Mayor explains rationale for appointing new council member
Mayor Chris Johnson
Good things are happening in Forest Lake. Last week, Standard and Poors upgraded the city’s bond rating to AA+. This is the first such rating upgrade for the city in more than 20 years and will result in lower interest costs for the city for years to come. It also affirms by an outside objective analysis that the changes we have made the past few years are placing the organization in a stronger and more stable financial position.
In addition, the Forest Lake City Center project is progressing well and on schedule. So far, there have been no surprises. Since the EDA issued bonds in January, interest rates have gone up. That means if we had delayed even six months, our interest expense would have been over $1.5 million more. Also, we have received and awarded bids, and they are nearly $2.4 million below our early estimates. This is in part attributable to timing the bid as a winter project when contractors are hungry for work. The bond issuance and the bids have proven the importance of timing. Thus far, this project’s timing has been good.
City Council meetings can now be viewed online (live or on demand) at the city’s website. This is one of many technological improvements we are implementing at the city. Our hope is to make the meetings easily available so people can follow the activities of our city.
We have a new City Council member, Molly Bonnett. Ms. Bonnett has lived in Forest Lake for approximately four years. She earned a degree in economics and has worked in loss prevention for a large bank, but more recently has been at home raising four children. After interviewing Ms. Bonnett, it was clear that she is the best fit to fill the vacancy left by Jeff Klein. Like Mr. Klein, she is a bright, energetic person who will bring new ideas and a unique and needed perspective to the council as a relatively new resident of the city. Ms. Bonnett will serve until we hold a special election that will coincide with the general election next November.
Under state law, we were required to appoint a temporary councilmember, pending a special election at which the seat is filled for the remainder of its term through 2016. We have now done that. The next issue was when to hold the special election. It was decided to hold the special election in November 2014 to coincide with the next general election. Some suggest it should be sooner than that. Neither option is a perfect solution. A stand-alone election would likely produce much lower voter turnout and would have added cost. Having it coincide with the 2014 election, on the other hand, means waiting approximately 10 months.
In evaluating this decision, I looked to the recent history of Forest Lake and surrounding cities. Hugo, Scandia and North Branch, when faced with this decision, repeatedly held the special elections at the next, regularly-scheduled general elections. Further and most importantly, Forest Lake held the special election at the next, regularly-scheduled general election in 2006 when Dick Tschida resigned from the council, and Mayor Terry Smith then broke the appointment deadlock and appointed Greg Ochs to the interim position. For these reasons, I believe the right decision was made to hold the special election in November 2014.
In addition to these updates, we continue to work on ways to improve services to residents, attract businesses and families and enhance efficiencies within the organization. Stay tuned for more news and improvements, and please contact me with your ideas for the improvement of Forest Lake.
Chris Johnson is in his second term as mayor of Forest Lake.