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 Response Page - Jim Mulder  Interview -      

These comments are responses to the questions listed below,
which were generated in regard to the
Jim Mulder Interview of

The Questions:

On a scale of (0) least appealing, to (5) neutral, to (10) most appealing, what is your view on each of the following ways to redesign local government:

1. _2.6 average response_____Leave local government structure as it is.
2. _5.5 average response_____Distribute state aids as a block grant to local geographic areas, allowing local areas to set priorities among their local units of government.
3. _7.6 average response_____Combine counties in various regions of the state.
4. _6.6 average response_____Combine cities and counties in urban areas.
5. Your suggestions? See comments below.

Peter Heegaard (8)(3) (2) (10)

Babak Armajani (5) (6) (5) (5)

Jackie Magnuson

Combine counties in various regions of the state.

Joe Mansky (0) (7) (7) (8)

Concerning #s 3 and 4, even if there was no consolidation of political subdivisions, there could be more consolidated services provided, such as police, fire, emergency, library, etc. Going a step further for #4, if the Met Council is to become an elected body, the opportunity would then exist for elimination of one or both of the layers of government beneath it.

John Crosby (0) (7) (7) (10)
Very interesting report. Massive consolidation of local governments is long overdue.

Dennis L. Johnson (1) (5) (8) (9)

Tony Solgard

Place emphasis on merging municipal and other local governments into counties. Start with the most “obvious”:
--Merge Soil & Water Conservation Districts into counties.
--Merge city-county overlapping functions: law enforcement, libraries, parks, et al.

Ray Schmitz (0) (2) (10) (10)
The continuing issue of state control of county efforts, mandates that is, is a red herring, since the counties are in fact the local operating arm of the state that is the role they should perform. Efforts to make counties independent, city like, entities should either happen through charter type authority or not, the current blend does not work.
Frankly a good deal of what happens at the county level could be done regionally by a state office. Rochester and Olmsted County currently are fighting over emergency management, the reality is that this should be a state or regional operating agency, after all how many times in a career will an official actually have to deal with a tornado or flood but we pay highly for someone to be available when one of a small group of experts could drop in to do the management and also would have supervised the planning in advance.

Donald H. Anderson (3) (6) (8) (8)
How do we get people to show interest in their local governments, for example, the turnout for voting is usually the lightest on school, city and county elections, yet they represent the closest to the people? Unfortunately, we look to the federal and state governments for our answers.

Bill Frenzel (0) (7) (10) (8)
Counties absorb special purpose districts (Mulder’s Soil & Water Districts); ditto townships; mandate consolidation of counties under specified population levels.

The Commonwealth of VA has only a dozen or two cities, I am told. In my county of Fairfax, the county provides all municipal, and education (there is a school board, but the county must approve the Budget) services for about a million people. The bureaucracy is enormous; its spending is terrifying; but (1) education is well served (a step ahead of Golden Valley, MN for our kids), (2) law enforcement seems adequate (no different than Golden Valley, MN); (3) election systems work OK (except Obama carries the country).

The system is not a model of efficiency, but it functions well enough. It wastes money because it is so big that it can do so, but it eliminates a whole level of local government.

Vici Oshiro (10) (0) (10) (10)

But, facilitate changes rather than mandating them. Points below are well taken and encouraging. Mulder cited many instances in which legislature is causing duplication and inefficiency. Change these. Interesting session and worth pursuing his suggestions in detail.

Jackie Underferth (0) (5) (10) (5)

Wayne Jennings (2) (8) (10) (10)

Good session with provocative cost savings without losing services

Bert Press (5) (5) (10) (10)

John S. Adams (5) (7) (5) (_)

Make it easier for counties to share personnel and sell services to one another. It might be easier to combine cities and counties in non-metropolitan areas.

Rick Bishop (2) (10) (7) (2)
Design taxing/levying authority for certain entities based upon service and need as determined by voters.

Kent Eklund (1) (2) (8) (8)
Though structural changes are appealing, the political capital they take to push through is daunting. Yet, I think in the day likely to be a more popular alternative. We simply have a structure of local government well positioned for the middle of the last century and even that is questionable if it ever really served us well.

Charles Lutz (0) (7) (9) (9)

Eugene Piccolo (0) (3) (10) (8)

Clarence Shallbetter (0) (4) (8) (6)

Scott Halstead (0) (10) (10) (10)

Question 4: Combine school districts with communities. Ramsey County should be 2 -4 cities including St. Paul. Many of the current communities don't have the capabilities to provide the needed services and they contract for them. Cut to the chase and have communities large enough to effectively and efficiently provide the needed services. The school district and the city should be a single geographic area so that publications can report and distribute what is happening.

Bill Hamm (8.5) (0) (1.5) (1.5)
Question 1: While I can tolerate an evolutionary common sense transition, I strongly oppose any effort at forced capitulation.

Question 2: This is effectively a diversionary tactic that will undermine local cohesion thereby allowing government to come in later with a forced solution.

Question 3: Only if it is the wish of the residence of both said counties.

Question 4 Again only if it is the wish of said citizens, but I am less tied to the need for counties contained within a city limits.

Suggestions: You citidiots need to keep your meddling hands and over ripe ideas out of the rural aspects of this issue and give us the room to change in our own way.

Bob White (0) (8) (2) (2)
Mulder and his association have dozens of excellent ideas for redesign of local services. What's needed is a concerted effort by civic NGOs or ad hoc groups to get the proposals into and through the Legislature, and to convince the governor -- current and next -- to approve.

Roger Heegaard (0) (7) (7) (9)

Bright Dornblaser (0) (5) (10) (7)

Roy Thompson (3) (5) (8) (7)

Tim Olson (10) (8) (5) (0)

As a Met Council employee who views the '96 merger as an abject failure, this is a great conversation! I've always said the counties are well kept secrets. Why do we have a county and a regional rail authority? An appointed Met Council with taxing authority is an abomination. Checks and balances need to be maintained and improved with all units of government. A board of governance is better than an elected Met Council and either is better than what we have today. The council does not come under the jurisdiction of the State Auditor or Attorney General...this is opaque government. I sound like a broken record, don't I? Housing and planning decisions need to be removed from the council and returned to the city/county level, sewage and transit separated.

Ray Cox (0) (10) (10) (10)

We have to peel back the layers and let counties and cities do what each are good at, and eliminate the overlap between them. We also need a complete and total reform of local government aid, directing the aid to cities that are truly in need of funds for basic services. We have too many examples, such as those Jim Mulder gave, of governments spending far too much to deliver a service (his book example). With the changing demographics of Minnesota and our nation we simply cannot continue on with 'business as usual' in any area.

Glenn Dorfman (0) (2) (10) (10)

Make local governments more dependent on property taxes and less dependent on state aid. This assures total local control without state largesse and denies finger pointing by state or local officials. Small town Minnesota must be annexed to adjacent Regional Centers to increase efficiency and effectiveness of public services. Homestead property taxes remain modest in Minnesota. I believe they would become even more modest if what local taxpayers say they want, or what local governments decide their citizens want, were paid for transparently. The new Minnesota Miracle could be making Minnesotans pay for what they desire. I believe this would produce less government and taxes in Minnesota.

Carolyn Ring (3) (2) (8) (_)

Question 3: In the metro area cities should be encouraged to combine services for efficiency, cost, and better outcomes.

Dick Angevine (3) (5) (5) (8)

Keith Swenson
I've listened to Mulder before and every time I have felt he is simply shilling for a county take over of smaller units of government. No different than the State or Federal Governments trying to seize powers best left to more local control. I'm not buying in to any of it.

Chris Etzler (5) (0) (10) (10)
The current LGA structure is obsolete. It should be restructured for it to serve its original intent & purpose.

David Broden (0)(10) (0) (0)
Question 1: This is scored as "0" only because of the need to change the way local government is operated. Local structural identity of the individual units of government should not need to be changed unless fully supported by the local citizens. The structure however should be required to be adjusted not for just efficiency but based on how services can best be delivered to the unit of government. This will result in sharing of resources, facilities etc. The result will be that structure of operation changes but local decisions and identity will remain basically unchanged. If this approach is applied the population will be ready to support without being defensive. What is needed is a "smart" approach to how units are organized, operate, and interact.

Question 2: This approach can be a keystone of "smart" restructuring defined in 1 above. With this in mind citizens will cooperate in new and innovative ways.

Question 3: Combine county functions in a "smart" way do not combine the names and boundaries to remove identity.

Question 4: Combined city and county functions in a smart way but do not remove identify.

Question 5: Some of us the grew up in the small town rural Minnesota remember the days of school consolidation and how poorly that rationale was sold. The message was that consolidation was mandated and dictated by big city ideas rather than to let the citizens decide. The issue became more who was telling who to do what than the merits of the topic. The need to maintain the word community and identity and recognize that people relate to community and when community works so does government. Thus we need to build change in governance around the idea of community and it will sell and be effective.

David Detert (0) (8) (10) (8)

Bill Kuisle (6) (3) (3) (2)

Question 1: There is always room for improvement.
Question 2: Every time we do something like this it just sets up another level of government and ends up costing more.
Question 3: Big government is not more efficient.
Question 4: How about dictating to them what their roles are and what each should do? Both shouldn't be in the business of parks, libraries and the list goes on.

Paul Hauge (5) (8) (10) (7)
The Legislature needs to give incentives to local units of government to merge, combine services.

Ray Ayotte (0) (8) (10) (10)

Terry Stone and John Carlson (7) (7) (7) (0)

Question 1: The problem with doing nothing with local government structure is that not all local units of government function properly. Local units of government are the backbone of our representative democracy. Properly functioning local units of government diminish the need for higher levels of centralized government that stray from the will of people at the local level.

After years of federalism on the march, both local government and state government are surrendering vast power to the federal government in multiple arenas of governance. Political scientists teach that local government is more efficient and accountable than government higher up the food chain.

Question 2: The best, but unlikely, solution would be the elimination of unfunded legislative mandates. The best doable system is the capitation or block grant method of state aid distribution.

Currently, the state emphasizes the tracking of delivery; a system less than ideal for block grants. Block grants are appropriate when the State changes this emphasis to judging outcomes of services relative to the desired outcomes that have been accepted by both the state and the local unit of government.

It should be noted that block grants attend a greater level of fiduciary oversight responsibility. The Office of the State Auditor is currently inadequately organized to provide sufficient timely accounting of current funding. This accountability crisis would be exacerbated by the increased use of block grants. The last audit done by the OSA for Pine County wasn’t completed until sixteen months past the end-of-year. Due to staffing deficiencies, the OSA presently defaults on Single Audit deadlines quite routinely. Current federal legislation is scheduled to shorten the Single Audit deadline to six months making the OSA problem more acute.

The OSA problem could be overcome by adopting the model designed by Jeff Wiita, CPA. (The plan design can be found at Jeff is a 26 year veteran of the Office of the State Auditor and has designed an efficient and effective model that would allow the OSA to take on more functional fiduciary oversight responsibility.

Question 3: The issue of dilution of representation should be discussed. When counties combine, there is typically dilution of representation. The history of Minnesota is replete with counties splitting from larger counties for the purpose of increased autonomy and representation.

The representation disparity resulting from the merging or combining of counties should not be a cause for concern; even among political scientists (who tend to worry about such things). We currently have county representation ratios in Minnesota that range over three orders of magnitude.

The people of Lake of the Woods County (pop. 3,985) have one Commissioner (5) for every 787 citizens. The people of Hennepin County (pop. 1,116,037) have one Commissioner (7) for every 159,434 citizens. The disparity in accountability is almost laughable. The disparity of representation is 200:1.

Combining or merging may, coincidently, be the salvation of Lake of the Woods County. With 3.985 people, LOW is the first and only county to have fallen below the statutory requirement of 4,000 citizens to organize a county in our state.

Finally, an underutilized and little appreciated tool of combining local government is the Joint Powers Agreement. (The MN statute is here Each of the three local political isotopes has unique authorities. The magic of the Joint Powers Agreement is that the resulting entity of two or more like or unlike variants can exercise the collective power of all types of government within it.

In other words, a county, a city and a township forming a Joint Powers Agreement have the authorities of all three types of Minnesota government. More typically, these agreements are between counties, e.g., Joint Powers Agreement for the Southeast Minnesota Recyclers’ Exchange (SEMREX).

Joint Powers Agreements were used effectively by various governmental entities to provide adequate police security during the 2008 Republican National Convention. A Joint Powers Agreement between the City of Grand Rapids and Itasca County saves $140,000 per year by permitting airport staff to be utilized by Grand Rapids. Seven school districts use a Joint Powers Agreement to operate a regional learning center.

Joint Powers Agreements have nearly untapped potential to deal with the costly complexities of wetlands offsets and other environmental predicaments that challenge, in particular, northern counties. Presently eight northern counties (Aitkin County, Cook County, Koochiching County, Lake County, Lake of the Woods, Pennington County, Roseau County, St. Louis County) are jointly addressing limited land use and environmental regulations.

One of the reasons that Joint Powers Agreements are not more creatively utilized is that they lack a lobby. While townships, cities, school districts and counties all have their statewide organizations and attendant lobbying operations, no one speaks for the Joint Powers Agreement. Creativity, leadership and motivation are required to implement such agreements.

Question 4: The inevitable outcome of such a combination would be the loss of a city’s autonomy and the erosion of accountability. Centralizing government takes control away from the citizens. We need to empower our citizens to take more of an active role in their government and hold their elected official accountable. That won’t happen with centralization.

The idea of city combinations makes more sense for cities with Legislative Charters than for cities with Home Rule Charters. Legislative Charters are essentially local government on autopilot.

Cities with a long history and culture flourish under the hands-on authority of a Home Rule Charter. On the other hand, cities that were cornfields twenty years ago (cities that may even lack a downtown or a main street) tend to find their bedroom community lacks any driving commonality of culture or history that would compel them toward a Home Rule Charter. Such cities typically lack a natural local leadership structure and benefit from the autopilot features of the Legislative Charter.

Question 5: The State Legislature needs to take the AMC’s Redesign Project seriously and have a vigorous debate about its merits and shortcomings. It provides an excellent starting point for fresh new thinking about how best to serve the citizens of the State effectively while utilizing its resources efficiently. The AMC Design Project is available at:

Peter Hennessey
1. Redraw voting districts at all levels (city council, Assembly, Congress, etc.) to eliminate all hint of gerrymandering.
2. Reduce all "public servant" salaries and eliminate all retirement benefits, to make it clear that political office is truly public service, temporary, and in no way to be undertaken as a lifelong career.
3. No "executive" sessions; all debates to be held in public and all decisions to be made in public, at times and locations chosen to maximize participation by the public.
4. Clearly define the programs to be run by government at each level, the budget for each program, and the funding for the program, along with public accounting of all expenditures.
5. Absolutely prohibit spending beyond actual income. Expenditures next year are to be paid from income this year.
6. No borrowing, no bond measures to be paid from additional levies on tax payers at any level at any form (such as additions to your property taxes) unless the additional levies are approved by a supermajority of the popular vote. "Supermajority" to be defined as something like 50%+1 of all registered voters (NOT the actual turnout in an election), and in the case of levies to be added to the property tax bill, specifically including only owners and excluding renters.

I could go on like this but the basic idea is to be mindful of a warning by Thomas Jefferson, whereby he warned that we'll retain our freedoms until the moment the majority realizes they can vote themselves benefits to be paid for by the minority. We have an excellent example of that going on in Congress right now, as proposal after proposal is presented in response to some dire need and will be paid for by yet another 5% surcharge on "the rich." Let's say the top bracket is already at 40% (I think) and we have already heard at least 6 of these proposals, so now we are up to 70% even before State and local taxes. How long before Atlas Shrugs and there is no one left to pay taxes?

In the few hundred years of the American experiment with direct and representative democracy, we have developed many outstanding ways of running government, both outstandingly bad and reasonably good. I am not a good enough historian to point to any of them off the top of my head (big city "machines" and "community activism" come to mind as bad examples), and I don't personally know anyone both versed in history and possessed by a dedication to intellectual honesty to help me find examples without political bias. You can't do New England style direct democracy in a big city -- unless you break it up into small enough pieces to encourage actual participation by its residents. Maybe not all cities are like San Francisco which at times seems to be a collection of distinct villages jammed together like sardines in a can, but most cities have their neighborhoods that can be the basis for natural voting and administrative boundaries regardless of political calculations.

Larry Schluter (0) (3) (9) (2)
Question 5: Need to do more comparisons among counties, such as ratios based on populations or other benchmarks to see if it areas are getting too much or even if it is worthwhile to continue with a city or county.

Chris Brazelton (0) (5) (10) (5)
Question 2: This option would be more appealing if we think through and outline the process, how the deciders are chosen, and how transparent the process is for making decisions.

Question 3: As long as there are branch offices for providing vital services spread out in the region. Many people have difficulty with transportation in getting access to services
that must be provided in person, and being forced to travel further to regional offices effectively denies services to these individuals.

Question 4: Certainly combine overlapping services to avoid duplication.

Question 5: I had occasion to attend a series of trainings put on by AMC and other partners, run by Jim Mulder, and appreciate his ability to encourage people to think outside the box, or outside the silos.

Those who run the silos and those within the silos are often entrenched in maintaining the status quo, so it is crucial for them to attend sessions where the silo walls can be
safely removed long enough for them to imagine the options and see the necessity and urgency for embracing needed changes. Not so easy when their incomes are threatened by reductions and mergers!



The Civic Caucus   is a non-partisan, tax-exempt educational organization.   The Core participants include persons of varying political persuasions, reflecting years of leadership in politics and business. Click here  to see a short personal background of each.

   Verne C. Johnson, chair;  David Broden, Charles Clay, Marianne Curry, Bill Frenzel, Paul Gilje,  Jim Hetland,  Marina Lyon, Joe Mansky, John Mooty,  Jim Olson,  and Wayne Popham 

The Civic Caucus, 01-01-2008
8301 Creekside Circle #920,   Bloomington, MN 55437.
Verne C. Johnson, chair, 952-835-4549,       Paul A. Gilje, coordinator, 952-890-5220.

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