Monticello mayor provides year-end update at chamber

Mayor Clint Herbst used a humorous anecdote to make a key point about local government during a Monticello Chamber of Commerce and Industry speech.
During the start of his Dec. 18 city update, Herbst asked how many people in the audience had donated blood. Many acknowledged that they had done so.
“In the past, this has been a very uncomfortable experience for me,” Herbst said. “I’m deathly afraid of needles, and I can handle just about anything, but needles just don’t work for me.”
Herbst recalled when he and Wright County Commissioner Sawatzke were coming back from a Bertram Chain of Lakes funding meeting in St. Paul, and Sawatzke mentioned that there wasn’t anybody on the Monticello City Council who gives blood.
“I said, ‘There’s a reason why I don’t give blood. I just can’t do it,’ “ Herbst said. Sawatzke offered a friendly challenge, and the pair decided to donate when they returned to city hall that day.
Herbst humorously recounted the experience, pointing out he and Sawatzke had a race to see who could get their blood bag filled first. “What’s happened since that time is that I’ve given blood eight times,” Herbst said. “Sometimes you just have to do things that are uncomfortable. Four times out of eight, I went down.”
Herbst’s main point, doing things that are uncomfortable, also applied to city council and staff’s recent efforts with a number of key projects and actions, he said.
“I think over the last eight years, the council and city have dedicated themselves to doing things that aren’t so comfortable,” Herbst told the audience.
According to Herbst, the council in particular as a unit of government has tried to shy away the common tactic of doing things or tasks that have an easy path.
“A lot of you realize we are trying to break that mold, and do things differently,” Herbst said. During his presentation, Herbst had Councilmember Glenn Posusta pass out a letter related to Herbst’s work with the League of Minnesota Cities (LMC). The handout contained an online entry culled from the LMC’s mayoral blog.
“When a mayor has a question, they will put it out there, and other mayors will chime in about it,” he said. Herbst’s letter contained a response about city officials interacting with the public during meetings and how city councils conduct meetings and business in general. “This blog entry dealt with how a mayor deals with a member of the public who comes to meetings and talks under their breath,” Herbst said, adding that one mayor commented: “We do not allow audience members to interrupt our meeting. After all, this is our meeting to conduct business, and residents should not be interfering with this process.”
Herbst said that comment shocked him. “This happened about a week ago. All the mayors who responded said they would kick the person out. I just find that hard to believe,” he said. “When you allow people to have input, it does create more work. It might be easier not to take the input because when you do it, you have to act on it. What happens is that you get a much better community. Everyone starts working together. That’s certainly one of our goals at the city.”
Herbst said the council and city staff is working hard to become more and more businesslike in its dealings with the public. “It’s not something you just say once,” Herbst said. “You have to keep working on it over and over and reminding staff this is something that we have to work on, and continue to develop.”
According to Herbst, a sign that reads “Open For Business” should greet visitors to Monticello.
For example, he thanked Xcel Energy for meeting with the city regarding the utility’s $163,728,100 increase in the estimated market value on just one parcel. The increased valuation resulted in a tax increase to Xcel Energy in the amount of more than $1 million dollars and helped ease the tax burden for Monticello and Wright County property owners. “They’ve added quite a bit to the Monticello Nuclear Generating Plant, and they are a great organization to have in our community, but we can’t lose sight of the fact, in the past, when we were relying so much on Xcel to pay our bills, when things changed, we were struggling and racing, and trying to find ways to back-fill taxes.”
Herbst welcomed Rogers-based Bedrock Motors to the city as a new business. “They found out we were willing to sit down and hammer out any issues.”
Owner Ron Maas said his business has worked with numerous city councils, but he was pleased to have worked with the Monticello council and city staff.
“I was so pleased and impressed with the help we received,” Maas commented. “There was a business-friendly attitude that allowed us to come to the city.”
Herbst said another business-friendly action by the council involved a recent renewal of the city’s freestanding sign ordinance. That action took place Dec. 10.
“We wanted to make sure that businesses get every opportunity they can to use the signage they think is necessary to make their business grow,” he said.
Regarding business development, Herbst said during the chamber lunch a buyer for the former Kmart site has come forward and a possible deal is pending.
“We are crossing our fingers and hoping that goes through,” he said. “It’s a big deal for us to start filling some of the empty business that we have out there.”
Herbst also addressed city transportation issues. Next spring, Seventh Street project will get pushed through, connecting that street with County Road 39.
“That will open up property development there, and make travel much more user friendly there,” he said. The Fallon Avenue overpass is another key project.
According to Herbst, that project is related to a Minnesota Department of Transportation commitment by the city to get the overpass in place before a west-side interchange will be considered. “I’d like to see that project go into place in 2014, because it will help with a lot of internal traffic movements around the city.”
Herbst said the city is also trying to work with Sherburne County regarding a future river bridge crossing. That process is in the early planning stages, he said.
Finally, Herbst said the council remains dedicated to developing and growing FiberNet, Monticello’s city-owned telecommunications and broadband provider.
“FiberNet isn’t going anywhere,” Herbst said. “We are dedicated to keeping it going. It’s part of our obligation that we operate this system no matter what.”