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Viewpoint: We need local government committed to change

Lots of people are running for local office in Red Wing and Goodhue County — all seeming to be intelligent and presentable candidates.

It is customary to deplore low rates of voter turnout and encourage people to vote. Let's turn this around as ask: "Why is it that so many people don't vote?" I suspect it is because people don't feel it will make a real difference in their lives, that things will stay about the same regardless of who is in office. This attitude often seems justified.

There are lots of voter forums — although generally so controlled that few, if any, people are allowed to stand up and ask unfiltered, uncensored questions. There are newspaper Q&A stories on candidates — the Eagle has done quite a bit of candidate and election coverage.

But do these get at real issues, or do they mostly stick to pro-forma, insubstantial questions about "leadership," etc. Do they help voters get clear on what interests the candidates represent, as opposed to what campaign rhetoric they present?

A few issues of concern to me:

The Red Wing city government often seems more like a government of, rather than by, residents, with most decisions really made by the staff and rubber-stamped by the City Council.

Council members and staff hold "workshops" at which the public is not allowed to speak. It does not appear that the public has input into the setting of council agendas. Are any candidates committed to changing this?

The city budget process has little public input, and many expenditures seem of no benefit to residents. For instance, the city is spending our money to litigate against enforcement of the Clean Water Act. Does this make sense for a "river city?" Thousands of dollars have been appropriated for promotion of Xcel energy efficiency programs. This sounds nice, but in fact these expenditures are the responsibility of Xcel Energy, and ratepayers are already being charged for them.

The city spends our money to promote and lobby for the incineration of more garbage in Red Wing, which will result in residents breathing more health-damaging air pollutants such as lead. At the same time, library hours, spring and fall cleanup collections, the city newsletter, and various other useful services have been curtailed.

Are any candidates committed to changing this?

Taxes and fees have rapidly increased and are apparently higher than in many cities of comparable size in Minnesota. Why? Government services are important, and Red Wing does good work in many respects, but many residents are financially stressed. City services should be cost-effective and focused on the real wants and needs of residents, not empire-building by city departments.

Many seem to feel that "special assessments" are used as a profit center by the city, with project costs not contained, and interest charges far higher than justified. Are any candidates committed to changing this?

It appears to me that Goodhue County is more fiscally responsible than the city, but the problem of officeholder arrogance, of not listening to residents, or not taking public comment at all meetings, is the same or worse.

In a truly shameful action, the County Board, with only Commissioner Dan Rechtzigel dissenting, has voted to require all garbage in Goodhue County to be delivered to the city of Red Wing for grinding up. The city will deliver it to Xcel Energy for burning at the so-called steam plant.

This is a big victory for the ambitions of the Red Wing Public Works Department, and a victory for Xcel Energy, but a big raid on our wallets and our health. So far as I know, no candidate has seriously addressed this issue.

Democracy is far from a perfect approach to government, but it may be the best available. Perhaps we should try it around here.

Alan Muller

Red Wing