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Is Lake Elmo home to the most dysfunctional municipal government in America?

Lake Elmo City Council
MinnPost photo by Craig Lassig
The Lake Elmo City Council assembled for a meeting on Feb. 16, 2016.

Earlier this month, at a meeting of the Lake Elmo City Council, the city’s mayor and four City Council members gathered inside the small council chambers at City Hall, a nondescript building close to the center of town, an easy toss from the Twin Point Tavern and Hagberg’s Country Market.

Along with the elected officials, several city staff members and more than a few citizens crowded into the chamber, whereupon they witnessed a victory of sorts, a small triumph: The council managed to get through the Pledge of Allegiance without an unkind word.

But the peace didn’t last long. Shortly after the pledge, the agenda called for a plaque to be presented to a city employee for excellence in financial reporting. In most places, this would have been a routine matter. Ho-hum. Pro forma.

But Lake Elmo isn’t most places.

The plaque was presented to Cathy Bendel, the city’s finance director. There was a nice round of applause from the overflow crowd, which had come out to see what the council would do on a couple of hot-button issues, including the hiring of a city administrator.

One council member, Julie Fliflet, said she was pleased to see Bendel “finally” get the credit she deserved. In a previous year, it seems, credit for winning the award had gone to a former council member, Wally Nelson.

“Glad we could right a wrong and present it to you this year,” Fliflet said to Bendel.  

That was too much for another council member, Justin Bloyer. Red-faced, he said Fliflet's remark’s were “unfortunate.”  

Fliflet smiled and shook her head. This agitated Bloyer all the more, and he mumbled something inaudible. 

Now it was spectators’ turn to shake their heads and roll their eyes.

“My god,” said a man in the crowd. “They even fight over good news.”

***

Over the last several years, Lake Elmo has become the little community where dysfunction has found a home, a place where the local government’s internecine squabbles have become as predictable as they are debilitating. Indeed, in the midst of this suburban utopia — rolling hills, meadows, lakes, expansive and expensive homes — lies what may be the most messed-up municipal government in all of America.

Lest you find that hyperbolic, let’s look at some recent highlights: The Lake Elmo city administrator — who was given a raise by the council of 2014 — was encouraged/forced to resign by the council of 2015, a departure that was quickly followed by the city’s professional staff quitting, one by one. Two council members have been ordered not to speak to city staff unless witnesses are present. A journalist claimed she was physically threatened by a council member. Beleaguered city employees started a union organizing effort. A study, paid for by the City Council, declared that the council is, in fact, “dysfunctional.” When the study’s findings came out, the council demanded that the Washington County sheriff investigate who “leaked” the study — a public document — to the Stillwater Gazette.

Council Member Julie Fliflet
MinnPost photo by Craig Lassig
Council Member Julie Fliflet

These days, watching a Lake Elmo City Council meeting is like sitting through a very long evening with a bickering couple. A have-gavel-will-travel parliamentarian, who is paid about $200 an hour, tries mightily to keep the peace among council members, to little avail.

Perhaps the Lake Elmo City Council is just a microcosm of U.S. politics? Politicians no longer can simply disagree. They must threaten, bully and call each other liars, from Donald Trump on down to the town council. 

Still, why this uncivil behavior in such a charming place? An east metro suburb located between Stillwater and Woodbury, Lake Elmo is home to 8,000 people — most of whom are financially better off than even their well-off neighbors in Woodbury and White Bear Lake — spread over 24 square miles. There is lots of elbowroom.

And therein lies the problem, and the root cause for all this fighting: the pace of growth in a place that still thinks of itself as a rural outpost.

***

This growth issue goes back almost three decades. In the 1980s, Lake Elmo fought — and won — a battle against the intrusion of chain stores, such as Wal-Mart. But in 2005, the city fought — and lost — a battle against the Met Council over which entity controls growth.

“In a way, I feel sorry for Lake Elmo,” said former Met Council Chairman Curt Johnson. “They don’t want to change, but they lie in the path of where the march of growth is coming.”

Most of the people who live in Lake Elmo want growth to be controlled. That’s why they moved there, after all: to enjoy one of the last places in the Twin Cities that retains a conspicuously bucolic vibe. But some want slower growth than others.

None more so than City Council Member Anne Smith, perhaps the most polarizing figure in polarized Lake Elmo. Smith, a 15-year veteran of the council, has a foot in two eras of city politics. There’s the pre-2015 era, when Smith was the only female on the five-person council (which includes the mayor), and often found herself on the losing end of 4 to 1 votes.

Even when she was the lone voice, Smith made herself heard. At one point, her colleagues on the council prohibited her from speaking to any city employee without witnesses present. That came after allegations of Smith harassing city staff, including former City Administrator Dean Zuleger.

Council Member Justin Bloyer
MinnPost photo by Craig Lassig
Council Member Justin Bloyer

City officials weren’t Smith’s only targets, though. A reporter for the Stillwater Gazette, Alicia Ann Lebens, alleged that she felt “threatened” by Smith in the City Hall parking lot following a council meeting in the fall of 2014. No one witnessed the event, but when Lebens went back into the council chambers, people said she was tearful and shaken.

Smith denies the notion she harassed either the reporter or city employees, though she does say, “I’m passionate about things being fair.”

In November of 2014, everything changed for Smith — and the council. Two incumbent council members, Mike Reeves and Wally Nelson, were easily defeated by newcomers Fliflet and Jill Lundgren. 

Smith worked hard for both women, who made growth the central issue of their campaigns. The candidates charged that the good old boys on the council — Reeves, Nelson, Bloyer, and mayor Mike Pearson — were willing to turn bucolic Lake Elmo into another Woodbury. Fliflet and Lundgren took their seats on the council in January of 2015. The new majority was in charge. 

*** 

The first priority for the new block was dispatching with the city administrator, Zuleger — despite the fact that the previous council had given him a $15,000 annual raise and rave job reviews. In February of 2015, Zuleger filed a harassment complaint against Smith, alleging that her actions — which included yelling, poking, even striking him, he said — created “a hostile working environment.” A month later, the new-majority council voted to fire Zuleger.

The backlash against the council vote was immediate and intense. Signs popped up on the community’s main street: “We protest council vote. Council is tyranny of the majority.” City hall meetings filled up with passionate defenders of Zuleger.

By working with the Met Council, Zuleger’s defenders said, the Met Council had backed off its plans for Lake Elmo’s growth (from 24,000 by 2030 to 18,000 by that year). Additionally, Zuleger’s defenders said, he was bringing grant money into the community. His staff was also attracting businesses that would increase the community’s tax base even while allowing Lake Elmo to maintain its “rural charm.”

Council Member Anne Smith
MinnPost photo by Craig Lassig
Council Member Anne Smith

One of Zuleger’s supporters was John Schiltz, who owns and runs Lake Elmo’s best-known business, the Lake Elmo Inn, a beloved restaurant in what passes for Lake Elmo’s downtown. For decades, his place has attracted customers from throughout the metro area. 

Schiltz was on hand the night that many in the community blasted the new council for its plan to part ways with Zuleger. “Forty people spoke out that night,” Schiltz recalled. “Not one person complained. ... The council members acted as if they were listening but they weren’t. For a few years, I thought we were headed in the right direction, but now we’ve hit a wall. Nothing is being done. It’s useless to attend meetings because they won’t listen anyway.”

The backlash was so vocal that the council did back off, briefly, from its initial decision to fire Zuleger. But a few months later, he resigned and accepted a buyout. In ensuing weeks, the city planner, the deputy clerk, the assistant city administrator, the taxpayer relations manager and the city receptionist all left.

***

Not everybody in Lake Elmo agrees with the “tyranny of the majority” signs that were aimed at the new council members in the dispute over Zuleger, of course. People such as former council member Steve DeLapp say that Zuleger and the male-dominated council were giving away too much, undermining all that makes Lake Elmo unique.  

DeLapp is a living symbol of the fact that Lake Elmo’s city government has long been a bit of a hothouse environment. At a 2008 meeting, he called the mayor at the time a “goddamned bastard.” (In those days there was no parliamentarian to rule him out of order.)

“I want Lake Elmo open, with nice parks and limited government,” said DeLapp. “When [the old council] was in the majority, they were giving away everything. The guy they fired [Zuleger] couldn’t be trusted. One day, he could be the nicest guy in the world and the next day he was ruthless — a guy just trying to pad his resume by dealing with developers.”

Council Member Jill Lundgren
MinnPost photo by Craig Lassig
Council Member Jill Lundgren

Back and forth it goes. Even when the players change, the tumult seems constant, so much so that it’s easy to just pass it all off as something like a joke, a nasty parody of small-town politics. Except that, for Lake Elmo residents, there are real, live consequences to the city’s political turmoil.

For example, some properties in and around Lake Elmo’s downtown are unsellable thanks to crumbling septic systems. After years of wrangling, a sewer system is finally being constructed in the area. But without new development, the burden of paying for the system falls on only a few. And the high costs, Schiltz fears, will force more business out and create more empty storefronts. His own Lake Elmo Inn might even be forced to close. 

***

“You have to have poop in the pipe,” said Smith. That’s her way of saying some growth is needed to make a sewer line viable.

She insists she’s not opposed to growth; she says she just wants it carefully managed.

But Mayor Mike Pearson says that the businesses that Lake Elmo needs to attract are being frightened off by the ugliness of city government.

“I think we have sent the message that we are difficult to deal with,” he said. “We have sent away the businesses that would be good for our community.”

Mayor Mike Pearson
MinnPost photo by Craig Lassig
Mayor Mike Pearson

The interesting thing about Smith and Pearson is that in one-on-one conversations, both are rational, easy to talk to. But put them in the same room — a council chamber, say — and you can feel the tension. Even with a parliamentarian there are snide comments, eye rolls, pointed statements.

“I can see where this is going,” muttered Pearson at a recent meeting where an issue was headed toward another 3-2 vote. 

“Funny,” says Smith, “I don’t recall any tyranny-of-majority signs when I was always on the losing end of 4 to 1.”

*** 

The feuding has consequences beyond Lake Elmo, too. The old council supported a half-billion dollar East Metro dedicated bus transit system that would have included a station in Lake Elmo. This system, years in the planning, would run from Oakdale to downtown St. Paul.

When the new majority took over, however, a new vote was taken on whether Lake Elmo should participate in the project. By a 3-to-2 vote, the Lake Elmo decided to oppose the Gold Line route, meaning the whole project must go back to the drawing board.  

“I’m not sure how remaining auto dependent helps you to maintain your character,” said Will Schroeer, executive director of East Metro Strong, a public/private organization which has been a strong advocate of the Gold Line. “It’s frustrating, but we will move forward. I think the question that they need to answer is whether they think traffic is going to get better or worse in coming years.”

Which points to a larger question: What does Lake Elmo owe its surrounding communities, if anything? Lake Elmo wants good roads, public help when environmental issues arise, grants to rebuild failing infrastructure. Does the community have a greater responsibility when it comes to issues such as growth and transit lines? Does any local community?

“There are benefits to living in the larger metro area,” said Smith. “I can live 10 miles from downtown St. Paul and experience the culture, the theater, the shopping, the jobs of the metropolitan area. Yet, at the end of the day, I can come home and live in a small, rural community. As for the moral responsibility: We offer people a choice. You can choose to live in a place like Woodbury. Don’t get me wrong, I love Woodbury, but we are different. We are one of the last rural places in the region. That’s worth taking care of.” 

Counters Pearson: “I love our community, but we are at risk of losing all we have if we don’t work with others. We can’t just bury our heads in the sand.”

And so it goes.

***

Nearly seven hours after it opened its meeting, long after the tussle over the awarding of a plaque, the Lake Elmo City Council got down to some serious feuding. The discussion was over the process of the hiring of a new city administrator. Apparently, Kristina Handt, formerly the city administrator in Scandia, has been hired. But the process rankled both Pearson and Bloyer.

“This has been a violation of opening meeting law,” said Bloyer. “These discussions have taken place behind closed doors. Everyone here knows it but no one is going to stand up and say it. This is the worst thing a government can do.” 

All of this was happening at about 2 a.m., meaning most in the once-crowded chambers had gone home. 

But of course, they really hadn’t missed anything. They’ve seen it all before. Surely they will see it all again. This is Lake Elmo.

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Comments (25)

It isn't just Lake Elmo

These types of problems are all over the place. Just go north a few miles and pay attention to what has been going on in Grant for over a decade. Being rude and bullying is the new sport in municipal government, and it seems the worst in some of these smaller places that get little attention.

Lake Elmo's rejection of the dedicated bus route

From my standpoint miles to the west of Lake Elmo and, for that matter, downtown St. Paul, Lake Elmo's rejection of that bus route brought a sigh of relief. It seems to me that the proposed line with its enormously expensive dedicated route through as yet little-developed areas, and its expected transit speed slower than the existing bus transit connections, would be an abusive use of precious transit funds. Proponents of the line make it clear that their motivation is to spur development, not serve transit needs: in other words, development-oriented transit.

It's disturbing that our unelected, non-transparent, unresponsive Met Council would even consider such a project.

The Met Council is not in charge of Gold Line project

The Met Council is not in charge of Gold Line project. Currently, Ramsey and Washington counties are the big driving forces behind this project. And perhaps St. Paul and other local private organizations - which is only a guess on my part, I only know about Ramsey and Washington counties.

Just like the SWLRT project and Hennepin County, all of these big transitway projects start at the local level. In fact, because the Council is a regional planning organization, there is more transparency on these projects than there might be. The projects at least have to fit into the regional long-range plans and transitway policies. These plans and policies are constructed with the input of all stakeholders in the region, including cities and counties.

Since the Council often employs staff with experience in planning projects of this type, you may see some mention of the Council or Council staff when reading about the process. They are there at the behest of the counties/cities undertaking the project so that, if ultimately State or federally funded, the project will confirm to the proper steps.

Lake Elmo and Bus Route

Part of the problem behind rejecting the bus route was that the two stops proposed for in Lake Elmo required a development zone around each stop to promote ridership. This was just another problem with the already out of control building going on in that area.

No excuse!

There is no excuse for verbally abusing anyone let alone being physically abusive! None. That being said, the Lake Elmo city council (lower case intended) is very much like our congress (lower case intended), with the antics being more overt in Lake Elmo. But the intent is the same and the result is the same. It is shameful and so very sad.

Planet Elmo!

So said a firm, with a resigned chortle, upon finally realizing that success demanded a move from that staid town. Its a nice town to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there. No shared the responsibility in the cult.

Thank you for this fine article

I especially appreciated the "poop in the pipe" quote! I first interviewed Lake Elmo city managers on their anti-growth strategy over a decade ago, and their plan then was to foil the Met Council's plans to promote more sustainable development patterns.

Well... here we are.

It's a mess, true

But I'd still rather live there than in Flint, Michigan.

that picture

your intro picture at the top of the article speaks volumes. one lady looking off into space, a couple lookng down into their laps, maybe someone speaking? Talk about an engaged and cohesive group - not.

Lake Elmo "that picture"

Perhaps if the writer was at that meeting he would have had a better sense of the Councils attention to issues at hand. The Councilwoman "gazing off into space", as he suggests, may in fact have been looking at the other TV monitor to her right? He should come and attend a 5-6 hour council meeting sometime and see if he can focus and concentrate during the long sessions.

It isn't just Lake Elmo

The article describes a situation just a bit more extreme than what we see in Northfield every other week. The LVW hired a "parliamentarian" to run a workshop teaching council members about parliamentary procedure (which the council had just modified for their use). Fortunately, the council accepted the "gift." But it won't be long before "Point of order" is shouted in the council chamber in another attempt to stop a council member from talking.

Local control issue

Thanks to Doug Grow for this outstanding article. Before Lake Elmo took over in 2000, the City of Afton (where I formerly lived) held the reputation as the Twin Cities' most dysfunctional city. I suspect many of the problems are associated with affluence, much like the problems of churches when some benefactor lays a large bequest on a congregation. In Lake Elmo's case, I think there was also a problem with communication between the Met. Council, Met. Council staff, the Lake Elmo City Council, City staff and the population of Lake Elmo.

Lake Elmo was one east metro area which shared with Afton a strong, long term determination to maintain a rural character and resist urban sprawl development, to avoid becoming another Woodbury. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on your view), that determination is trumped under Minnesota law by Met. Council long term plans for community development, which is driven by sewer treatment and interceptor expansion. At some time in the late 1990's and early 2000's, the Met. Council ordered Lake Elmo to change its comprehensive plan to allow for much more growth than its elected officials or the voters there wanted. That was done to accommodate the Met. Council's sewer interceptor expansion plans. The issue went to the Minnesota Supreme Court where Lake Elmo lost.

Lake Elmo began to experience this dysfunction about the same time as its citizens were getting the bad news that their little rural backwater was about to end. If you have made a choice to buy a place and settle in an area for its ruralness, it's a bit hard to swallow that you are powerless to prevent the sort of change that forces you to give that up. It seems especially hard to swallow when you have never had any say in the process or any vote.

Having lived in Afton, I can say there was constantly rumors about the MUSA (Metropolitan Urban Services Area, which defines the "shadow area" for projected urban type development) line being moved further ut. It was unsettling for me to see the once lovely farms and farm field being converted into tract houses in Woodbury as the MUSA was edged closer to Afton's west boundary. It took me many years to learn that the MUSA line is is not at all like Oregon's urban growth limit but that it is more or less subject to being changed at will to accommodate Met. Council sewer expansion plans. This was not because of the Met. Council's transparency in explaining what this MUSA is or how it is changed.

The Met. Council and its staff must share part, if not all, of the blame for this dysfunction in Lake Elmo. It forced this community to accept a level of growth which neither its voters, its elected officials or its staff were prepared or equipped to deal with.Mostly it is failure of the Met. Council to communicate and coordinate its plans with communities and the people who are impacted by them.

There is a genuine policy/philosophical question

As to whether a community situated in what once was outside, and now is within, a metropolitan area can appropriately maintain a "rural" stance, thus requiring leapfrog development and, incrementally, increasing autocentricity and the cost of services for everyone else in the metropolitan area.

But, as someone who was familiar with the details of the matter at the time, I don't think that question was really reached. The Met Council's average density requirements were very moderate and could have been met by Lake Elmo zoning a narrow southern strip of the city along I-94 for reasonably high density housing (including some multifamily). The much greater part of the city's geographic area could have remained largely unaffected. Since the litigation, there have been iterations of city/Met Council negotiations and adjustments, so I don't know what the actual outcome was. But the volume of the complaining at the time was based more on principle than on impact.

In any event, regardless, a city council's role - the role of any group of adults - is to act deliberatively and collaboratively with respect to whatever the circumstances are. What the article seems to reflect is this increasing failure of human beings to be able to do this. Instead, judging by the current star of our national politics, what we really want to do is a lot of insulting and punching.

Acting like adults

I can't disagree with your point about the article and how the Lake Elmo City Council or any other deliberative body, ought to conduct themselves. The Lake Elmo City Council is a disgrace, but judging from other comments in this thread, it seems to have plenty of company.

I also think you're quite right about the policy/philosophical question not being reached. In part, that's because the issue was framed as you did using phrases like "leapfrogging development", "increasing cost of services" and "autocentricity." Thus framed, there can be only one answer which was the one dictated by the Met. Council. The unwritten and unspoken logic underlying Met. Council decisions on comprehensive plans and increased density of development is the logic of long range engineering planning for central sewer services. That's not honest or democratic. In my reading of the Administrative Law Judge's report of the dispute, the citizens of Lake Elmo were never told of what was at stake or that behind the scene decisions were being made that would affect their community. The law requires a referendum when a school board wants to build a new school. Why isn't a referendum required when the Met. Council changes its density requirements for a whole community that is based on sewer expansion?

What I and many other people question is whether this phenomenon of urban sprawl can be stopped? Perhaps you have more first hand knowledge, but having read the report of the Administrative Law Judge of the record, the dispute developed over a period of five to ten years over which the Lake Elmo Comp. Plan diverged from the Met. Council's over city-wide density. It was over that period that a secret decision was made to expand the capacity of the existing sewer interceptor. The people of Lake Elmo had no say in this. That's not right.

Please see my comment about

Please see my comment about the Met Council's non-involvement with this project at this time.

I'm not precisely sure whom you're criticizing.

It's necessarily the case that even if our representatives (elected or otherwise) were doing a good job of representing us, things would be done with which you, or any particular group of people, would disagree. The ideal of self-governance is simply (a) that our representatives make sound judgments so that things that are done serve the public welfare; and (b) that those who suffer particular burdens due to actions that benefit us as a whole are given careful attention and treated fairly.

There is nothing sudden about Met Council directives to local zoning authorities. There's a long-range regional development plan. Then there are "systems" plans (including sanitary sewer and transportation) that are developed to effect the long-range plan. Then there is capital improvement programming regarding the Council's buildout/upgrade of its sanitary sewer infrastructure. There are "system statements" that the Council provides to each city stipulating basic constraints such as average density minimums that a city must meet to minimally support the regional infrastructure investment. There is city drafting of 10-year comprehensive land use plans that need to conform to the system statement. There is negotiation between the Met Council and the city on all of the terms and details. All of this takes years. The presumption is that the city represents the interests of its residents and has its manifold meetings and procedures where residents can be involved. The whole process from Met Council long-range plan to the city comprehensive land use plan takes a decade and then it starts again. Temporal distance doesn't allow me to recall details in the specific case of Lake Elmo, but I'd be very surprised if city representatives weren't aware of the Met Council's interceptor expansion plans for a very long time.

Perhaps school building construction is localized enough that a referendum makes sense. Subjecting regional infrastructure investment decisions to referendum surely would mean mayhem, particularly where the citizenry has been so effectively conditioned to make political judgments not from the standpoint of the general welfare, but thru the lens of pure, narrow self-interest.

Who I'm Criticizing

You've articulated an ideal which I agree with. But sometimes bad decisions are made and it's up to our leaders to change when they can do better. And I think we as citizen's have the right, if not the duty, to criticize actions and policies of their elected and appointed officials which they believe go contrary to their own opinions, interests and the public interest.

What you've outlined in terms of general process for Met. Council planning is close enough to make my point. The actual decisions in the Lake Elmo case which went to the Minnesota Supreme Court took place in an eight year time frame, from the 1996 Regional Blueprint adoption by the Met. Council to the Supreme Court decision. The case was framed by the Court and the ALJ who heard the case as a "show-down" between local self-determination and the broader Met. Council regional sewer and transportation planning. But that planning was not even completed adopted until 2000 or 2002. Some city representatives probably knew some of what was happening. But keep in mind that the issues went to the Courts because those Lake Elmo representatives who knew anything had every reason to believe they could prevail or negotiate a different outcome. I think it's fair to say that the reality of the Met. Council's decision did not really begin to sink in Lake Elmo until 2004 when the Supreme Court issued its decision against the City. It was not a foregone conclusion how it would turn out. I think the City was unprepared for this decision and has been reeling from it since. Not that it excuses bad behavior.

You might very well be correct that it makes no sense to subject regional investment decisions to referenda. School bonding issues in our consolidated school districts have worked reasonably well however. School officials and parents don;t always get everything they want but we have plenty of large school buildings around to suggest that it's not completely unworkable. Anyway, who says that decisions over infrastructure all have to be regional? Or how about some other criteria? Why aren't sewer extensions combined with requirements to extend light rail and mass transit to newly sewered areas?

The Met. Council and its one-size fits all approach to regional planning is at the root of urban sprawl, which the public doesn't much like. In a few years, Lake Elmo will be indistinguishable from Woodbury and Oakdale and the other cookie-cutter 'burbs in the area. A "geography of nowhere" as one author put it. People will wonder what happened to the rural community that used to be Lake Elmo and why? And on it goes.

Thanks for the colloquy, Jon.

I'm very much in favor of regional planning, for lots of orthodox collective action reasons. But of course any way we go about it is going to be very imperfect.

For all sorts of social, ecological and fiscal reasons, I do subscribe to the view that metropolitan areas should be dense with fairly well defined boundaries. A low-density rural enclave in Lake Elmo means the St. Croix Bridge and commuter subdivisions in Polk County, Wisconsin. I'd suggest that an area takes its place within the "geography of nowhere" not because it is developed, but because of how it is developed. The Met Council doesn't have anything to do with this, it's the lack of imagination, resources and interest of local land use authorities and developers.

Degredation of humanity affects judgment

Isn't it normal to have someone chair these types of meetings, to keep order? Debates or discussion of issues are not meant to be an emotional thing, such as the Presidential debates. Adults, and leaders should debate issues without a desire to win. Discussions should be led by reason, and logic, establishing and verifying facts to gain an understanding and approach a truth for the good of the community. In the absence of emotion we can reason an issue. Freedom is secured not by the fulfilling of desires, but by the removal of desire. (ego and emotion) We can then move ahead together to discover truth, or in the very least attain a higher degree of knowledge of the subject. Through wisdom a matter is settled.

These folks seem like little children, uneducated, unequipped for positions of authority and rule, led by emotions and ruled by their ego. If I chaired this room, any personal attacks would be grounds for immediate removal from the discussion. Any personal attacks outside of this room to other council members or civilian would result in immediate removal from the board. Since you don't understand civility yourself nor show restraint, you misrepresent your position and the position of this City. Little child, go your way now and let the adults converse.

It would also seem that there are some who, of the mind of prosperity and expansion have infiltrated the council and create discord. Since it is the will of the majority of the people of the city to remain unchanged, any conversation on that topic is unwelcome and unwarranted. There must be cohesion within the group based upon the will of the majority people. If the majority of the people are against an issue, there is no discussion. Push your agenda, I show you the door. Council members do not serve themselves, they are servants of the people. Be worthy, remain honorable

Keep up infrastructure, build libraries, public parks with good drinking water, hold social events, have music, bond and create trust with your community.

Apparently not...

"After almost every official in this Texas town was arrested, black water started coming out of the pipes."

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2016/02/22/after-almo...

The other kind of dysfunction

Are the councils that are completely buffaloed by staff and rubber stamp everything.

Why Are We Surprised

That the residents of Galt Gulch are ungovernable,...

by anyone else,...

or even themselves.

Having lived in several of these east metro communities

I would like to say that it is in the water as near as I can tell. I've lived in White Bear Lake, Mahtomedi, Grant, Hugo, and now Stillwater. They all have had their moments. Small dictatorships seem to thrive in these communities. Now it is just the "mean girls" toughing it out in Lake Elmo.

This confrontational politics is definitely a product of our times. We have City government as entertainment for the mean spirited. Too bad they are really missing opportunities to do the right thing by their communities no matter what the vision.

Lake Elmo

In general, I think the article captured some of the issues, but as a 43-year resident, I have a different perspective. The sewer issue certainly drives a certain amount of hostility, mine included, toward the push by the Met Council to “grow” Lake Elmo. Our peaceful city of large lots and low traffic will be changed forever as a result. No longer will we have a choice about our own development destiny. So, yes, there might be some hostility as a result between those who favored low-density, unsewered development and those who look at sewered development as “progress”.
There is also the issue that some Council members have believed in the past, and continue to believe, that less government is good government. When they were in the majority, they missed opportunities to have the least intrusive development which would satisfy the Metro Council’s mandate. They refused to require developers to provide more buffers and landscaping, more interesting designs of houses, more dedicated park land, and sometimes even sidewalks. The philosophy seems to have been “let the market decide,” which has led to the cookie-cutter developments we thought would never happen in Lake Elmo, but which are covering large areas of our City. So, yes, there might be some hostility as a result.
Finally, the article mentions that some septic systems in the Old Village are failing. Back in the 1980’s, there was an opportunity for every resident to improve their septic system through the “201 project”, a federally-funded project promoted by Ronald Reagan. We participated and have a septic system which has been carefully maintained and which would have more than outlived us. However, now we have to have it destroyed because we will be required to pay for and use a central sewer. We will be assessed for something we did not want or need. So, yes, we are somewhat hostile to the changes coming as a result of central sewer.
There were some homeowners in the Old Village who refused to accept the 201 project money. I remember talking to an engineer on the 201 project at the time who said they went door to door begging people to get on board with the systems. The engineer said many homeowners just would ignore them. Letters were sent and ignored, and phone calls and repeated offers were rejected. Some of those people who rejected 201 project now have failing systems and are hostile toward anyone who does not wholeheartedly endorse central sewer. But if any systems in the Old Village are in need of help now, I have little sympathy since problems could have been alleviated then.
A lot of work went into the process of keeping Lake Elmo rural for over forty years. It was the Metro Council that has changed that and the Lake Elmo City council members themselves have had to deal with the fallout of such a mandate. For those who want the amenities of a city, they are getting what they desired, but for all of us who moved here specifically to enjoy what Lake Elmo offered those forty years: very slow growth, on large lots, hobby farms, horse farms, a charming old downtown, low traffic, and even more important low taxes, it is lost. And there is both sadness and yes, hostility.

As a former resident...

Both the story and many comments are spot on. When we moved to Lake Elmo in 1998, we went out to breakfast and listened to the locals complain bitterly about " outsiders" moving into their little down while marveling at the rapid rate of rise in the property values. We commented to ourselves at the time that they really didn't get the relationship of the two facts. Reading this article brings home the reality that not much is changed. A lot of people to move to the area seem to want a bucolic rural experience with all the convenience of an urban environment. And they don't want anyone else to share in their experience either. It's interesting to see Steve DeLapp painted as someone who is difficult. I remember Steve riding his bicycle around all the new developments andintroducing himself to his new neighbors. Political? Yes. But I have to say that I haven't seen that level of local political interaction since the 70s. Steve was passionate about his area and his neighbors.

One of the unsaid issues that we saw in this area was the rapid rise of very conservative and tea party politics. Uncivil behavior rose with this political trend. Michelle Bachmann rose to power with very slimy and nasty personal attack politics, and I can't help but think that she was really a harbinger of change in that area. with extreme conservative leanings comes a talk radio type of discourse . And it was not for the better. We left because of this atmosphere, it is not surprising it is not improved. But it is sad.