Monday, August 6, 2012

Crystal Mayor Debate 2012: The Full Recap

I promised a full recap of the Crystal Mayor’s debate when I wrote my first impressions the other day, so here it is, if for no other reason except I took 6 pages of notes and I’d hate that all to be for nothing.

I’ll step through the debate question by question.  All points and questions are paraphrased, unless otherwise noted.

The debate was between incumbent two-term mayor ReNae Bowman, and challengers Andrew Richter and Jim Adams.

As I mentioned the other day, each candidate made a two minute opening statement.  Bowman kicked it off, and I covered her bizarre opening rant in my other post. She helpfully posted a copy online in case you want to read the oddness in its entirety.

Richter went next and spoke about his 12x16 plan and some of the specific code changes he would like to tackle if elected. 

Adams spoke next.  He mentioned that he has a full time job and a bunch of part time jobs, which is actually one of my biggest concerns about him- that he’d be too distracted to be able to focus as Mayor.  Owning a business, being a fire-fighter, volunteering at church, etc., while admirable, doesn’t leave a lot of time for mayoring.

Q1. Small Businesses

The first question was about the challenges that face a business starting up in Crystal.  Richter and Adams both handled this well, speaking as a current business owner (Adams) and a former business owner (Richter) about first-hand knowledge of the impact of onerous regulation on small businesses.

Bowman declared that there are no roadblocks to starting a business, her opponents are wrong, and any business that failed in Crystal was due to bad management not interference from the city.

Q2. Top 3 Priorities

The second question asked each candidate to list their top 3 priorities if elected.

Adams spoke first and mentioned reducing the debt service (currently a $2 million/year bill), engaging citizens, and looking into the Economic Development Authority (EDA).

Bowman talked about sustainable government, seeking citizen input, and making the government more transparent. Since Bowman has been the mayor for the past 8 years, I’m not sure who else we could blame about the current lack of transparency but her.

Richter spoke of his plan to require a referendum as a means to cap annual spending, tackling changes to the city code and city charter, and televising the council’s work sessions.

Q3. Bottineau Blvd

The third question was about opportunities along Bottineau Blvd, specifically how transit affects city planning.

All three candidates seemed a bit confused by the question, which makes me think it was unclear.

Bowman said that the project was already done, but that we need to promote and engage transit and add more bike paths.

Richter stated he was not a supporter of light rail, and generally wants the government to back off and let the market work.

Adams wants to promote proper development around the incoming light rail station.

Q4. New Housing

Our fourth question was about whether or not Crystal needs more Senior and Low Income Housing.  Again, this question was a bit confusing so the answers were also a bit confusing.

Richter started things off by re-stating that he wants to get the government out of the real estate business and stop the top-down approach to development.

Adams said he wasn’t sure if there was a need or not, but that private business will figure it out if there is, and it’s not the government’s job.

Bowman said Crystal didn’t need any low income housing.  She also took issue with Richter’s “top-down” statement and declared Crystal does not have a top-down approach to development.  I should also note that this is where I wrote in my notebook- “Bowman- unprofessional, making faces” because the sitting mayor was making faces while her opponents spoke, which I think is unprofessional.

Q5. Cost Savings

The fifth question asked the candidates to name their 3 largest cost saving or revenue generating initiatives and what impact they would have on property taxes.

Adams wants to reduce debt payments and buy down the city’s debt.

Bowman stated that the largest parts of the city’s budget were public safety and utilities. So she is looking at saving money by reducing snow plowing and cutting down on pothole repair. Because the best way to get the public to relent and give you more money is by making cuts as painful as possible.

Richter said we should examine opportunities for shared services and re-think the special assessments process.

Q6. The Crystal Airport

The sixth question was about Crystal’s airport.  This is a hot topic because the city’s long term plan calls for shutting down the airport and turning it into high density housing.  The question was about whether or not the airport is important to the city.

Bowman said the airport is important, and that we should try to make the airport a “recreational stop.”

Richter agreed the airport is important, then reminded the crowd about the city’s plan to shut it down.

Adams wants the city to work with the Metropolitan Airports Commission to develop business around the airport and revitalize the area.

Q7. Cooperation

Question 7 was about how Crystal could work better with other local governments.

Richter said we should look at shared services, and specifically called out that the Parks department operates at a 69% loss each year.

Adams said that Crystal already works with other governments in areas like watershed and West Metro Fire, but we should look into more shared services.

Bowman said that “shared services” is a buzzword, but no money is really saved. Then she took a swipe at her opponents for not attending a recent budget meeting.

Q8. City Commissions

Question 8 asked if the candidates had ever served on any city commissions.

Adams and Richer said no. Bowman listed a bunch of commissions, as you’d expect from a sitting mayor.

Q9. Emergency Water Backups (or something)

The ninth question had to do with emergency water backup systems, and quite frankly was over my head in its specificity.

Bowman said she had a plan and the city was already working on it.

Richter said he wasn’t an expert on water systems but said he was open to looking at the issue.

Adams said that this is a federal initiative and that he’s in support of looking into the issue, but that action shouldn’t be taken until the process is fiscally sustainable.

If I could be allowed to editorialize a bit here- I think this is an issue where Adams and Bowman have a disagreement, and one or the other planted a question so they could talk about it and highlight the issue. Both seemed oddly prepared to discuss this particular topic in quite a bit of detail.

Q10. Mayor Reform

The tenth and final question had to do with Richter’s proposal to make the Mayor a full-time job and re-structure the city council to give the mayor a different role, including the power to veto.

Richter spoke about his desire to implement some checks and balances in the city government, and decried the current lack of checks and balances.

Adams said he was willing to have the discussion and agreed that checks and balances were missing.

Bowman said that giving the Mayor veto power is not necessary, because the council is their own checks and balances(!). This comment will get its own follow-up post, because it deserves a thorough examination.

Closing Statements

The candidates then went into their closing statements, which for the most part were standard “thank you for coming/check out my website” comments.  Of course, with the exception of Crystal Mayor ReNae Bowman’s apparently obligatory bizarre slam on her opponents.

So that’s that.  The primary is August 14, so remember to get out and vote!