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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Cost Overrun Workshop Reveals Cure is Worse than the Disease

From March 25th:

Washington County Government is doing well overall, thanks in large part to the dedicated staff on the front line who come in day in and day out working hard like the rest of us. The streets are plowed, the parks are clean, the libraries are stocked, the jail is secure, public welfare is delivered, on and on we have a great crew working for us. For the most part the same is true as you move up the chain of command to management and leadership of these departments. However, there's an unfortunate oversight that's allowed things to get out of hand in the area of spending of our County tax dollars.

We've been calling for something to be done for the last two years about this problem. It's contributed to the County debt tripling in the period of seven years! Through debt restructuring and some can kicking tax payers have largely avoided the pain of a massive tax increase that usually results from steep spending increases like this. Much like federal debt today. 

However, thanks to your efforts it appears we don't have  to have to wait for the inevitable collapse of the dollar that will one day come at the federal level. You have called and e-mailed your county commissioners and voiced your concerns. On March 17th the County held a workshop to offer the solution to correct the problem of cost overruns. 

Almost weekly we point out either a road or building project that is getting the rubber stamp of approval for "change orders" (see 'Photos' on WCW main fb page). Or as I wrote a couple weeks ago about the cost of the Public Works North Shop reconstruction project increased by up to $3 million dollars AFTER the budget was passed. We as tax payers still don't have any details about the project as to why this happened. The board didn't talk about this project at the workshop. They centered on contractors being at fault for asking for increases... which I'd argue naturally occurs when they realize they get away with requests without being questioned. In two years of following nearly every county board meeting I have not seen one cost overrun request denied or even negotiated down.

Not only that they left out DOZENS of contract overruns in their audit of themselves, blaming contractors. Claiming to have gone back four years they supposedly found the worst contract change orders totaling tens of thousands... I looked back just seven months into 2014  and found far worse cases that never made the list totaling MILLIONS! (see pictures retrieved from our own timeline)
-May 2014 a 30% increase to put an AC unit on the County Sheriff's Office 
-October 2014 25% increase ($274K) to extend to Hardwood Creek Trail in Forest Lake

Due to the County Board's inability to identify their rubber stamp as the culprit of out of control spending naturally the solution was going to be a disaster. True to form, the March 17th workshop has revealed the cure is worse than the disease. 

Part of the County's solution includes idea such as: 
1.) "Less public involvement"; 
2.) Change policy to only require a board vote on changes of $100K or more instead of $50K or more; 
3.) Have larger contingency funds aka: ' over estimate the project cost and report manufactured cost under-runs' 
4.) "limit alternative designs" (likely leaving the expensive option along side a bare bones approach... bad); 

Worst of all is Commissioner Kriesel's comment in the meeting stating "the last thing we want to do is spook you guys" when he was speaking to Don Theisen (director of Public Works), Wayne Sandberg (Deputy Director of Public Works), and Cory Slagle (Transportation Manager). Excuse me? Are you representing the tax payers or basically admitting this workshop was lip service?

On that note, credit should be given to Cory Slagle who was at the meeting. He has done his job well on the side of public relations. When there's a roadway improvement project he oversees he does a great job hosting open houses to listen to the public; releasing updates as they happen not only on a dedicated County web site, but also in detailed presentations to the board. Slagle also publishes itemized costs for the projects so we know exactly how much each item costs. If it's not listed you can shoot him an e-mail and he's happy to respond.

ie: how much is one single light pole for the over $6,000,000 project to update just 3/4 of a mile of CR 21 in Afton? A: About $6,000 to $9,000 per light pole

Details like this are something we could only dream of from Don Theisen who is heading up the Public Works North Shop rebuild; or Jan Lucke who's managing the planning of the Bus Transit corridors in the county where we have no data on how the seemingly random and various cost estimates for the corridor are calculated. 

In December the corridor cost $400 million
In January the Met Council released the Corridor will cost at least $460 million

It's time for for the County Board to start representing the tax payers that elected them. When a project manager like Theisen comes to the board with information that the approved budget of $17.5 mil for the North Shop is not enough we don't need "we trust your judgement"... Tax payers need a strong advocate, that's why we elected you.

Contact your county commissioners to demand better oversight:
fran.miron@co.washington.mn.us 651-430-6211 
ted.bearth@co.washington.mn.us 651-738-2425 
gary.kriesel@co.washington.mn.us 651-430-6213 
lisa.weik@co.washington.mn.us 651-430-6215 
karla.bigham@co.washington.mn.us 651-430-6214


-Matt Behning
Washington County Watchdog



County Mistake Leads to $165,000 Settlement Paid by Forest Lake

In July of 2014 we covered how the County State Aid Highway 2/ Broadway ave road Project in Forest Lake was $2.5 Million dollars over budget. It was managed by the Washington County Public Works Department.

What would become a $18.9 million dollar project was sighted by the County as the "mega project". The bulk of what was included was a rebuilt crossing over Interstate 35, a new interchange with Broadway ave and I-35, two pedestrian bridges, a roundabout at highway 61, and widening Broadway ave. It was recently completed.

In early April I became aware that the city of Forest Lake had a closed meeting on March 30th regarding a law suit over an eminent domain dispute that began in 2010. The vote was 4 to 1 to award Nightingale Partners (White Castle) and Forest Lake Enterprises (Culvers) parcels $165,000 Forest Lake tax dollars. (White Castle won the money, but has to split it with Culvers) Michael Freer, was the Forest Lake City Council member to not vote in favor of the settlement stating in an email to me on May 3rd:

"I was the councilmember who voted against the settlement.  I don't believe the amount of money given to these residents/businesses who willing to push a little bit.  I am willing to spend more money defending ourselves versus giving out large sums of taxpayer money for nothing.  The settlement are a result of the use of eminent domain.  It is used too freely and has caused the large settlements that we see in Forest Lake.  Hope this helps a little bit."

I asked Freer, "Are you saying the cost to Forest Lake was $165,000 for this settlement for the mistake the County made?"  Freer replied, "essentially, yes" I contacted all the other Forest Lake City Councilors for comment and in an e-mail from Ben Winnick on May 16th confirmed Forest Lake paid the $165,000 in damages for the County's eminent domain mistake with the County covering the unknown cost for the legal fees over this five year dispute (over a hundred thousand?):

"My understanding is we paid 165k but obviously that was not just a random number.  The amount derived from previous negotiations it would have cost us more to fight it than to settle as the court system had already set a number of 160k.  That only left us the option of the 5k or the cost of the lawyers.  The city had to pay that part of the cost but the county has been paying the legal fees. "

Consider what $165,000 is for a small town: Forest Lake has a budget of $8.35 million for 2015 and announced they were cutting their fire inspector despite having to increase the city taxes in this Forest Lake Times article written by Ryan Howard. Equate that to real terms by taking off some zeros... Consider a family of four having a combined household income of $83,500 a year and having to come up with $1,650 to pay for a mistake they didn't even make. That's why this should matter to Forest Lake residents and County residents who see no consequences for the County's cost overruns and damages in law suits. They appear completely disconnected via lack of media scrutiny or concern by the elected County Board officials that should care. Evidenced by this article content and others such as: Cost Overrun Worshop Reveals Cure is Worse than the Disease

I attempted to review the County data on the settlement and what the details of the case were and what the lawyer fees for five years of council cost; but was met with stern opposition by the Assistant County Attorney Richard Hodsdon. Over a month of back and forth with Hodsdon stating everything from all out refusal (initially) and claims of "Attorney Client Privilege" was issued to me denying access to the details of the case. Finally on May 18th I was allowed to view only seven pages (see the pictures I was allowed to take below). Of course my only option to review this data was to literally physically go into the Washington County Government Center at a time of the County's convenience to see these seven pages of public data. When I asked to see please see just the part of the case that described the "arguments" of both parties I was told yesterday 5-26 to refer to a letter they mailed to me... which turns out to be an address they assumed I received mail at. Either way, who responds to an e-mail question with snail mail? Copy and paste the few paragraphs from the case and let the public know your mistake that is costing us our tax dollars.

If you care to find out more email Hodsdon and ask at: rick.hodsdon@co.washington.mn.us I apologize I am stepping down from poking this bear of the County Attorney's Office any further on this story. As they have the power to destroy any one of our lives with the power they hold.

Tread lightly.

-Matt Behning

If you use any of my pictures below that I took please provide me as the source with the direct link to the article. Copyright laws allow filing photos and articles up to 90 days after a violation so please respectfully fully source or consider Copyright pending. Thanks for sourcing!









Monday, May 18, 2015

County Parking Lot Repave Goes $1.1 Million Over Budget

In June of 2013 Washington County on a new $2.5 million dollar parking lot re-pavement project at the County Government Center in Stillwater. We covered the story at the time highlighting the fact even $2.5 million seemed excessive as the pavement did not appear that bad (see pictures).

Over the next year the County Board unanimously approved additional upgrades that totaled hundreds of thousands of dollars in added costs. Initially the Board seemed to have a moment of common sense, realizing a facility that is not open at night and that has a sheriff's department attached does not need $300,000 in outdoor lighting (p.10 of July 9th 2013 board minutes). However, this was short lived.

In 2014 we covered the fact that the $300,000 for the lighting was back and the total for the project was up to $3.4 million in July 2014.

Now the project is finished. According to the May 12th, 2015 County Board meeting minutes the project was:
-Supposed to take 18 months... and actually took 48 months to complete
-Supposed to cost $2,497,735 ... and actually cost $3,603,517 ($1,105,782 over budget)

This comes on the heels of the March Cost Overrun Workshop Reveals Cure is Worse Than the Disease. Referring to the County not only missing many of the worst cost overruns in the projects they oversee; but also coming up with the most ridiculous solutions to face the problem. Such as limiting public involvement.

Contact your county commissioners to demand better oversight:
fran.miron@co.washington.mn.us 651-430-6211 
ted.bearth@co.washington.mn.us 651-738-2425 
gary.kriesel@co.washington.mn.us 651-430-6213 
lisa.weik@co.washington.mn.us 651-430-6215 
karla.bigham@co.washington.mn.us 651-430-6214


-Matt Behning
Washington County Watchdog

Related Articles:




Friday, May 15, 2015

Mayor Stephens Uses Misinformation to Protect the Gateway Corridor

On May 12th Woodbury Mayor Mary Giuliani Stephens posted this article in the Pioneer Press stating "a bill" in the house passed that  "would eliminate the funding necessary to build any of the new transit service being planned for the East Metro. We would not be able to build the Gold Line that would serve Woodbury." (also known as the Gateway Corridor)

Stephens article doesn't name the bill; however it certainly must reference Representative Linda Runbeck's bill HF899 which is a common sense bill that states: Transit projects like the Gateway Corridor/Gold Line can't be built " unless (1) a law is enacted that specifically identifies and authorizes the project, or (2) state funds are appropriated specifically for the project

This means:
1.) No longer can un-elected bodies like the Met Council lead the construction of these transit corridors until the elected legislature first reviews and approves the project.
2.) No longer can these transit corridors obtain state funds by creating ear marks on to the state omnibus bill. They will need to stand on their own merit for approval in the legislature if HF899 passes. 

In my article: 8 local Republican Legislators Explain their Position on Transit Runbeck clarifies the common sense nature of the bill:
"Obligating taxpayers to spend billions for a transit network that at best will serve 4% of commutes is grounds for mandating that the current Met Council/CTIB decision-making process on transit be required to get specific legislative approval before advancing any transit project.  That's what the bill will do.

What is clear is Mayor Stephens is using scare tactics and mis-information to sway public opinion away from common sense legislation regarding transit. The bill would not prevent any corridor from being built. It would institute much needed integrity to the way transit corridors are built in Minnesota.
-Matt Behning
Editor of Washington County Watchdog
WCwatchdog.blogspot.com
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on twitter @WCwatchdog




Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Red Rock Corridor Faces Delays as 7 Facts Become Undeniable

1/2017: This article data is still current and relative to the latest update:
Red Rock Corridor Plan Falls Apart Now Wants to be Called Route 363

1/2017: Check out my interview on HastingsTV where I talk about the Red Rock Corridor, Route 363, and what modes of public transit actually work for South Washington County: Tom Bullington's Everybody Loves Politics: Matt Behning

----------------------------------------------------------
Since 2013 I've been watching the progress of all three transit corridors that are developing in Washington County (WC) as a concerned tax payer. There's the Rush Line in north WC, the Gateway Corridor/ Gold Line in central WC, and the Red Rock Corridor in South WC. My interest in these projects is my concern about their cost vs benefit and their reliance to be primarily funded by taxpayers who will never hear, let alone use, these Bus Rapid Transit routes (BRT).

The Red Rock Corridor (RRC), is a proposed 30 mile BRT route from South Washington County to Union Depot in St. Paul. It is in the advance stages of planning and the focus of this article.

In this article I'll summarize my years of fully sourced research on the RRC in an easy to read, point by point, breakdown with the latest updates. The data is vital to understand as I believe the project is teetering on the edge of completely stalling. Several facts support this thought: 
1.) Red Rock Corridor has not had vital State funding approved by the legislature since 2011. Also in the same source, the Public Works director for Washington County, Don Theisen, said "engineering work on the Red Rock Corridor will be delayed" if funding is not secured. 
(p. 16 of the 2015 Washington County Legislative Agenda) 
2.) The Met Council is also turning it's back on the Red Rock Corridor holding off building the low income project housing right next to the station: Star Tribune
3.) The RRC planner's response is to take $400,000 $550,000 tax dollars and put all of it into an unprecedented redesign push called the "implementation plan" in an attempt to convince tax payers the corridor still needs to be built. The money comes from a County Transit Improvement Board (CTIB) fund that is supported by a sales tax we all pay when we purchase most local goods and services. Come to find out the plan actually costs $550,000 after a raise was approved for the contractor Kimley Horn according to  p.45 of December 2nd RRC meeting.

This $550,000 redesign pushes the route further off highway 61 to gain future ridership yet without mentioning the fact it will take longer to travel to union depot in St. Paul. Again, in an attempt to buy your public approval in the final hour of design planning. The Gateway Corridor is just finishing their Environmental Impact study (12-2015) and the Red Rock Corridor has yet to decide on a route because of this. 

Thus far, credit to it's current advance stage of planning goes to their build moto "Building the corridor with buses instead of light rail trains will save tax payers hundreds of millions" (simply google it for dozens of results). However, this pitch as a "money saving" compromise can't shield it from the ever more undeniable hard facts stacked against the corridor and their $550,000 effort to down play these facts. 
Making the Red Rock Corridor the most concerning of all the transit corridors:

1.) Over a dozen major expenses totaling well over a hundred million dollars have been left out of all the estimated costs for the Red Rock Corridor since the planning has begun. Leaving tax payers with the false impression this is a worthwhile investment.  In the original Alternative Analysis (AA) Study and even more so in the most recent Alternative Analysis Update (AAU). 

Going back to the 2007 AA study it states the BRT option the Commission Chose in December 2013 would cost $75 million (section 8-3 p. 32) in the 2013 AAU the cost prediction drops to just $45 million without explanation (p.14).

From the start, costs are extremely underestimated:
Based off the slightly more thorough 2013 Technical Memorandum #4 Capital Cost Evaluation some of the major costs missing in the $75 million dollar 2007 AA study are:
$14.3 million for the 20 additional buses that will be purchased (p.7)
$11.1 million for a lower Afton road BRT station upgrade (p.9)
$6.5 million for a Cottage Grove transit station (p.9)
$6.2 million for the New Port transit station (cost left out) (p.9)
$6.3 million to build a bus only connection from 61 to the Newport Transit Station (p.37)
Apx $6 million to build a Transit Station in Hastings (cost left out) (p.9)
Apx $4 million (at least) to build a bus maintenance shop (estimate off Apple Valley Red Line's shop cost)
$20 million million in cost adjustment for inflation using their own 3.5% a year figure (p.15)

That's a total of $74.4 million dollars missing from the $75 million dollar 2007 AA study quote for this 30 mile long corridor. Even this $150 million dollar estimate is very conservative. Evidenced by the fact the just 11.5 mile Red Line Corridor in Apple Valley cost $112 million according to MetCouncil

Add to this $150 million dollar estimate the fact there are additional miscellaneous costs missing such as the $35 million dollar project to completely tear out and widen the overpass and all the roads and ramps of the CR19 and hwy61 interchange. The project's sole purpose is to accommodate the buses that'd be riding on the shoulders of the this interchange to get to the Cottage Grove Station. This was discussed the May 2013 RRC commission meeting. see pic 5. (p.9 of May 2013 RRC meeting

Another unmentioned cost is the $2 million+ to pay for all the studies that are being completed now and in the near future. (p. 26 of February 2013 RRC meeting)


2.) The Washington County corridor planners consistently tell the media wildly inaccurate numbers:
2012: Project manager Andy Gitzlaff told finance-commerce.com the now $6.45 million dollar Newport transit station was only going to cost $2.5 million. Ready to Roll in Red Rock Corridor
2013: Pioneer Press, one of many examples, was told the Red Rock Corridor will cost only $45 million: For Red Rock Corridor, Buses Now Favored.... 
2014: Three more examples in 2014 alone: Gateway Corridor Planner Accused of Misleading the Public Three Times This Year
2015: The Implementation plan. It's calculated cost for the same original 6 stop corridor is a massively low $28.6 million. 





3.) Future ridership predictions are anything but bright for the Red Rock Corridor.
Simply Compare the already built Red Line Corridor in Apple Valley (finished mid 2013) and compare it's facts and figures to the future Red Rock Corridor and the South Washington County (SWC) area. 

Population and Density:
According to City-Data.com the SWC area (Cottage Grove, Newport, and Hastings) has a slightly larger population than Apple Valley by 18%. However Apple Valley is 65% more densely populated because their population fits into nearly a third of the footprint of SWC area (17 vs 48sq miles). I mention this because transit lines are severely underutilized the less dense a population gets. Where a vast majority of morning metro commuters don't find driving to a bus stop convenient. 

Just look at how discouraging the ridership numbers are on Route 364 that serves the same area the RRC will serve at the now open $6.45 million dollar Newport transit station. About two cars noted by the Star Tribune. A route that is so underutilized that it only has 3 round trips to the metro a day. Taking over service from it's previous transit stop just south of I-494 that had "about 20 cars" a day. However, supporters state the transit stop is a "very nice waiting station, which should help ridership somewhat." (Streets.mn December 2014 Report).

In 2012, a year before the Red Line opened corridor planners predicted the Corridor would have 1,800 riders a day... turns out after the 2013 opening the corridor is still making only just over 800 riders a day.

6-2016 update: The Red Line Corridor performed so poorly, the host, Dakota County is choosing not to Continue spending even more money on the line and they're leaving the County Transit Improvement Board (CTIB) and saving their tax payers millions when dropping out of the CTIB sales tax: Star Tribune Story.

4.) Based off MNDOT traffic volume numbers and comparative analysis expected number of riders on the Red Rock Corridor will be less than half of what is predicted.
The ridership numbers corridor planners are using to justify construction of the RRC are generous predictions on ridership in the year 2030 based off unknown calculation models! (Yes I've asked for the calculation equation to verify the math and was denied being told it was a computer program.)  BRT riders are predicted to be 2,420 daily ridership on the US hwy 61 based BRT Corridor in the AAU (p.13). Highway 61 in Cottage Grove currently has over 30,000 vehicles a day according (p. 11) and in 2030 is projected to have over 45,000 cars a day (p. 22). Both MNDOT sources. 

For a road of that current and future volume their estimate is FAR too generous based on evidence of rider use on the Red Line corridor in Apple Valley that sees an average of only 835 riders a day on it's 90,000 - 128,000 vehicle a day road corridor according to the 2013 MNDOT Status Guideways Report (p. 26). Yes, that's twice the volume of the 2030 RRC volume on US 61 and it's BRT line is only seeing 835 riders a day. 

How does the RRC planners explain how an area three times as densely populated and nearly the same population with a corridor that serves at minimum TWICE the volume of vehicle traffic a day is going to have almost three times the ridership of such a current place in 2030? 

5.) Discouraging current corridor ridership and demographics reveals the most accurate future picture: 
The current RRC area is served by Bus Route 361, 364, and 365 park and ride stations. Yes, the Red Rock Corridor exists in this current form... After reading the data you  here you may understand why they don't talk about it.

According to MetroTransit.org/routes they don't serve on weekends or business holidays that fall on weekdays (10 such holidays in both 2012+2013 according to timeanddate.com). Leaving 251 days of service in 2012 and 2013. Only annual ridership data is available (looks better than daily as you'll see) so to calculate the current daily ridership we calculate:
Route 361: 64,000 annual rides divided by 251 service days (2012)= 255 rides a day average
Route 364: 9,204 annual rides divided by 251 service days (2013)= 37 rides a day average
(source is Metro Transit Service Improvement Board via e-mail sip@metrotransit.org, see picture below)
Route 365: 165,449 annual rides divided by 251 service days (2013)= 659 rides a day average (544/day in 2010)
(2013 source is Service Improvement Board via e-mail sip@metrotransit.org, see picture below)
The Route's combined daily rides total: 951 rides a day = 475 current riders a day (safe to assume for each one "rider" two "rides" are used with one to their destination and one back... another trick used to essential double the perception of corridor use)

We know Apple Valley's Red Line Corridor current service area and corridor use serves as an example of what the future RRC can actually expect in their 2030 predictions. Again, because of the more densely populated and congested area of Apple Valley. With the Redline's 835 riders a day on a 90,000 - 128,000 vehicle a day road is it logical to expect the Red Rock Corridor that currently serves 475 riders a day on a 30,000 vehicle a day corridor really going to have ridership increase by FIVE TIMES to 2,420 when the traffic on the highway is only expected to increase from 30,000 to 45,000 a day?

Furthermore, the population trend is not encouraging in the RRC area. According to city-data.com since the year 2000, Newport has seen a 7% loss in their population; Cottage Grove has seen their population only grow by 5,000 people; and Hastings has only grown by 4,000 residents in that time. Not exactly a picture of an area booming in the last fifteen years as the RRC would have you believe.

6.) Dismal 6.3% self sustainability for operating costs:
To put this in perspective: The entire Red Line Corridor has a yearly operating cost of $3.4 million according to the MetCouncil. They spent $2.5 million to run the first six months they were open. Only 6.3% of it's running costs were paid for by the riders who use the Red Line (MNDOT 2013 Guideways Status Report p.27). Leaving tax payers who don't ride the Red Line to cover not only 100% of the $112 million dollar capital cost, but 93.7% of it's running costs! This does not look encouraging news from the Red Line Corridor with a three times more dense population, serving a road with twice the future volume of the RRC. It's no stretch to fully expect even worse self sustainability for tax payers funding the RRC. 

Update 2015 MNDOT Guideways Status Report: says the Red Line still is only paying for 6% of their operating costs p.27

7.) Evidence all around:
Also worth noting: the NorthStar Line that comes from 40 miles outside of Minneapolis. Even with the addition of the new Ramsey station in 2012 and lowering their ticket prices (hoping for more riders and money) they saw a 17% decline in ticket sales from 2012 to 2013.The NorthStar line has consistently only been able to cover on average 16% of it's operating cost. The national average is 30% according to MNDOT. This is comparing the 2012 (p.21) and 2013 (p.24) MNDOT annual Guideway Status Reports. I know if any other market besides transit see a 17% decline in sales it'd be front page news.

Conclusion:
However, whether you use the solid comparative and analytic data here or the unfounded pro-corridor study estimate of 2,400 riders/day (in 2030) how is spending hundreds of millions of dollars on a bus line worth taking just 1-5% of the traffic off the 45,000 vehicle a day road responsible? How does a 1-5% improvement justify spending on such a massive scale? This money could be used for our deteriorating roads, adding a lane to hwy 61, or better yet kept in the hands of the hard working tax payers who are struggling to make ends meet. 

Again, The $112 million dollar Red Line only pays 6.3% of the millions of dollars it takes to offload 835 people off it's at least 90,000 car a day road... that's less than 1% traffic reduction! Or the $350 million dollar Northstar line that also never covered a penny of it's capital cost and can only cover half what a "normal" failed transit line can collect to contribute to it's running costs (normal being just 30%). I say failed because airlines, taxis, Greyhound buses, and other private transporters cover 100% of their capital AND running costs! 

As a tax payer I feel completely betrayed by the corridor staff who refuse to modify their dishonest studies, one sided reporting, and manipulating public outreach. The local county and city officials who remain silent to these clear injustices and refuse to see the facts are equally responsible. I've been telling each one of them about all seven of these major issues with the RRC. We are lying to ourselves and to our children who will have to pay for this if we think we have solid ground to build this unsustainable project on. 

-Matt Behning
@WCwatchdog on Twitter

The local media have made it clear they aren't going to cover any of this data. 
Please "share" these articles and facts the media is not going to report.

Also check out: 


At Her Own Crossroads: Will Representative Fenton Lead or Appease

Also, please contact your County Commissioners, explain you are disappointed in the lack of accountability the Red Rock Corridor staff has. They have to power to enforce accurate survey taking, honest assessments, and diligent review before we spend hundreds of millions of dollars on these transit corridors in Washington County.

Contact our County Commissioners:
fran.miron@co.washington.mn.us          651-430-6211 

gary.kriesel@co.washington.mn.us         651-430-6213 
lisa.weik@co.washington.mn.us              651-430-6215 
karla.bigham@co.washington.mn.us
















Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Local Government Jeopardizes Local Private Fundraising Effort

On April 29th I wrote the following article calling out legislators for authoring a bill to fund what was reported to be a future park that had secured it's funding goals:

The park is the future Madison Place Playground that is to be built at the Bielenberg Sports Center in Woodbury.

However, I must issue this correction because of Clinton Gridley, the City Administrator for Woodbury. He told me in a April 24th letter the fund raiser was short $130,000 and just three sentences later (below) stated they were getting "a minimum of $200,000 over a three year period"

This is my response to him and the city council of Woodbury is below. I wish the Madison Claire Foundation the best; however I still maintain that charity like this is not a core function of government and should best be kept in the private sector.

-Matt Behning

Hello, Mr. Gridley

Thank you for writing to clarify the fundraising progress of the very honorable and worthy cause of the Madison Place Playground. I am disappointed you assume the $200,000 is coming in to the Bielenberg Sports Center (BSC) Madison Place Play Ground. Let's hope it's not a failure like your assumption that MN United Soccer and the Restaurant that were supposed to be at the BSC. 

Let's recap for the audience: I wrote to the city council asking, in short, what the fundraising status of the project was because the fund raiser herself did not respond to my request. You responded: 

In addition to saying they were $130,000 short you stated in your April 24th letter to me: 
" While the Madison Claire Foundation would likely accept state funding if it were offered, it is focusing its efforts on privately raising the funds to construct the playground. The group has generated significant momentum coming of its partnership with Special Olympics and the first annual Woodbury Polar Plunge held at Carver Lake. This event raised more money and had more participants than any other first year Polar Plunge in Minnesota and the Special Olympics' commitment to the Madison's Place project is a minimum of $200,000 over a three-year period. "

I may have went to public school, but I can do basic math:
Short Fall of $130,000 + $200,000 over three years from polar plunge = +$70,000 over goal

I confirmed my calculations with data from their website and reviewing their entire timeline of their facebook page. Until March 21st 2015 they had never posted their funding total and it was claimed to be  $679,758 (a $150,000 short) at that time. There were no posts until ten days later on March 31 when they stated they were at that time $130,000 short... a $20,000 jump that coincides with the news reports of their goal to raise $20,000 with the polar plunge. Also coincided with the history of the Madison Claire foundation to acknowledge every donation of $1,000 or more on their facebook page (smart because it motivates)... the fact they didn't recognize anyone for this $20,000 jump in ten days indicated it was likely previously recognized funds likely obtained from the February polar plunge donors.

No fundraiser or city for that matter should take any donor or business deal at their word until the money is in the bank. 

Now you tell me that you and the Madison Claire Foundation are counting the assumed $200,000?! First of all, if the Madison Claire foundation did have a solid agreement to obtain $200,000 you'd think it would be on their website or facebook page like the other big donors like the $50,000 from the Major League Baseball last fall etc. 

Second, you of all people should know better than to assume any business or charitable organization is going to follow through on their promises... in writing or not. Two examples are in the very same $22 million dollar Bielenberg Sports Center. 
1.) The Minnesota United Soccer Team backed out leaving you holding the bag for what should be the 5,600SF locker room area
http://www.woodburybulletin.com/news/politics/3727770-termination-pretty-close-city-plans-seek-tenants-vacant-bielenberg-sports
2.) The restaurant space in the building was also supposed be all but guaranteed also but it also fell through and now tax payers are funding a law suit thanks to bad assumptions like this:
http://www.twincities.com/localnews/ci_26032995/woodbury-says-bielenberg-restaurant-plan-grew-too-big

IMO, Mr Gridley you are the worst City Administrator to hold the position based on the these two business mistakes you're to blame for. You have cost Woodbury tax payers tens of thousands of dollars with your foolish assumptions and lack of bullet proof contracts to allow both the restaurant and soccer team to slip away. Now to add to your list of failures is jeopardizing the private fund raising effort of the Madison Claire Foundation by not only allowing controversial public funding to pollute what would most likely be a successful private fund raising campaign; but also by again assuming promised funds are going to come through.

I wrote my article entertaining the assumption one could count the $200,000 and convinced Senator Housley to remove her name from the $189,000 bill. She said she talked to you before removing her name... Either you didn't convince her or perhaps my point about state tax dollars should not be used to hijack private fund raising efforts struck a common sense cord... good intentions or not. It's a slippery slope, not to mention one that is ripe to ruin the hard work of private fundraising efforts. Who's going to donate to Madison Claire Foundation if they hear about this bill? 

I'm ashamed that I have to write a correction story because of what appears to be a repeated trend of assumptions. I hope the best for the Madison Claire Foundation. The fact they haven't mentioned the bill and also lobbied to have it supported is another indication they may not be proud of the potential ill gotten gains (when it comes to private fundraising efforts).

-Matt Behning