This follows a fall of organized efforts by cities including Fridley, Spring Lake Park, Blaine, Lexington, Circle Pines, Centerville, and Lino Lakes (all communities that are subject to the watershed board’s decisions and even tax levies) to put forward a list of nominees to join the board.
In fact, most of those cities had passed resolutions supporting a joint list of nominees that included Blaine Councilmember Jess Robertson, Centennial Utilities (Circle Pines) Utility Commission Chairman Jan Kreminksi, and Lino Lakes turf farm owner Scott Robinson. The cities contend that they are following state statute that allows them to be notified of the possible vacancy, which they were, and then to submit a name to the county board, which has the ultimate voting power for nominations.
“A lot of the cities within the watershed have a real problem with the way they picked people,” said Circle Pines Mayor Dave Bartholomay, who attended the board meeting along with City Administrator Patrick Antonen. They were joined by Sarah Cotton, city administrator of Lino Lakes, Spring Lake Park City Administrator Dan Buccholz, and Blaine City Administrator Michelle Wolfe.
They contend that their corridor is not fairly represented on the watershed board. The Rice Creek Watershed covers an area that includes portions of Washington, Ramsey, Anoka, and Hennepin Counties. The current board of five includes two members from Columbus, one from Hugo, one from White Bear Township, and one from Mounds View.
“We’d like to make sure there’s a little more balance on that (board),” said Bartholomay.
The cities of Circle Pines and Centerville went through this two years ago with the re-appointment process for the seat occupied by Watershed Board President Patricia Preiner, who is also from Columbus. The cities submitted a list of names to the county, but the board ultimately voted to re-appoint Preiner. Since then, the cities have filed suit against the county, and it’s landed in the Minnesota Supreme Court.
Because of that pending litigation, county leaders remained mum on the issue.
“Because we’ve been drawn into pending and unsettled litigation, the county board will not be commenting on that item today,” said Anoka County Board of Commissioners Chairman Scott Schulte at the beginning of Tuesday’s meeting as he acknowledged the city representatives in attendance. “The public does not have an opportunity to comment today.”
As the vote was announced nearly an hour and a half later, exasperation showed on the faces of some city administrators in attendance.
“At the end of the day, you try to work with your county board,” said Bartholomay. “We’re all in the same game–serving people. But we really do need to find a way where we can work together, better, listen better, and find solutions that make sense for all of the communities in the watershed.”
District Six Commissioner Jeff Reinert, who represents many of the cities involved in the dispute, did speak about the issue, despite Chairman Schulte’s wishes. He proposed more open forums where watershed leaders, city leaders, and county leaders could all come together to better discuss issues facing each.
“I’d like to continue that process,” said Reinert.
The State Supreme Court will hear the case on January 11.