Farmington poised for change in 2013

New representatives at school, city and county this year

Farmington is poised for change as new representatives join the City Council, School Board and Dakota County Board in 2013.

For the first time in 32 years, Farmington and the county’s rural areas, including Empire and Eureka Townships, will have a new representative on the Dakota County Board of Commissioners.

Commissioner Joe Harris did not seek re-election in 2012, and six District 1 residents vied for the position, ultimately filled by Hastings City Council Member Mike Slavik.

Primary contenders included Brian Jaye Budenski, a supervisor on the Eureka Township Board and Mark A. Henry of Castle Rock Township and Farmington City Council Member Christy Jo Fogarty who lost by 4,642 votes to Slavik in November’s general election.

Changes are also happening with the city’s Economic Development Authority, which will shrink from seven to five members and include three Farmington residents appointed by the City Council. Current serving member Gerry Jolley’s term will continue.

City Administrator Dave McKnight said the two council members to serve on the EDA will be determined at its Jan. 7 meeting.

New Council Member Doug Bonar may be one of the picks. He served on the EDA for a year before being elected to the council in November.

City Council members will interview citizen applicants for the EDA on Jan. 14 and are expected to make appointments Jan. 21.

Establishing the authority to gain a broader perspective reflects the council’s goal to build Farmington’s tax base, a long-held goal reiterated in the mayoral campaign that pitted former City Council Member Dave Pritzlaff against incumbent Todd Larson.

Also running was political newcomer Jerry Wear, who cited concerns about tax increases but lagged behind Pritzlaff and Larson in terms of experience and understanding of city issues.

Larson won a second term as mayor, and has said he is expecting the council focus on attracting businesses to Farmington.

The Farmington School Board will also bring on new members in 2012.

Elected into office were Jake Cordes, a 2009 Farmington High School graduate and Laura Beem, an active volunteer and financial whiz. Voters also returned incumbent Julie Singewald to the board where she has served since elected in 2008 (see related story).

Another topic that may spur council attention in 2013 is city employee salaries and contract negotiations.

An investigation by this newspaper found that over the past 15 years, some Farmington department heads and a former city administrator received raises every few months without the knowledge or explicit approval of City Council members.

As a result of the stories and an investigation authorized by the city, all title changes and other personnel matters are brought before the council.

The independent investigation found that the raises were legal and followed city code.

Some of the raises, ranging from 8 to 22 percent, were based on a city-funded wage compensation study that found they were already being paid more than the market median.

The raises and promotions were authorized by senior officials who signed off on each other’s raises without full knowledge of then-Farmington City Council members, according to meeting minutes and interviews with then-City Council members.

Current Farmington City Administrator Dave McKnight in September refused a raise to his $113,000 salary despite a satisfactory job performance review by the Farmington City Council.

City Council members said McKnight’s actions had meaning that should resonate with city staff.

“I think he’s trying to lead by example,” Council Member Jason Bartholomay said shortly after McKnight’s decision was made public. “I think he’s trying to communicate that (city) salaries are high, and people can make an independent decision, especially on the management side of things, to take an increase or not.”

Fogarty said over the next several years, there will be a “top to bottom” reorganization of city operations to reflect economic conditions and the city’s workload.

A March 21 fuel leak into the Vermillion River drew quick response from local and state officials.

Local fire crews and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency responded to initial reports of a “significant” diesel fuel spill directly into the protected trout stream, at first estimated to be 100 gallons or more.

Further testing and investigation revealed the spill amounted to 25 gallons or less, and originated from 45-gallon bus gas tank located near a storm drain that emptied into the river.

The bus was part of a scrap metal business that was eventually shut down following the incident.

After years of planning, a senior housing milestone was reached in Farmington in 2012.

Vermillion River Crossings, a 66-unit senior apartment building, opened in June.

A grand opening was held in October, drawing a crowd of local officials, including County Board Chair Nancy Schouweiler, Rosemount Mayor Bill Droste, Farmington City Administrator Dave McKnight, Dakota County Sheriff Dave Bellows, Community Development Agency Executive Director Mark Ulfers and Farmington City Council Member Terry Donnelly.

County Commissioner Joe Harris said the facility is needed, because projections show that by 2025 Dakota County’s senior population is expected for the first time to outnumber its population of school children.