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City Manager Blog

Each week I send out an FYI Update to City Council and staff on the latest happenings within the City of Maplewood.  I would like to share this information with the residents of Maplewood, as well. 

Follow my blog if you would like to be kept up to date on the behind the scenes happenings within the City. 

Jan 10

January 7, 2022

Posted on January 10, 2022 at 12:40 PM by Chad Bergo

COMMUNICATIONS AND NEWS FROM THE WEEK: JANUARY 7TH, 2022

Meetings and Announcements:    

• HAPPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL! I am looking forward to a productive year ahead and one that will allow us to meet in person sometime soon.

• The first meeting of the new year will be held next Monday, January 10th. The EDA will meet at 6:15 pm. Council meeting to start at 7 pm.

ADMINISTRATION

Article of Interest- with all of the car jackings and increase in serious crime, this is a timely article. The Mayor, Director Bierdeman and myself will be attending a meeting with the Mayors Association with Police Chiefs and County Attorneys on Monday. The purpose is to discuss possible legislation to increase prosecution for violent crimes.

Hennepin County police chiefs: More accountability needed from prosecutors
By Christina Saint Louis Star Tribune
January 6, 2022 — 5:59pm

The police chiefs of Hennepin County have openly expressed dissatisfaction with the county attorney's handling of criminal cases amid a violent crime surge.

In a letter to County Attorney Mike Freeman on Wednesday, the Hennepin County Chiefs of Police Association (HCCPA), which represents most departments in the county including Minneapolis, said police feel that people arrested for crimes are not being held accountable for their actions.

The association laid out recommendations its members believe would end the upward trend in violent crime, such as: The County Attorney's Office should prosecute people arrested for violent crimes; suspects arrested for violent crimes should be required to see a judge to set their bail, and the county should stop allowing suspects of violent crime "sign and release warrants," which don't require the suspect's arrest.

"Very consistently our officers and investigators arrest criminals only to receive notification that those arrested will not be charged with their crimes," wrote the HCCPA's president, Crystal Police Chief Stephanie Revering, in the letter. "There is an expectation that law enforcement will arrest criminals for their behavior. There must be the same expectation that those criminals be aggressively charged and prosecuted for their behavior as well."

The letter comes amid an increase in violent crime in Minneapolis and suburban cities alike. In Minneapolis, the city logged more than 650 gunshot victims — a 168% increase. In 2021, there were 97 homicides, according to a Star Tribune database, tying a record set in 1995, when the city had fewer residents. While some less serious crimes receded, robberies and carjackings skyrocketed last year, a problem that has spread to the suburbs.

Just last week, the statewide Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association also sent a letter to both Freeman and Ramsey County Attorney John Choi with a similar message of concern "that at a time of unprecedented increasing crime rates, prosecutorial policies are failing to hold criminals accountable for their actions."

The state association notified Freeman and Choi that it is seeking legislative authors to write a bill requiring county attorneys to provide data to the Legislature about felony-level offenses that go uncharged.

"My office's priority remains focused on supporting the victims of these crimes and the impact of these crimes on the safety of our neighborhoods," Freeman said in a statement Thursday. "We are charging and prosecuting both juveniles and adults to the fullest extent of the law. Our practice has always been to focus our limited resources on the most violent crimes first and that is what we are doing. ... We have been and will continue to work with our criminal justice partners to address the increased crime and to develop focused prevention strategies."

Choi said although he hadn't seen a copy of the bill described by the state association, he would support legislation meant to provide transparency around prosecutorial decisions. "A lot of these issues are really, really complex," he said. "I do think that what the chiefs are talking about — if I'm assuming their intent is to provide better education and understanding about the decisions and the things that happen in the justice system — [will] help the conversation get to a better place."

At the same time, Choi pushed back against the idea that County Attorney's Offices are unwilling to pursue charges. "If there's sufficient evidence to charge a case, we do. ... If there's a reason why we don't, I have been very transparent about it."

Among its recommendations to the county, the HCCPA also asked that the admission criteria for the Hennepin County Juvenile Detention Center be re-evaluated, citing that juveniles have contributed to the increase in violent crime.

"One of the criteria of the Juvenile Detention Center is that you can't bring an individual down who has stolen a car ... so we're trying to say, look, [juveniles] know this, at least in Hennepin County, they know that nothing is going to happen to them," Revering said in an interview. "So they're just continuing to reoffend."

In recent weeks, the county has assigned additional resources to prosecuting carjacking cases, the majority of which have involved juveniles. Freeman said last month that the charges in such cases are typically assault and aggravated robbery because carjackings involve force, often a firearm, to steal an occupied vehicle. Auto theft, however, is a nonviolent, low-level offense that involves an unoccupied vehicle.

The HCCPA recognizes that the Juvenile Detention Center's admission criteria isn't directly under Freeman's authority, Revering said, but included it in the letter to reflect the full scope of the associations recommendations. She said the same about bail reforms.

For its final recommendation, the HCCPA asked the County Attorney's Office to respect the work of law enforcement officers.

"We fully support the importance of holding law enforcement officers accountable when they do not perform as the community expects, including criminal charges when applicable," Revering wrote. "However, we also support recognizing when law enforcement is performed correctly and within the law and expect your office to do the same."

Revering is scheduled to meet with Freeman on behalf of the HCCPA next week, but she said Thursday that the exact date has yet to be determined.

Staff writer Kim Hyatt contributed to this report.

Update from the CAT (Covid Advisory Team) Sent to all employees on Tuesday, January 4th

NOTES FROM CAT MEETING 1-4-22

Our update this week includes a reminder of the COVID RAPID TESTING LINK for all employees.  To date, a total of 102 people have utilized this service.  We want to remind people that this service is open to employees and members of the employee’s household only.

We have also received several questions about our updated COVID policy and our PTO policy for unvaccinated employees.  See below.

1.      We have updated the COVID-19 quarantine policy for all staff.  The following policy eliminates the need for a negative test after the 5th day.   “People with COVID-19 should isolate for 5 days and if they are   asymptomatic or their symptoms are resolving (without fever for 24 hours), they can return to work but  follow that by 5 days of wearing a mask when around others to minimize the risk of infecting people they encounter.”

2.      Please note that employees who are not vaccinated are not allowed to work from home and will be required to take PTO while they quarantine and/or recover. 

3.      I would ask that those who are not vaccinated continue to wear masks when in public indoor spaces, especially with other employee present. I encourage all employees to wear a mask when in meetings and when in small rooms or 6 ft separation is not possible. This is one easy way to help stop the spread of Covid.

CAT UPDATE January 3rd, 2022

Active Cases within the City of Maplewood as of January 3, 2022                                                                                 14
Active Cases within the City of Maplewood December 17, 2021                                                                                      4

Percent of vaccinated employees as of January 3, 2022                                                                               78%
Percent of vaccinated employees as of December 17, 2021                                                                         69%
Goal to get to possible “herd immunity”                                                                                                          80%

Stay safe, Melinda

PARKS AND NATURAL RESOURCES

Snowshoe Stories from the Maplewood Nature Center

After their flight back home to Seattle Washington was cancelled on December 30, a family found their way to the Maplewood Nature Center.  With a car load full of suitcases the weary travelers stopped into the building to use the restrooms.  Lured by the excitement of the Parks and Natural Resources staff on what fun snowshoeing can be, they decided to rent snowshoes for an unexpected adventure.  After an hour on the trails the family returned with stories of feeling reinvigorated by snowshoeing in the quiet calm of nature.

Another group that took advantage of the freshly fallen snow was the Concordia St. Paul Swimming and Diving team.  The team ventured out to the Nature Center on January 5 for a snowshoe team building excursion.  This was the first snowshoe experience for most and, for one of the swimmers from Egypt, this was the first “snow season” experience of her life!

Snowshoes are available at the Maplewood Nature Center from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday, $5 for a two-hour adventure.

Planning Grant for Community Resilience Application

Maplewood submitted an MPCA planning grant for community resilience.  The grant program assists Minnesota communities in adapting community assets and services, ordinances, and public spaces for the effects of climate change.  The Climate Energy and Mobility Resilient Maplewood plan is the critical and final piece needed in the City’s climate resilience planning, fulfilling the energy resilience-planning goal of the City’s Comprehensive Plan, and addressing a key implementation strategy of the City’s Climate Adaptation Plan. 

The planning process will result in climate energy and mobility resilience strategic goals across multiple sectors with concrete short-, mid-, and long-term actions to advance climate energy and mobility resilience and capacity.  An implementation plan will be developed including an identification of measurement metrics/tools for assessing effectiveness of strategies.  The effort will also include the development of a step-by-step internal City guide supporting initiation of implementation.  The guide will detail the creation of a climate-action implementation team, implementation strategies in the strategic plan, budget, and CIP, etc.

The City requested $32,480 of grant funds for consultant time with no matching funds required.   There will be approximately 200 hours of staff time involved.  Grants are awarded in the spring of 2022, with projects to be complete by June 30, 2023.     

This week staff has been addressing staff shortages in some departments, especially Public Safety. Leadership has been busy preparing contingency plans in case of severe staff shortages due to illness. I will keep you posted if things change.

Stay warm this weekend and as always, please call if you have any questions related to this content, the Council packet or anything else.

Thanks, Melinda

Dec 20

December 17, 2021

Posted on December 20, 2021 at 9:25 AM by Chad Bergo

COMMUNICATIONS AND NEWS FROM THE WEEK: December 17th , 2021

Meetings and Announcements:    

We will have a special Council meeting on December 20th at 4:30pm. This will be a virtual meeting and Mychal Fowlds will send the link on Monday.  We have 5 housekeeping items to be addressed through the Consent Agenda.   Thanks for your flexibility in meeting on short notice.

The first meeting of the new year will be held on Monday, January 10th. I am not sure if there will be a workshop or not. I will let you know the week of January 3rd. 

ADMINISTRATION
Lead Academy Class of 21/22

We have staff attending from the following departments: Police, Fire/EMS, Administration, IT, Finance and Community Development. The course work topics include; Government 101, Strengths/Myers- Briggs, Managing Change, Diversity and Inclusion, High Performing Teams and Difficult Conversations.

This is one part of how we are building the bench for future leaders.

Fundraiser for Bruentrup Farm
At noon on Sunday, December 19, Maplewood Area Historical Society Board Vice President Bill Bruentrup will raise museum Executive Director T.J. Malaskee and Maplewood City Council Member Nikki Villavicencio 80 feet into the air on an aerial lift—and won’t let them down until donations start coming in. The public is invited to attend this unique fundraising event at the 1891 Bruentrup Heritage Farm, the last operating dairy farm in Ramsey County and virtually via the society’s Facebook live. The goal of raising $4,500 will support the museum’s elementary school-aged education through helping fund the popular Farm-to-Table Camp this summer. 

Your donation makes an impact!

Not only will a donation made between now and Sunday help get Nikki and T.J. down:

You will help preserve our 12 historic structures.

You will support youth education at the Farm.

You will make a difference in building community.

Cheer them on in person at the Farm with cider and cookies

or follow us throughout the day on our Facebook page for updates from Niki and T.J.! 

And thank you for supporting the Maplewood Area Historical Society and the Bruentrup Heritage Farm! What you do matters!

FINANCE
Total Property Tax Calculation by Taxing Authority

Subsequent to the truth-in-taxation hearing, we have prepared estimated tax calculations that would include all county special levies in the county proportion of the tax bill split.  If you live in SD #622, the county share of the tax bill is 39.84%.  This includes regional rail, HRA, and library.

PARKS AND NATURAL RESOURCES
Snowshoe Rentals the Nature Center
Snowshoe rentals are up and running at the Nature Center (weather/snow permitting). Shoes are available to rent for use on Nature Center grounds in 2 hour blocks for just $5. With 3 different sizes of snowshoes we are able to accommodate ages 4+.

Staff worked with communications to create new collateral for the program including a series of new flyers and a snowshoe tutorial video with tips for putting them on and reminders while using.

QR codes will be included on the flyers which when accessed, will bring people directly to the video on their phones.

Staff are also planning to offer a few pop up snow shoe events over the winter months at locations like the Bruentrup Farm and Wakefield Park.

COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT
Ramsey County Homeownership Preservation Program

Ramsey County has released a program offering housing assistance to homeowners in suburban Ramsey County. The Ramsey County Homeownership Preservation Program assists with past due housing payments due to COVID-19 related financial issues. Eligible payments include mortgage payments, homeownership association (HOA) dues, water bills, homeowners insurance, and property taxes. The program is for homeowners at 80% area median income or below in suburban Ramsey County (excluding the city of St. Paul.) Ramsey County has partnered with the Minnesota Homeownership Center to administer the program. Residents can call the Minnesota Homeownership Center for a pre-screening at 651-659-9336 or visit   Ramsey County Homeownership Preservation Program website for more information and to apply.

In the news…
Woman who shot at motorists in St. Paul and Maplewood arrested, charged. Congratulations to our PD for assisting on this case.

https://www.startribune.com/woman-who-shot-at-motorists-in-st-paul-and-maplewood-arrested-charged/600127794/

This is the news for the week. This will be the last FYI for the year as I will be on vacation December 23rd until January 3rd. I am looking forward to spending time with family. Enjoy the calm before the holiday storm. Baking begins at my house!

Melinda 


Continue Reading...

Dec 06

December 3, 2021

Posted on December 6, 2021 at 8:36 AM by Chad Bergo

COMMUNICATIONS AND NEWS FROM THE WEEK: December 3rd , 2021 

Meetings and Announcements:    

The last Council meeting of the year will be on December 13th at 7 pm. There will be an EDA meeting at 6:30 pm.  We will be holding the meeting virtually. Mychal Fowlds will send the zoom link on Monday, the 13th. 

PUBLIC SAFETY

Council Follow up-From Director Bierdeman
At the October 8th council meeting, there was a request for my staff to coordinate a speed study on Londin Lane after some community members addressed the council with concerns of vehicle speeds which they believed would increase if the new housing development was approved.  The speed study was done in coordination with public works.  The speed study was completed and is attached.  Below is a summary.  We will be addressing the speeding by use of the radar trailer and increased citations/patrols.  Thanks 

Attached you will find the speed data we compiled for Londin Lane. The file labeled ‘Speed West End of Londin Lane’ was taken with traffic/speed counters placed on Londin Lane about 200 feet to the west of the intersection at Dorland Road. The file labeled ‘Speed East end of Londin’ was taken roughly 400 feet to the west of Sterling Street. At the bottom of the last page of each file you can find a summary of the data. I’ve pulled the most relevant information and placed it into the table below.

Location

Average Speed (MPH), 85th Percentile Speed (MPH)

East End - 37, 43

West End - 29, 35

From the data above, we can see that drivers tend to be going faster at the east end of Londin Lane, likely due to the more open feel of this section along with less driveway or road access points. This does confirm some of the observations of residents in the area.

For reference, the 85th percentile speed represents the speed at which 85% of the traffic is driving at or below.  The 85th percentile speed is often used in the setting of speed limits and it represents the speed which 85 percent of the drivers will drive with open roads and favorable conditions.  Speed limits set above or below the 85th percentile can cause unsafe conditions due to the difference in speed between drivers who follow the posted speed and the speed at which other driver’s naturally drive the road. The measured 85th percentile speeds suggest that the speed limit could be raised up to 35-40 MPH. However, due to the residential characteristics of Londin Lane, numerous side streets and driveway entrances, this roadway being designated as a local roadway in the 2040 Comprehensive Plan, and the goals of the City’s Living Streets Policy, we do not recommend raising the speed limits at this time.

This roadway could potentially benefit from the use of the dynamic speed display trailer and/or increased enforcement. I do recognize though that this will likely only produce temporary results.

We can discuss follow up at the City Council meeting under Council Calendar item- Melinda

 

LOCAL NEWS
https://www.twincities.com/2020/12/20/maplewood-pd-says-their-efforts-to-reshape-policing-culture-starts-with-who-they-hire/ Reference Embedded Social Worker/Mayor Abrams

https://www.kare11.com/article/news/crime/police-making-headway-in-recent-string-of-group-thefts-at-three-twin-cities-best-buy-locations/89-35eeb42b-aaa7-49a3-a2bb-a1b9c4295a3b Reference: Lt. Joe Steiner

Three east metro cities join forces to renew the intersection where they meet
By Shannon Prather Star Tribune
November 27, 2021 — 3:30pm

Rice Street and Larpenteur Avenue is the busy intersection where Ramsey County's three largest cities meet. But leaders in St. Paul, Roseville and Maplewood admit the site and the working-class neighborhood surrounding it had fallen off everyone's radar.

"I think it just got lost," said Maplewood Mayor Marylee Abrams. "We all had our backs to each other and were looking at our own cities."

The once-forgotten intersection is now at the center of a neighborhood revival. Ramsey County and the three cities formed the Rice & Larpenteur Alliance in 2016, each committing money and time to the endeavor. After five years of work, they are seeing tangible results including new parks, businesses, housing, sidewalks and other pedestrian and road improvements.

"The transformation is unbelievable," said Kim O'Brien, the alliance's executive director. "It is all happening as a result of three cities coming together."

City leaders are also cracking down on problem spots, including a now-shuttered nightclub in Maplewood, a rundown apartment complex in Roseville and St. Paul's only strip club.

"We are just all in," said St. Paul City Council President Amy Brendmoen, whose ward includes the North End. "It's taken a long time to get visible changes, but we've finally crossed that critical mark."

It was Brendmoen who invited the Maplewood and Roseville mayors to lunch five years ago to discuss the problems and potential of Rice and Larpenteur. The area, filled with modest mid-century homes and apartments, has long been an affordable immigrant enclave. Many Hmong, Karen and Nepali families call it home.

In 2016, the intersection was dotted with strip malls, fast food restaurants and some stand-alone storefronts, including a shuttered gas station.

"We really decided to change the way it feels," said Brendmoen, but with a big caveat: "We didn't want to displace people there. The decision we made is to serve the existing community."

The alliance formed with each city committing money to study the area and hire a full-time executive director, whose position is housed within the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce. Each city has made investments and taken enforcement action against problem properties.

Roseville converted an empty lot into Unity Park and playground, and worked with a developer to tear down an abandoned gas station and build a shopping area.

The city also revoked the rental license for the 277-unit Marion Street/The Brittanys Apartments, prompting the owner to hire a new management company and make more than $1 million in health and safety improvements. No residents were displaced, and the license has been reinstated.

And some of the first new housing in years is being built on Roseville's side of the intersection: Villas at McCarrons Lake will include 20 single-family homes on 5.5 acres with access to the lake.

Meanwhile, St. Paul has addressed one of the most glaring and embarrassing problems at the intersection: There were no sidewalks on the capital city's corner, forcing pedestrians to navigate what Brendmoen described as a dirt "cow path" that paralleled the strip mall's uneven parking lot.

"It was really a travesty," Brendmoen said. "Getting that changed was a big deal."

The city worked with the property owner to repave the parking lot and add a sidewalk and parklet complete with benches, fencing and greenery. The parking lot is now the site of seasonal festivals and community events, and a Rice & Larpenteur neighborhood sign will go up next year.

At the same corner, the St. Paul City Attorney's Office is investigating the licensing of the Lamplighter strip club at the City Council's direction. Police frequently visited the club for a host of disturbances including assaults, brawls and gunfire, and a young woman was shot and killed in the parking lot in the summer of 2020.

Brendmoen said the investigation is ongoing, but the club's owners are "on notice."

"They are no longer in the forgotten corner of the city," she said. "We are paying attention."

After a surge of violence and shootings, the Maplewood City Council cracked down on the Stargate Nightclub on its corner of the intersection. The club owner agreed to surrender his liquor license in 2017, and the site is now a market and eatery called Groceries and Nepali Kitchen.

The alliance and Maplewood leaders are also working with developers on new housing at the 13-acre site of Rice Street Gardens, which St. Paul Regional Water Services owns. Mayor Abrams said they are exploring a partnership with Twin Cities Habitat For Humanity, with the goal of adding affordable housing while keeping the community garden.

Ramsey County, which maintains the Rice and Larpenteur roadways, has invested in vehicle and pedestrian safety. In response to two pedestrian fatalities, the county in 2019 converted a stretch of Larpenteur from four driving lanes to two and added a left-turn lane. The county also added crosswalks in front of the Community School of Excellence charter school, and more improvements are in the works.

"The beauty of this project is the true public-private partnerships with three cities, one county and beautiful diversity of community coming together to make big investments," said Ramsey County Commissioner Trista MatasCastillo.

An overarching goal of the alliance has been nurturing a sense of community identity, celebrating strengths and getting residents and business involved.

Katheryn Schneider, a St. Paul homeowner and landlord, said she is committed to the neighborhood and thrilled that these investments — from the playground to new trash cans — are making it more inviting.

"I really love what they are doing," said Schneider, who is on the board of St. Paul's North End Neighborhood Organization and an organizer at Rice Street Gardens.

Schneider said she's also glad city leaders are having candid conversations about displacement and gentrification, with a focus on serving the people who live in the neighborhood now. She said she enjoys the local hole-in-the-wall restaurants and could see the area flourishing one day as an East Metro version of Minneapolis' Eat Street.

One of the most visible investments is the $30 million Community School of Excellence on Larpenteur Avenue. The school, focused on Hmong language and culture, enrolls 1,500 students and employs 150 staff. It opened in 2017, and its leaders are already talking about expanding.

The school's chief administration officer, Kazoua Kong-Thao, grew up in the area and now owns a home there. The affection that she and other residents have for it wasn't always shared by elected officials, she said.

"This area has been an afterthought," Kong-Thao said. "There has not been a lot of development, love or support."

Kong-Thao and other school officials are alliance members, and she said there's still plenty of work to do.

Kong-Thao said she recently took her family on a picnic at Lake McCarron County Park and was dismayed to see broken glass and litter. She is already brainstorming ways the school and the alliance can address the issue.

"The little things we do really add up and make our community more vibrant. There is so much that is good in the neighborhood," Kong-Thao said. "We want to change our narrative: This is a vibrant community, and look at all the great things happening."

  

This is the news for the week.  Have a great weekend.

Melinda