods pleased that I seemed to have connected the right dots.

So, Mayo Clinic wants me dead. And, if my wife wouldn't mind, enrolled in their Alzheimer's Disease Research Autopsy Program. And herein lies my great regret. A regret not born of some somber thanatopsis contemplating wrapping the drapery of my couch about me or raging against the dying of the light. No, it is a rhetorician's sort of regret.

It might help to read this:
The dictum of the sophists is strange and beautiful: Say the right thing at the right time. What is so odd is that it at once proffers an absolute (the right thing) and a locality (the right time). While rhetoric is often accused of being without standards: the opposite is true. It has as many standards as there are circumstances. For the rhetor it is not that there is no propriety, it's that propriety can never be known for sure beforehand. Propriety emerges - here, there, and everywhere, all the time. 
Whenever a rhetor is asked about what's right, his response is usually the same: it depends. Circumstance is local and so is propriety. And, to make things even stranger there is no propriety to a circumstance per se as the circumstance itself is a network of circumstance and perspectives. And each perspective is a network of trajectories of history, memory, desire, need. Nothing is more mysterious and difficult than doing the right thing at the right time.*
A rhetorician's regret comes with not saying the right thing at the right time. Not seeing the opportunity. The greater the opportunity missed, the greater the regret.

I get home. I toss the brochure and "Permission for Postmortem Examination" form on the kitchen table. And too late it comes to me.

"Well, can we do an autopsy?"

Over my dead body. Why didn't I say: Over my dead body.

Some fardel that.


* Daniel Coffeen, Reading the Way of Things: Towards a New Technology of Making Sense

Monday, September 5, 2016

The Armory arts and culture re-use proposal: How much? Who agrees? Now what?

To the ACI Armory re-use proposal

How much?

The ACI proposal budget includes ongoing costs to the city of $83,901 in year one (2017) with modest increases in the out years. Out year costs remain below $90,000. The expense projections are based on audited financials or actual costs of the Senior Center.

The ACI proposal requested support for one time start-up costs of $30,000 divided evenly between operational and capital expenses. ACI has since revisited this request and intends to pursue private start-up dollars as an alternative to the request to the city.

Who agrees?

Over 100 organizations, groups, and individuals

The proposal submission includes commitments from 103 arts and cultural organizations, groups, and individuals to monthly rental of ACI Armory facilities; periodic use of the ACI Armory facilities; and, other support for the ACI Armory facilities project. The arts and culture organizations included among others: the Rochester Art Center, Rochester Symphony Orchestra and Chorale, Rochester Choral Arts Ensemble, Rochester Civic Music, Alliance of Chicanos, Hispanics and Latin Americans, and the Cambodian Association of Rochester Minnesota.  Dozens of letters of support were provided for review with the proposal submission.

Rochester Art Center

In a letter included in the March 2016 ACI proposal submission, the Rochester Art Center (RAC) shared its own intentions to “guide and encourage thoughtful re-alignment between arts and cultural organizations in Rochester” and shared its believe that the ACI proposal was “a strong move to solidify an artists-led space.” RAC committed in its letter to provide “professional advice and support” to ACI as needed; rent space as for artists working with RAC; serve as “a foundational organization along with other arts organizations, museums and community groups“; and, provide “concrete professional art administrative support via governance, finance, grants, collaborative projects, etc…”

Greater Rochester Arts and Cultural Trust

Subsequent to the ACI proposal submission, and based on an update it received regarding that proposal, the Board of the Greater Rochester Arts and Cultural Trust at its quarterly meeting in April 2016 passed a resolution on “The Re-use of the Rochester Armory Building”. Citing the “a longstanding desire within the arts and cultural community of a multi-use facility” and the benefits to the general public “from the potential for new educational, retail, and social artistic-related offerings,” the Trust recommended that the city of Rochester strongly consider “the arts, culture, and humanities re-use” of the Armory.

Chateau Theatre Re-use Study

Last month, August 2016, the Chateau Theatre Re-use Study commissioned from Webb Management Services, Inc by the Chateau Re-use Task Force included in its report references to the ACI Armory re-use proposal.  The study found “multiple arts groups, artists, and ethnic cultural communities, all struggling for funds and space (but mostly space).” The study noted that space was not only needed as places to “to work and produce,” but also “crucial” to receive grant dollars. The study also observed the city has “a very large cultural community that has significant need for affordable gathering space.” For both groups the study noted that rising property values resulting from DMC have resulted in “rents that many can no longer afford.”  The study found “many art and cultural community representatives feel that, if the ACI’s proposal is unsuccessful, Rochester’s independent arts and culture community will be completely displaced”

Based on these and other findings, the study included this recommendation:

“In addition to making it the heart of the ‘Heart of the City’, make the Chateau the anchor facility of an arts and culture district or trail, one that includes the Armory as a home for Rochester’s small arts and cultural groups and independent artists. There is an acute need for small organization support in Rochester. The Chateau will be able to meet the needs of some of the community’s arts groups, but not all of them. We would recommend that the City give RACC’s Armory proposal significant thought, particularly within context of developing an arts and cultural district in downtown Rochester and the DMC.”

Now what?

The action that will come before the council at its September 7 meeting will relate to the appraisal and possible sale of the Armory property. As a recent Post-Bulletin editorial observed, there are serious concerns about the whether or not the site could ultimately be protected in private ownership.

If the Amory Re-use RFP is reopened, could it be expected to produce a higher or better use of the Armory than that presented and broadly supported in the ACI proposal? Though other uses may emerge, ones that are higher or better will be a challenge to realize. Apart from those council members who have wanted all along to sell the property, the nature and substance of the concerns raised about the ACI proposal suggest it is very close to providing for the "highest and best use" of the Armory. This proposal should be provided the opportunity to succeed.

Approval of the ACI Armory re-use proposal to be reviewed in 5 years deserves a vote from the city council.

If you agree, let them know:


Saturday, September 3, 2016

Dreaming bold the big dream in the "Heart of the City"... meh

Creative Districts Characteristics
• Are unique to the character, community, and resources available locally.
• Have a significant economic impact on cities—attracting businesses, tourists, and local residents to a central part of the city.
• Can help revitalize neighborhoods and increase the quality of life for its residents.
• Act as a vehicle to assist in the support and marketing of local nonprofit cultural organizations.
• Serve as a focal point to brand a city’s unique cultural identity and embrace its historic significance. - Destination Medical Center Arts, Culture, and Humanities Site Visits Overview*

So, imagine - er, do some visioning - if you will about what happens if the Armory becomes a home for local arts and a hub for the many cultural groups that comprise our city (and note what happens if it does not). Let's check out who cares - surprisingly not who you'd think.

The City's CEO, Patron of the Arts, Champion of Inclusivity, DMCC Board member

The mayor will stand at the Armory's front door cutting a ribbon and reminding us of the local arts award that bears his name and call out the city of compassion we are. He may remind us of the task force under his leadership whose very own study recommended that the Armory might best be used for this very thing.

And if there's no Armory, there are plenty of places for the mayor to say the same things and plenty of times he'll say them. Either way, he's got it covered.

DMC - They put the "Heart of the City" on the map. No, literally, they did.

The DMC Economic Development Agency will hold a function on the Armory's third floor weeks before the center opens sharing their excitement for how this new center brings vibrancy to the "Heart of the City" and testifies to the importance of the arts and how vital the center will be in sustaining an inclusive community for the diverse work force upon which our economic future depends. In it's next report before the DMCC Board, the new center will get a PowerPoint slide and that slide will become a common fixture in subsequent EDA presentations - everywhere. 

To be fair, no matter what happens at the Armory site, the EDA will share their excitement for how this new whatever brings vibrancy to the "Heart of the City" and testifies to the importance of whatever it is and then put it on a PowerPoint slide. So, whatever.

A medical business entity employing more than 30,000 employees at the time of the passage of the DMC legislation making it the only such medical business entity in the State of Minnesota for which a "destination medical center" might be created in the city of Rochester.

Mayo Clinic will begin to include the new center in its Mayo Employee Resource Group messaging as further evidence of how "Rochester embraces the multicultural nature of its residents and celebrates its ethnic diversity...[C]reating a welcoming and inclusive environment." 

Either way they're good.

So, who cares?

The mayor currently opposes this re-use of the Armory and didn't bother to share the task force study recommendation supporting it.

The DMC EDA has taken no position on the re-use of the Armory.

Mayo Clinic has taken no position on the re-use of the Armory.

So, you know, meh.

Now who does that leave who does care? If that includes you, then get your body down to the Council Chambers at the Government Center on Wednesday September 7 at 7pm. Or join the council members for their "dinner meeting" beforehand at the new Bleu Duck Kitchen at 14 4th St. SW at 5pm. Or both.

Sometimes, if you care, you just gotta show up.


* DMC trips to Portland, Seattle, Bellevue, Cleveland, and Indianapolis to no apparent effect. Note this recommendation from the Chateau Theatre Re-use Study:
In addition to making it the heart of the ‘Heart of the City’, make the Chateau the anchor facility of an arts and culture district or trail, one that includes the Armory as a home for Rochester’s small arts and cultural groups and independent artists. There is an acute need for small organization support in Rochester. The Chateau will be able to meet the needs of some of the community’s arts groups, but not all of them. We would recommend that the City give RACC’s Armory proposal significant thought, particularly within context of developing an arts and cultural district in downtown Rochester and the DMC. [ page 90 ] 

Saturday, August 27, 2016

"Unfortunately, the council seems unwilling...."

Raymond Schmitz Raymond Schmitz: Dave, have you filed for a copy under the public record act, if not I will!
Dave Beal Dave Beal: Since you seem to know what that is, by all means.
                                                                                                                           Facebook post 08.26.16


from the Webb Management Services Incorporated Chateau Theatre Reuse Study, August 2016
Context: Arts + Culture in Rochester
✲ The City of Rochester has an active and lively, but segmented, arts community.
✲ On one hand, the city has a number of well-established organizations and institutions with long legacies in the community entities - like the Rochester Community Band and Chorus, the Rochester Symphony Orchestra and Chorale, Rochester Art Center, and Rochester Civic Theatre, all of which provide regular programs and have dedicated rehearsal/programming/ performance space. On the other hand, however, can be found what might be referred to as Rochester’s ‘independent scene’ - multiple arts groups, artists, and ethnic cultural communities, all struggling for funds and space (but mostly space).
✲ As a side note, space is not only important because artists and arts organizations need places to work and produce - it is also a crucial part of the Southeast Minnesota Arts Council granting process. Grantees are required to have a public capstone. Without a guaranteed, final, public showing place at the time of application, a potential grantee will not be funded.
✲ According to arts groups, the need for arts and gathering space has increased significantly since the announcement of the DMC. While a handful of artists and organizations had space in downtown Rochester, the DMC has raised property values, leading to rents that many can no longer afford.
✲ Further exacerbating the problem, many of the community’s rentable spaces are either too expensive, too big, or have low availability. The Library, for example, is already booking for April 2017.
✲ In March 2016, the City opened a Request for Proposals for the Senior Center/Armory. The Arts and Cultural Initiative (ACI), an extension of the local arts advocacy group, Rochester Arts and Cultural Collaborative (RACC), submitted a proposal suggesting that the facility be converted to a multi-tenant, multi-use art space. The results of the RFP have not yet been decided on, but many art and cultural community representatives feel that, if the ACI’s proposal is unsuccessful, Rochester’s independent arts and culture community will be completely displaced. [ page 9 ]
User Demand
 ✲ Cultural Community: Rochester has a very large cultural community that has significant need for affordable gathering space. Flexibility is key for these users, both physically and in regards to operating policy (i.e. catering policies that allow them to work with a caterer of their own choosing or cook food themselves and bring it in). Many of these groups would like to have kitchen space. [ page 74 ]

2. In addition to making it the heart of the ‘Heart of the City’, make the Chateau the anchor facility of an arts and culture district or trail, one that includes the Armory as a home for Rochester’s small arts and cultural groups and independent artists. There is an acute need for small organization support in Rochester. The Chateau will be able to meet the needs of some of the community’s arts groups, but not all of them. We would recommend that the City give RACC’s Armory proposal significant thought, particularly within context of developing an arts and cultural district in downtown Rochester and the DMC. [ page 90 ]


This consultant's report that contained a recommendation regarding the Armory re-use was going to become public at some point. Eventually one assumes it will be on the Chateau Re-use Task Force agenda - the task force the Mayor chairs.

As chair it is hard to believe having received the report on August 16 (as we now know he did) that the Mayor had not seen this report and was not aware of its contents at the Committee of the Whole (COW) meeting on Monday, August 22.

At the COW meeting the Mayor was asked directly by the council president if he had anything he wanted to contribute to the Armory re-use discussion. Knowing the recommendation from the consulting firm his Task Force enlisted, and, contrary to that recommendation, all he offered was his opposition to the proposals. Fine. He's under no obligation to accept the consultant's recommendation. (That's pretty much what we do around here anyway, hire expensive consultants and then ignore them.) 

But he decided not to share the information that he did know with most of his colleagues who did not know. The Chief Executive Officer of the city thus denied these elected officials with whom he serves the opportunity - the courtesy, the comity - of reaching their own conclusions based upon that information.

But we were all going to see this report at some future meeting of the Task Force, so what was to be gained by withholding the recommendation and the data that supported it? What was to be gained once the existence of the report was made known by continuing to suppress it for several days until a copy was obtained through a request made under the public record act?

If the propriety of releasing or even acknowledging the report existed prior to a task force meeting was so important, then staff should have informed the council that they needed to delay their discussion and any subsequent action until this new information could be made available to them. But, that was not what happened. One of the report's recommendations was shared. Now it is clear that another even more pertinent recommendation was suppressed. So much for propriety.

Vox publica

There are increasing calls from the public and the press for the council to reconsider their intentions to reject the proposals before it and put the Armory up for sale. Calls to finally engage with citizens who they are elected to serve.

From a petition to the council currently in circulation:
The people of Rochester Minnesota call on the Rochester City Council to reconsider their rejection of the Arts and Cultural Initiative (A.C.I.) proposal for the community based use of the historic building now housing the Senior Center (Armory) at 121 N Broadway Ave, Rochester, MN 55906. 
We, the undersigned believe that the A.C.I. proposal has great merit and that it’s uses of the building as a space for inclusiveness, community building, interfaith and intercultural gatherings and education would add greatly to the quality of life for Rochester residents.

In addition the building will (Under the A.C.I. proposal) be used for visual arts displays and receptions as well as a venue for performing arts of any and all kinds.

We the undersigned believe that we cannot let this opportunity slip away. We must send a clear message to the City Council that this proposal will serve our community on a variety of levels and that this location is ideal for cultivating a downtown rich in myriad cultures, arts, ideas, humanity and simple human connections.
From a recent Post Bulletin editorial:
Unfortunately, the council seems unwilling to ask the questions and let the two groups better define their intentions, which could end up cementing council and community support for either project. During their presentations, members of both groups acknowledged the city's request left room for assumptions on the presenters' part.....

The council has two proposals, and they're proposals council members refuse to call bad. They are from groups willing to revise and hone their plans; they simply want an opportunity....

Additionally, it is unclear whether a sale would serve the public good. Council member Michael Wojcik noted Monday both proposals in hand seek to create an inviting community atmosphere. Would a new owner do the same?...
Ideally, they will seek answers to the first set of questions by engaging with the two groups. It could mean the armory building remains an active part of downtown, rather than sitting dark until the elected officials find an acceptable option without too many questions attached.

"First Class City. First Class Service" 

Though it required a bit of lawyering, the suppressed report is now available to the public. In the end, its continued suppression just corrupted further an already corrupted process.  A process characterized thus far by needless delay, the circumvention of the council's own rules, the suppression of information by high city officials, and an all too familiar disregard for good order, good manners, and good government.

"No ox left ungored" might be a better city motto.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Dark data: what you don't know can't hurt them

We have become so used to thinking of domestic politics in terms of party politics that we are inclined to forget that the conflict between the two systems has actually always been a conflict between parliament, the source and seat of power..., and the people, who have surrendered their power to their representatives. - Hannah Arendt, On Revolution


Recommendation from a report withheld from the city council by the mayor and the city administrator:
In addition to making it the heart of the ‘Heart of the City’, make the Chateau the anchor facility of an arts and culture district or trail, one that includes the Armory as a home for Rochester’s small arts and cultural groups and independent artists. There is an acute need for small organization support in Rochester. The Chateau will be able to meet the needs of some of the community’s arts groups, but not all of them. We would recommend that the City give RACC’s Armory proposal significant thought, particularly within context of developing an arts and cultural district in downtown Rochester and the DMC.  


1. The council president waited months after the deadline to finally bring the proposals for the re-use of the Armory before the Committee of the Whole

2. Then, after those presentations, the council president attempted to include another proposal 16 weeks after the deadline.

3. Then, after raising their questions and concerns during the presentation of the proposals, the majority of the council declined offers from proponents to meet with them to answer their questions and address their concerns. The one council member who was not present at the proposal presentations and was later concern by his "unanswered questions" also refused the opportunity to meet with proponents.

4. Then, some council members complained in their discussion of the proposals that they did not have sufficient information or answers to questions they admitted they had not asked.

5. Now we learn today that information favorable to the RACC/ACI proposal was withheld from the council by the city administrator and the mayor during COW deliberations that included the RACC/ACI proposal.

At this point, one wonders if it is enough for the council to say they'll need to review their process and do better next time. Sure it would be nice if once they set down a process they would respect it. What would be even nicer is if they treated the people they have been elected to serve with some respect as well. A great deal more respect.

Or, maybe they have in place exactly the process they want and it is working just as they intend it to work.

As for the interminable, solemn invocation of "due diligence"...well, if you can't manage it in a year maybe you can't manage it. And you certainly can't manage it by making it up as you go along and hiding important data.

"Due diligence" does mean research and analysis of a company or organization done in preparation for a business transaction. But you know what it also means: the care that a reasonable person exercises to avoid harm to other persons or their property. That sort of due diligence is overdue.

No surprise city/county planning is a broken system. We're struggling with basic good government, simple decency, and fair play. There is not an ox in this city that hasn't been gored. Bloody hell.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Dark (or if you prefer not transparent) dialogue

Good post, Dave. Three comments/questions: Shouldn't the library have initiated/organized/asked for the very type of meetings that have been occurring to build consensus for a proposal? As far as anyone knows, the expansion proposal is dead in the water...maybe there's something going on at the county and DMC EDA, but you wouldn't know it...and the city's "tentative approval" is more like an ambiguous nod of the head, rather than tentative approval. Second: These are the very people the library needs to move a plan -- any plan -- forward. It's counterproductive to portray people like Kiscaden and yes, Staver, as dark forces trying to work outside established channels. Third: Doesn't a combined facility of the kind described today make a lot of sense? - Jay Furst comment posted to Facebook 08.06.16

Here are responses to Jay Furst's comments to yesterday's blog. As I was getting to those, he posted some related comments on his blog, I'll get to them below.

Shouldn't the library have initiated/organized/asked for the very type of meetings that have been occurring to build consensus for a proposal?

It depends on what you think these meetings are about. The reporting says the group's purpose is "to facilitate discussion between several groups who have similar goals and similar needs." Since they are not just concerned with the library, but also UMR, the Y, and the Children's Museum, then probably no, I wouldn't expect the library to have initiated, etc. these meetings.

Though the impetus for convening the meetings to begin with appears to have been the rejection by the county of a library expansion proposal, the meetings seem centered on the UMR/Recreation District of the DMC master plan. Notions of re-locating the library there are not new. They have come up before. I don't know that the library seriously pursued it nor that anyone brought forth a serious proposal for it to do so.

Given the group's reported purpose, one could just as well ask shouldn't have UMR or the Y or the Children's Museum initiated, etc. these meetings. None of them did either. Meetings about these organizations were convened without these organizations.

Convening a group to work on the UMR/Recreation district has been proposed. One problem is the current DMC EDA strategy of taking the DMC master plan forward piecemeal starting with Heart of the City and Discovery Square. Maybe this approach makes sense on a Gantt Chart but, it's not keeping up with events on the street. St. Mary's Place isn't waiting. The UMR/Recreation district doesn't now appear to be either. With the DMC EDA understaffed, it's can't be easy keeping up. In whatever way this gets resolved, it's probably not best done ad hoc.

Of course, let's not lose in all this that the city council president - a member of this group - has already made his "consensus" position clear.

As far as anyone knows, the expansion proposal is dead in the water...

Probably safe to say that the initial $55 million proposal the library brought forward is off the table. Apparently there was no Plan B. The reporting is that the library is hard at work on one but "has not changed its approach to expansions plans" having "not seen a better option than the expansion of the library at the current location come forward." I assume that includes the option of re-locating to the UMR/Recreation district. I'm thinking these ad hoc group meetings have been about saying to the library: better take another look.

Again, the city council president leaves no doubt that in his view the library needs to find someplace else to be.

maybe there's something going on at the county and DMC EDA, but you wouldn't know it...

According to recent reports in the Post-Bulletin, the county and the DMC EDA, along with other elected officials and selected others, have been meeting privately as part of this ad hoc group. But, no, you wouldn't have likely known it otherwise. Nor would anyone else had the city council president not announced what he did at the forum and people began asking where did that come from?

and the city's "tentative approval" is more like an ambiguous nod of the head, rather than tentative approval.

Yeah. And, given the county's unambiguous shake of the head, moot as well. Even more so, the city council president is now on record withdrawing his support for library expansion at its current location. But then you know that. Indeed, that's how we got to these comments and questions in the first place.

Second: These are the very people the library needs to move a plan -- any plan -- forward.

You are right. There is considerable political power and private influence embodied in the electeds and selecteds comprising this group. I assume that's why they were invited to be among the convened. Though there is a collective wisdom amongst them, I am not sure one can overlook the aggregated power and influence.

Frankly, to be honest, if the outcome is just to get these four organizations to sit down with a "design expert," it seems a bit excessive to me. Rochester is not a what I'd consider a "consultant averse" city. Why in this instance would it take some rather heroic "encouragement" to get these four organizations in the same room with a consultant, a white board, and some Post-It notes? Why must a "safe environment" be created to even make the suggestion?

Of course, given the city council president's statement it seems to be more than a suggestion.

It's counterproductive to portray people like Kiscaden and yes, Staver, as dark forces trying to work outside established channels.

I do think it remains to be seen where the counter productivity - or productivity, if any - will come to reside. But, since the stated intent of the group was to work outside established channels ("a different avenue of dialogue" was the phrase) why would it be counter productive to say so?

I believe I took care not to characterize persons as "dark," but rather the process. I do see parallels - in principle at least - between the "safe and encouraging environment" created by a 501(c)(4) to solicit what has come to be known as "dark money" and the similar effort here to insulate dialogue from... whom?  Here is something else that is odd to me - what does creating a "safe and encouraging environment" mean in this instance? As mentioned above, if the outcome is just to suggest these four organizations sit down with a "design expert" why does that require a "safe and encouraging environment" to accomplish?

The selecteds are all either private individuals or represent private organizations. However, the four electeds cannot shake the other obligations they carry by virtue of their offices. I appreciate that our cultural light/dark framing carries certain connotations that using "dark dialogue" evokes, but it is only to the appropriateness of the process to which the term is applied.

If "dark dialogue" is too provocative, substitute " not transparent dialogue" and add a "?" if that helps take the edge off. But whatever one calls it, it is not without consequence as we saw on stark display in the city council president's recent remarks.

At any rate, I reserve the use of the phrase "dark forces" for Cthulhu, Thanos, and their ilk.

Third: Doesn't a combined facility of the kind described today make a lot of sense?

The Y and UMR are already located or planning to locate at the UMR/Recreation district site. So, what's really up for discussion are the library and the Children's Museum. The latter is on record as being months away from even beginning to seriously consider their space requirements and preferences and is currently engaged in a process of their own to sort that out. So their answer would likely be at best: we'll have to get back to you on that.

As for the library, the reporting indicates that they have not seen a better option than the one they are pursuing - including the one it is suggested they meet with a design expert about.

Does it make sense to me?  I guess I kind of like the library right where it is. Let's see if they can make it work even without the current city council president's support.

There's always a klatch.

Furst's most recent Furst Draft has a much more cheerful outlook on this whole thing. Sliced bread takes a backseat to what is now just a "high-minded coffee klatch" that simply required the efforts of the only person "in public life in Rochester who would have the local and legislative chops, the connections and credibility to step forward and do this." That's some klatch.

Of course this effort isn't just some elected officials sitting down with voters at the Food Coop for a morning coffee. Ad hoc though it may be, it has been an organized and systematic enterprise - looking, walking, and talking like "a well-oiled policy machine." Admittedly the gears jammed a bit when the city council president mucked up the communication plan mid-soft launch. Be that as it may, I'll cheerfully grant - klatch or otherwise - it is "high-minded."

As to the choice of "memes," Furst does not claim that this klatch had no issues with transparency. On the contrary, he takes well-deserved pride in asserting that this group "is newsworthy, and it's our job as a news organization to dig this out and deliver the transparency." Adding as if having just landed on the deck of an aircraft carrier, "Mission accomplished. I'm guessing the group's process changes as a result."

Perhaps, in time, it will occur to him that "dark dialogue" refers to the lack of transparency he now celebrates as having been so intrepidly dug out and delivered by the Post Bulletin.

On the bright side, I can close on my own cheerful note that both Furst Draft and A Life and the Times have reached a consensus on the issue of this ad hoc group's transparency. Not so much before. Much better now.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Dark dialogue: public affairs in private places

Apparently an unsafe and discouraging environment

If it is the function of the public realm to throw light on the affairs of men by providing a space of appearances in which they can show in deed and word, for better and worse, who they are and what they can do, then darkness has come when this light is extinguished by "credibility gaps" and "invisible government,"..... - Hannah Arendt, Men in Dark Times


The Med City Beat (08.04.16)
Library expansion 
Staver's answer to the question of whether he supports a proposed $55 million expansion of the Rochester Public Library prompted a chorus of boos from the audience. "Not in that location," he said. 
He later clarified: 
I think the public library is a fundamental element of any community and we have a great one. I do have some issues with what we're trying to accomplish on that particular site. I'm thinking bigger picture here. I think, if we talk about the evolution of libraries, it's just not just stacks of books anymore. These are community gathering places; they are multi-media hubs. I think we should be thinking about a different location, perhaps, where we can embrace some of these new ideas. So I think spending that kind of money to expand in place is shortsighted. I really rather think more future
Allen, who was first to answer, simply said "yes." He did, however, provide a full explanation for his support of the expansion in a blog post earlier this year. 
Furst Draft (08.05.16)
The big headline of the night was the library issue: When asked whether the city should put $55 million into the public library expansion, Allen said yes, without a moment's hesitation. Staver said flatly, "Not at the current site." 
There was an audible gasp from many in the audience -- maybe there were boos, but from up front, I heard gasps... 
Staver went on to say he has "issues with what we're trying to accomplish on that particular site. I'm thinking bigger picture here. ... I think spending that kind of money to expand in place is shortsighted." 
That was a brave statement, especially in light of the campaign the library is running, which may be more energetic than any campaign in town right now. As an example: I asked for questions from the public in advance of the meeting, and about 10 were from people wanting me to ask the library question. That's good promotion. 
We've heard rumblings about an effort that's underway to find a new location for the library -- downtown -- that would dovetail with DMC and other goals. You may read more about that in Saturday's P-B. Library leadership and fans are dug in at the current site, but if they were offered a new, larger building elsewhere, presumably they'd listen. The current plan isn't flying ahead.
"Group deliberates public projects in private discussions" Post-Bulletin (08.06.16)
A high-ranking coterie of community leaders during the last several months has orchestrated conversations on pressing community needs, including a proposed $55 million expansion of Rochester Public Library. 
The ad hoc group also has explored the potential for collaboration between the library, Rochester Family YMCA, Minnesota Children's Museum of Rochester and University of Minnesota Rochester. Each organization has discussed facility and space needs publicly. 
Olmsted County Board of Commissioners member Sheila Kiscaden formed the group shortly after the county board declined to give a funding commitment to the library's expansion proposal. The proposal would have built on the current downtown location and provided needed space for community programming. 
Kiscaden described the group as people who have leadership, business and public project experience in the Rochester community. 
The group includes Rochester City Council President Randy Staver, Olmsted County Board of Commissioners Chairwoman Stephanie Podulke, Destination Medical Center Economic Development Agency Executive Director Lisa Clarke, Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce President Rob Miller and retired leaders of Mayo Clinic, IBM and Rochester Public Schools.


"... it is an ad hoc, informal group that's just trying to be good citizens and good civic leaders trying to move something forward....."

Despite the no doubt sincere characterization of this group as just some civic minded folks getting together to chat about community needs, it does include the President of the City Council with the city's tax dollars, the President of the County Commission (plus one more county commissioner) with the county tax dollars, the Executive Director of the DMC Economic Development Agency with its state tax dollars sitting around with other selected - as yet unidentified save for the President of the Chamber of Commerce* - private citizens talking about us without us. There are big public purses in that room along with the folks who hold those purse strings and the folks they choose to talk to.

It's not clear how one reconciles the statements in this article that the group has "no official capacity" with so many high-ranking officials with capacity in the room.

Or what it means to say that a group representing not just serious political power and private influence but also millions in public dollars can "suggest" anything that doesn't have the effect of a "formal recommendation."

Or to say that whatever these organizations decide to do "it's totally up to them" when the President of the City Council is already on record in his response to the question Wednesday evening regarding support for the expansion of the Library: "Not at the current site," he said. People wondered where that position - asserted so confidently without hesitation - came from. Now we know.

If you've ever wondered how hockey arenas and new charter schools can seem to appear before the city council out of no where fully formed and ready for fast-track action, well it looks like these meetings.

"...if we can create a safe environment, an encouraging environment....."

A few weeks ago, a story broke about what was probably at least a flirtation among some to form "a 501(c)(4) — also known as "social welfare" organization ... to raise and spend an unlimited amount of money on political activities and lobbying without publicly revealing the identities of its donors." The parties purported to be involved issued denials that such an organization was formed. The issue was raised at the recent city council president candidates forum as well. The sort of money raised and donated through these organizations is often referred to as "dark money" because individuals and organizations can influence elections without having to disclose their participation. One might say this alternative - perfectly legal - path for donations creates a safe and encouraging environment for donors.

Organizing, convening, and conducting a series of meetings to work through the very real challenges and difficulties in formulating public policy out of the public eye where those impacted by these discussions are not present and/or where the public cannot witness or review records of the deliberations is a form of "dark dialogue." These are not simply routine conversations in service to constituents or stakeholders, but part rather of a deliberative process meant to influence public policy and planning that will in turn impact decisions regarding public expenditures. These deliberations are not supposed to be "safe." These deliberations should entail political risk for those elected officials who participate. That risk is at the core of representative government.

I appreciate those who want to create safe spaces where difficult subjects can be explored with candor. But our political discourse should not be delivered to the public with the wrinkles all privately pressed out and the rough edges safely sanded smooth. If all we get to see is the vote and not how that vote was influenced by "dark money" or "dark dialogue," then we are ill-served by those we have elected.

"While the group will make no formal recommendations, it has suggested....."

Last week I offered that one of the major local trends "is expressed in a question and exemplified in four groups that have erupted into our city's life since 2013" to consider "What is the future we want to create together?" The four groups briefly shared in the post included the Community Networking Group, Journey 2 Growth, Rochester Arts and Culture Collaborative, and In the City for Good. They include all sorts of folks including city and county elected officials.
These groups were not elected or appointed or created by an act of any governing authority. They are all bottom-up groups, grassroots and grass tops. They are more and less organized; more and less formal; driven by volunteers and dependent upon voluntary associations. None of them have any money of their own to speak of and most would speak of having none at all. Increasingly they supersede groups that preceded them. As observed above, even though these groups may form initially in an anxiety arising from uncertainty and complexity, all four quickly embraced participation, accountability, and possibility. 
By virtue of its select invitations, its membership, its intent, and its conduct thus far, the group we have learned of this week is categorically different than those described above and will remain so. In the attempt to create a safe environment, it provides an insulated one instead. They may seek an answer the the same question, "What is the future we want to create together?" But, the electeds and "selecteds" that comprise the "we" make for a pretty feeble "together."

We have already made a place for this

A couple of the organizations being talked about (note none were in the room until summoned) are private, another is a state institution, but the fourth, the Library, is a major local public institution. It has a Board established in city ordinance with members appointed by the city and the county. The Library Board meets every third Wednesday of every month at 4:30 p.m. in Meeting Room C on the first floor of the Library. If there is a time and place and body with whom to "dialogue" about the future of the Public Library, that would be it. Perhaps it isn't the "safe environment" and "encouraging environment" these elected officials seem to prefer. Perhaps conducting the public's business in public can be a bit of rumpus and ruckus. But, perhaps, we should discourage the alternative.


* Subsequent to publishing this post, the Post Bulletin updated it's online story with a complete list of members:

Sheila Kiscaden, Olmsted County Board of Commissioners
Stephanie Podulke, Olmsted County Board of Commissioners chairwoman
Randy Staver, Rochester City Council president
Nick Campion, Rochester City Council
Lisa Clarke, DMC EDA executive director
Rob Miller, Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce president
Jenna Bowman, Rochester Downtown Alliance executive director
Hugh Smith, retired CEO and chair of the finance committee, Mayo Clinic
Walt Ling, retired senior state executive/senior site executive, IBM
Jerry Williams, former Rochester Public Schools superintendent
Kathy Meyerle, retired Emeritus Legal Counsel at Mayo Clinic

Note the absence of anyone from the facilities or organizations being discussed at these meetings.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

The future we want to live into

I said, ‘It’s certain there is no fine thing
Since Adam’s fall but needs much labouring.'  - W.B. Yeats

East of Eden

Earlier this week I was invited to share with a local group what I saw as issues and trends current in our city. The group would also be briefed on DMC, demographic projections, and some other targeted economic data. I was to address - broadly - anything of everything else that might be pertinent this group's purposes.

With two exceptions the group was comprised of Rochester residents and, as I looked over the list of whom to expect, residents likely to be well-informed on the issues facing the city. That being the case, it did not seem a good use of the time to catalog the all too familiar and growing list of challenges that demography, growth, and urban living pose for us. You know: affordable housing, transit, transportation, income disparities, immigration, workforce skills, arts, sustainability, sharing economy, infrastructures for communication of all kinds, inclusion, healthy living, recreation, jobs that pay well, jobs that refuse to pay well, persistent gaps in achievement, opportunity, wages, access; et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

The list is long, gets longer, and nothing will ever get crossed off of it. These issues are the permanent concerns of living and living in a city. They are not necessarily in every case bad problems to have but they will remain problems - or if you prefer, challenges; or, if you prefer, opportunities. Whatever term you use, these are the distractions that keep us mortal. A partial catalog of how in the 21st Century we till the ground from whence we were taken. No matter how many lists of the best this, that, or the other thing Rochester tops, we still dwell east of Eden after all.

Though sometimes the long view can be helpful, I did not contextualize my remarks by referencing either Yeats or Moses on Adam's Fall. Going back to those days just prior to the passage of the DMC legislation seemed far, fall, and frame enough.

There is good news to be found there in those days and in the days that have followed. In those days began an important trend that is not reducible to demographics or economics or the long term growth of the local "medical business entity" as Mayo Clinic was referred to in the DMC legislation. It is a trend that is expressed in a question and exemplified in four groups that have erupted into our city's life since 2013. Groups that did not exist three years ago. All four born in a bit of angst but quickly embracing participation, accountability, and possibility.

Who wants to know?

The question each of these groups asks in their own way for their own reasons is this: "What is the future we want to create together?" If there is a trend across all the issues any can list, it is how quickly this question came to be asked; how it burst into a broad community conversation about a shared future; and, how new groups demanded of themselves that the question be asked by and of and for so many.

Community Networking Group

The first of these groups formed early in 2013 even as bill that would establish DMC was moving through the state legislature. Now called the Community Networking Group, this informal assembly of mainly private and public social and human service providers came together initially try to sort out what was happening and what it might mean for their organizations and the people they served and supported. They saw early on that the growth toward which DMC focused our attention would bring with it increasing pressures upon our community fabric, increasing demands upon community services, and increasing stress upon community infrastructures. Like the rest of the city, the Community Networking Group spent months trying to sort through the hoops and hoopla that preceded and followed the passage of the legislation. What they sorted out they shared with each other. Over the months they have grown more clear on how better to provide service and support. When they could they have tried to speak in common and in concert about the concerns they share and the opportunities they see.

The Community Networking Group is now driving an effort to create a set of shared community-wide indicators that identifies measures of community well-being.

Journey to Growth

The origins of the second group to form are also found in 2013 in the Market Street study initiated by the Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce and Rochester Area Economic Development Incorporated. The resulting report issued in January 2014 lead over the following months to the formation of Journey to Growth, a five-year economic development plan created to ensure the future economic viability of our region. Their goal is to diversify and grow the regional economy comprised of  Dodge, Fillmore, Freeborn, Goodhue, Houston, Mower, Olmsted, Steele, Wabasha and Winona counties. They have identified five target sectors for development and expansion: computer system design and production, food processing, manufacturing, convention and tourism, and medical technology. Ten "journey committees" have formed around the issues they believe are vital to expanding and diversifying the regional economy, optimizing the regional talent base, and becoming a cohesive, connected region.

Journey to Growth is now moving into its second year of its five year journey tracking and sharing their progress in quarterly meetings throughout the region.

Rochester Arts and Culture Collaborative

A third group formed in September 2014 at an evening meeting in the library auditorium called to create an action plan for arts and culture in Rochester. They were pretty adamant about not being interested in more "input." Even then engagement fatigue was setting in among Rochester residents and many were growing weary of convening without consequence. The Rochester Arts and Culture Collaborative was an invitation to "output." As have other groups, they identified areas where they might get some needed traction and maybe even make something happen. For two years they have been doing just that. When news that the Chateau Theatre would become vacant surfaced, this group began the earliest planning for its possible use as a multi-function performance venue. They are now part of the task force that is working to realize that very same vision. The Collaborative has before the city council an Armory Re-use proposal to create at that site an arts and multicultural center. The "major public art project that would represent Rochester in an iconic way," that was on a potential To Do List at their very first meeting, is now realized in the Arts4Trails project that has placed five sculptures on the trail between Silver Lake and Slattery Park.

The Rochester Arts and Culture Collaborative has in less that two years contributed in substantial ways to develop a vital arts infrastructure in the downtown, address some long-standing needs of our multicultural community, and lay the groundwork for a continuing major public art project.

In the City for Good

All these groups formed before the DMC Master Plan was presented and approved in 2015. The final example is a group that formed just as that planning phase was being concluded. Its voice was first heard at the DMCC board hearing on the approval of the plan. A voice that raised the same concerns about living in the "in shadow of growth" that others had. With its origins in the social justice missions of local communities of faith, In the City for Good arose quickly over a series of three community forums in June, October and November 2015. They organized themselves around the priorities those forums identified. Now "action groups" meet regularly to bring those issues to the fore and press for results that promote growth that brings its benefits to all without those least able bearing its costs (e.g. here, here, and here).

In the City for Good now holds regular forums to bring the work of these groups and the concerns they address to the broader community. Their next forum in October will invite candidates for city offices to respond to this work and those issues.

The dancers are not the dance

Though organizations and people that comprise these groups have been around for a while, the groups themselves did not exist three and half years ago. They have come upon the scene quickly. They are making a difference quickly. Formed in response to the big changes they each in their own way saw coming, they are perhaps the most important change we have seen so far. These groups may well represent the most significant change we will see. Along with other groups like The Commission, and We Bike Rochester, these groups represent a major local trend: asking the question, "What is the future we want to create together?" 

These groups were not elected or appointed or created by an act of any governing authority. They are all bottom-up groups, grassroots and grass tops. They are more and less organized; more and less formal; driven by volunteers and dependent upon voluntary associations. None of them have any money of their own to speak of and most would speak of having none at all. Increasingly they supersede groups that preceded them. As observed above, even though these groups may form initially in an anxiety arising from uncertainty and complexity, all four quickly embraced participation, accountability, and possibility.

Participation: These groups all expanded quickly by actively inviting others in and keeping that invitation always an open one. By doing so they benefit from the gifts and capacities that only others bring, and by seeking out those on the margins they can harvest new gifts and capacities.

Accountability: These groups formed around a founding sense of accountability understood here as Peter Block defines it: a willingness to care for the well-being of the whole. Participants find themselves among those with whom they are connected in shared interests and broad purpose. The groups they form actualize the potential collective these connections always held. Bringing a kind of soft power to local and regional affairs.

Possibility: These groups all placed before themselves what only questions about the future can make possible: possibility. Embracing as essential that the well-being of the whole depends not upon what comes next but what they do next. They must ask what is it possible to do and then what else is possible and then what else. Not surprisingly, as participation grows and accountability deepens, more possibilities emerge as possible.

These four groups will succeed some and fail some. Three years from now they might not exist. Maybe they accomplish what they set out to accomplish and disband. Maybe they morph into something else that carries their question forward. Maybe they collapse. Frankly, for different reasons in different ways, they are all pretty fragile. But they need not last. Their impact on the future they create together will not happen in the future, it will happen - if it happens - now. Besides these four examples are not the only examples of this trend. They represent the trend. They are not the trend itself. They are the dancers not the dance.

A better answer than the best one

Walking out of the meeting afterwards, a member of the group before whom I had presented ask me where I thought the city would be in five years. The best answer to questions like that is always "it depends," but this was someone literally helping to build a future Rochester, her question was serious and deserved a better answer than the best one. And this is no answer really anyway, just a reply to a query.

I said in essence but not in these words that I thought in time a shared horizon may emerge. All the asking of the same question may give rise to many hands gesturing in the same general direction toward that shared horizon.

Issues are shared, but interests vary. The answer is certainly not some group of groups, some parliament of all interests that will sort them all out. The answer is definitely not some ill-conceived attempt to "adjudicate" among these groups and their interests. Better we seek alignment toward that shared horizon if we can discern it. Better that we seek a resonance among these groups.  We can expect some dissonance along the way, but sympathetic vibrations born of earned empathy will serve us all well and better than any zero sum balancing. Resonance and alignment will not happen of its own accord. It will be another labor these groups take on.

Asking what is the future we want to create together depends most of all upon the coming together to do so. So far, we seem to be doing that and upon that it depends.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

What's not to like about the "Armory Arts Academy"?

Except for the due date.

What's not to like?

What's not to like about the "Armory Arts Academy" proposal submitted in response to the RFP issued by the city of Rochester for Re-use of the Armory? It has kids. It has arts. It has all that money.

With the Senior Center relocating and re-branding (125 Live) sometime later this year or early next year or whenever, the Armory becomes vacant and available. Some months ago in late 2015, the city issued an Request for Proposals (RFP) for the re-use of this building.

The Children's Museum showed early and strong interest, but that waned. They submitted no proposal. There was a car museum group that expressed interest, but nothing seems to have come of that. The folks that have been working for sometime to establish a veterans' and first responders' museum were interested, then weren't, then were. The Rochester Arts and Culture Collaborative also was interested in establishing an arts and culture center. There may have been other parties as well.

At the time the proposals were submitted there was some confusion as to whether there were three or two. Most reports settled on two - one may have been withdrawn. Last Monday (07.11.16) there were indeed only two proposals presented at the city council's Committee of the Whole (COW) meeting: the proposals for the veterans' and first responders' museum; and, for the arts and culture center.

At that meeting, there was mentioned something about a third proposal that might be coming. Some folks in attendance caught that. Others didn't. It was duly reported by at least one local media outlet. No one asked about it, even though there is good reason why they might have.

Thursday evening, some city staff members were told that an arts academy Armory proposal would be presented at this Monday's (07.18.16) COW meeting. Sometime on Friday the "Armory Arts Academy" proposal was delivered to the city administrator. Early in the afternoon, he distributed that proposal for review to city council members - many of whom were surprised to see it.

According to the proposal, the "Armory Arts Academy" will be "a comprehensive tuition-free public elementary - middle [K-8] school offering a rigorous academic program while integrating the visual and performing arts into each and every school day." In other words, a charter school.

Charter schools in Minnesota are eligible for state Lease aid. The proposal reports that the current Lease aid amounts to $1,314 "per pupil unit."  The proposal projects that in the first year this charter school will be able to pay the city $257,544 in lease payments. The second year, $310,104. And at full "pupil unit" capacity, $473,040.

So; kids, the arts, and a whole lot of money. What's not to like?

Well, let's see

Set aside for the moment how one might regard the city facilitating the establishment of a charter school in the district and what that might mean. State education funding is arcane and fickle so who knows what impact it will have on the ISD 535 budget.

But, consider how it is that this "Armory Arts Academy" proposal has come forward.

The proposal with its kids and the arts and all that money was submitted 16 weeks after the required due date of 12pm, March 31, 2016. In fact, this proposal was submitted to the city administrator sometime on Friday before 1pm. That's 1pm July 15, 2016. Upon receipt the proposal was not returned by the city administrator with a polite email of regret that due to its late submission it could not be considered. On the contrary, it was promptly forwarded to members of the city council for review.

No doubt sometime very soon the city attorney will patiently explain that there's nothing wrong here. That having set the due date the city can ignore it because it can. Or at least one would assume a legal opinion along those lines will be forthcoming. That's how it usually works.

Folks not familiar with the limitless whimsy of local government might be surprised to learn that the city apparently does not need to first reject the proposals that met the due date requirements and were presented in good faith last Monday. Nor does it seem to need to close out the current RFP then open and publicize a new RFP to allow for additional submissions.

Instead, it appears that the council can arrange for this charter school proposal to be presented 16 weeks after the due date requirement. If that's not the case, then someone's in trouble and since no one in this city government ever seems to get into trouble, all this finagle must therefore ipso facto, abracadabra, voilĂ , actually be OK.

Never mind

Never mind those questions you might have about how it is Dr. Galeazzi came know and be assured that preparing and submitting his proposal long after the deadline had passed would not in any way interfere with it being presented to the city council. Never mind who might have provided him with those assurances. Never mind that unless other proposals are going to be pulled out of someone's, ah, hat, no one else has received the benefit of similar assurances.

Never mind that it was 16 weeks from the due date for submission to the date the council scheduled the COW presentations of the two proposals last Monday. Even though it has yet to appear on the COW agenda, if the council's plan is indeed to hear this charter school proposal on Monday, that would mean it would take place only three calendar days after it was submitted. So, never mind that this "Armory Arts Academy" proposal would effectively be heard by the council the next business day after it was received by the city administrator. At least some processes at city hall are being streamlined. By some. For some.

Finally, never mind how the city has already treated those folks who in good faith presented to COW last Monday. The local citizen groups who played by the rules they were given. Prepared their RFP's. Submitted them by the required due date. Waited months upon the council for an opportunity to present their proposals. Local citizens who came before the council thinking they were getting a fair hearing.

Perhaps there are some who will say these citizens got that fair hearing, but to the extent that any on the council knew of this "Armory Arts Academy" proposal (and one can only conclude that some did) and withheld that specific information (and it is clear that some have) the local citizen groups who presented last Monday were not treated fairly. Not at all. Not even close.

It depends

A process these local citizens thought to be open, was not. A process they thought to be transparent, was not. A process they thought governed by "terms, conditions and requirements" that they each had to affirm they understood, was not.

This treatment of these local citizens by our elected officials will probably be found all nice and legal. Still, by standards of simple decency that others think might also apply, their treatment does not seem at all nice or fair. Familiar though. Sadly so.

So, what's not to like about the "Armory Arts Academy" proposal with the kids, and the arts, and all that money? As always, it depends. Do you mind?