John Beattie is running against Gretchen Wahlstedt for a two-year seat on the Excelsior City Council.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Share something most people don’t know about you.
My wife, Mary, and I live in Excelsior village with our son, Russ, and our dog, Gus. We enjoy walks around town and on the Commons.
I have been on or around Lake Minnetonka since I was a boy, when our family closed our home in St. Louis Park and moved to Wayzata Bay for the summer.
I have practiced law in Minneapolis for 34 years. I am currently the Chair of Excelsior’s Park and Recreation Commission and a member of the Charter Commission.
What sorts of thoughts come to mind when you think of Lake Minnetonka?
A wonderful recreational area, diverse in its areas and population. Lake Minnetonka sets the imagination free for young and old alike. Lake Minnetonka also offers a rich heritage and wonderful communities.
Are invasive species a local, state or federal issue? Or is it a mix? Describe your views.
Invasive species are problems for all levels of government. However, local units of government, particularly the LMCD and the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District, should and have been leaders in many of the most important issues involving invasive species.
What is the most common issue people talk with you about while campaigning? What do you tell them?
The most common issues are the status of commercial projects on Water Street, namely the hotel and grocery store developments, and the condition and use of the Commons. Most people are excited about getting a hotel that will mimic the grand hotels around Lake Minnetonka one hundred years ago, and having a grocery store in the city.
I am running, in part, to develop a plan for better use and maintenance of the Commons. We have facilities in place, such as the ballfield and bandshell, that can be better utilized and maintained with careful planning and action by the city council. Many of the projects for the Commons can be funded through private-public partnerships, which are being explored now.
How do you feel about the current property tax levels? What about school district taxes (understanding the city council has no control over them)?
Residential property taxes have been carefully controlled by the city council, resulting in no levy increases in each of the last two years. In part this is due to sound zoning and heritage preservation standards that have resulted in a productive and attractive commercial district. Better buildings have attracted better businesses which have increased tax capacity to the city, and the business district’s share of that capacity. Commercial capacity is now about 34 percent of tax capacity. Eight years ago that contribution was about 24 percent.
After the hotel, grocery store and other projects along Water Street are completed, the business district will contribute about 45 percent of the total tax capacity. Increased business development, consistent with city zoning and heritage preservation standards, helps to control the rise in residential property taxes.
If the funding were available, what projects—either shovel ready or on the drawing board—would you advocate dedicating it to inside the city?
Careful planning of infrastructure improvements has yielded a long-term plan for sewer, water and streets. That plan has been leveraged with grants from the Metropolitan Commission and will be completed over the next several years.
We also need to improve the Commons and our parks, and better utilize the facilities we have. We on the Park and Recreation Commission are developing plans for private/public partnerships to enhance the ballfield, and to host better concerts at the bandshell. We must better maintain our beaches and the grassy areas of the Commons. We can leverage funding for these projects with funding from private sources. These projects will provide better quality of life in Excelsior, while maintaining our facilities to address health and safety concerns.
Are you satisfied with the public safety services being provided to residents inside the city?
Public services include police and fire, and many services from out city staff. Excelsior residents have quality and responsive police and fire services. The payment mechanism for police under the Joint Powers Agreement is unequal among the participating cities.
If we could add another city, the formula could be adjusted to a payment system based on property values. That system would achieve savings of about $290,000 per year. Savings are important since the city has lost state assistance of about $350,000. Excelsior also has an excellent, highly trained and professional, city staff that provides services within a very limited budget.
How would you encourage the average citizen to become more engaged in state government?
Excelsior has four commissions and a city council. The commissions are appointed and everyone is eligible. These commissions, Planning, Heritage Preservation, Park and Recreation and Charter, all provide great opportunities for residents to learn about their government and community, and contribute to the community. Thirty-six residents participate and make decisions that benefit all of us. I encourage everyone to get involved.
Open forum. Why should voters cast their ballot for you this November?
I bring years of experience and leadership working with community organizations to provide improved services at low cost.
I am a strong believer in fiscal restraint and transparent government. Residents of Excelsior have been beneficiaries of a well-managed and well-governed city. I will support those qualities but make improvements in areas on which we all can agree.
I have an extensive legal background, understand and know municipal law and financing. I have managed people and complex projects to successful conclusions.
I will be accessible and transparent in all issues and decisions, as your council member. I ask for your vote and support.