In This Issue:
September 23, 2016
Quote of the Week: “The County’s budget flexibility remains very strong, as demonstrated by the maintenance of very strong fund balances, reflecting strong management practices.”
– Standard and Poor’s, commenting on Anoka County
Quote of the Week: “The biggest chunk of the 2016 budget, $34.5 million, is earmarked for road and bridge projects.”
– Fridley Sun Focus, commenting on Anoka County’s 2016 capital investment budget
Quote of the Week: “The Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting is the highest form of recognition for governmental budgeting, accounting, and financial reporting. It recognizes that the county’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) meets the highest standards, including demonstrating a “spirit of full disclosure” to clearly communicate its financial position to the public. This is the twenty-eighth consecutive year Anoka County has earned GFOA’s Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting.”
– News report, December of 2015
In This Issue:
Cutting Through the Crap.
CUTTING THROUGH THE CRAP
Every election cycle, there are lies, damn lies, BS, whoppers, little white lies, misrepresentations, tall tales, and all manner of untruthfulness that voters have to wade through.
Of course, this cycle is no different. That’s why the Watchdog is here and has been here since 2005.
Readers should know that there is a whole bunch of BS and whoppers being told in the races for the Anoka County Board.
With four seats in play, control of the board is at stake.
So let’s put on our hip boots and visit the rumors, whispers, and accusations being hurled around with abandon.
Like any government or business, Anoka County borrows money to build and maintain capital improvements, like roads, bridges, and county buildings.
A borrower’s “bond rating” is a measure of the borrower’s creditworthiness.
Thus, a bond rating is very similar to a credit rating. These ratings set both the amount and interest rate associated with borrowing money.
For a number of years, Anoka County had a sterling “AAA” bond rating.
In late 2014, the county’s bond rating was dropped one notch to “AA+.”
The Good Ol’ Boys network, backing certain challengers for the board, have cited this downgrade as evidence of fiscal mismanagement under the current conservative-majority board.
In other words, it’s the board’s fault for the downgrade.
So, what’s the truth?
The truth is that the bond rating was dropped because the rating agency, Standard and Poor’s, changed their rating criteria in response to the Great Recession.
That additional criteria measured the buying power of county taxpayers and had nothing to do with county government.
Under this new criteria, the county’s taxpayers were deemed to have “effective buying power” that just missed the cutoff to maintain the “AAA” rating.
In fact, Standard and Poor’s lavished praise on the county’s financial management practices, noting that financial practices were “strong, well-embedded and likely sustainable.”
Let’s also not forget that the New Guard, unlike the Good Ol’ Boys, instituted a policy of paying for projects wherever possible with cash, instead of borrowing money and paying it back with interest.
In fact, as recently as 2013, the county didn’t bond for any capital improvements, instead paying cash.
Moreover, this board has established a cash account from which to pay for capital improvements.
It doesn’t pay for all of them, but it cuts down on the practice of borrowing money, which ran rampant under Dan Erhart, King of the Good Ol’ Boys.
And that’s one more thing to remember. Another claim is that the board is “spending down reserves” to fund capital improvements.
Not true. This fund is designed to pay for projects and isn’t a reserve fund at all.
A second allegation is that this board isn’t transparent, that it “operates in secret.”
Of course, the county is subject to the state’s open meeting and data practices laws, which come with heavy penalties for non-compliance.
Next, the county web site has an entire page dedicated to transparency, called the “transparency portal.”
The page is chock full of notices, documents, and county policies.
Nest, there is yet another web page where interested citizens can sign up for email notifications for just about any activity with which the county is involved.
Of course, there could always be more transparency, but the answer to “how much” has to be weighed against other considerations.
For example, should every single committee meeting be televised? What about all the joint powers groups, like the Mosquito Control District or the Solid Waste Management Board?
Perhaps more importantly, the county’s current practices should be compared to past practice.
How ironic that Dan Erhart and his cronies are propagating a bogus narrative about a lack of transparency.
One Watchdog staffer remembers calling the county board when Erhart was chairman, asking to address the board during the public comment period.
The staffer was informed that there was no such agenda item and that if he wanted to speak, he had to obtain prior permission from the board as well as submit the proposed comments, in writing, for review.
Or recall when Erhart wouldn’t publish his county email address. He instead listed a phone number, both to avoid emails which could be requested under the Data Practices Act and to avoid a written record of responses to an issue.
And these guys whine about transparency.
OPEN FOR BUSINESS
A third claim is that the county is difficult to work with, especially when it comes to attracting and retaining jobs.
To the best of this publication’s knowledge, the challengers and their Good Ol’ Boy backers haven’t provided any concrete examples or empirical data to support the claim.
Again, the county web site provides a great number of resources to assist businesses in navigating government and doing business in the county.
At least two county newsletters recently have featured extensive articles on business development.
The county also participates in organizations that engage in business development, such as the Itasca Group.
And there’s also that small matter of taxes. This board has cut taxes or held the levy flat time and again. Low tax rates matter and this board has kept rates low, unlike their predecessors.
The old board thought a $317 million train on the west side of the county was “economic development.”
Really. Go drive by the stations in Fridley, Coon Rapids, and Anoka and look for the “economic development.” If you find it, let us know. We haven’t seen it.
And speaking of transportation, it is clear from this board’s budgets that roads and bridges are the priority, and not trains.
In fact, it was this county board that withdrew the county from the Northern Lights Express train from Minneapolis to Duluth. They must have figured one train was enough.
And don’t forget about junkets. Remember the old days when the commissioners went on regular junkets, including Hawaii, where some arrived a day early “to avoid jet lag?”
Remember when Dan Erhart and Dennis Berg went to Idaho to “inspect” Northstar rail locomotives, even though neither is a diesel mechanic and the locomotive could have easily been “inspected” in Anoka County when they arrived a few days later?
We bring up the way things were in Anoka County not so long ago for reasons beyond a simple trip down memory lane.
It is quite clear that the Good Ol’ Boy network is strongly supporting some of the challengers to the current board.
Names like “Erhart” are all over campaign finance reports. Reports from the field indicate that the Good Ol’ Boys are out there campaigning on behalf of challengers.
Dan Erhart himself and his toady sidekick, Steve Novak, are very visible around the campaigns.
These circumstances provide county voters with a very clear choice in November.
If you like the current style of county governance in the county, you should vote the incumbents.
If you want to go back to the Good Ol’ Boy style of governance, the challengers are for you.
Regardless of how you choose to vote, however, you should know the facts.
Every man is entitled to his own opinion but not his own set of facts.
It is obvious that the Good Ol’ Boys are waging a proxy war against the current board by supporting challengers.
There is a clear contrast and thus a clear choice for voters in November.