When Libertarians Elizabeth Dahl and Olga Parsons each won their election in November 2014 to the city council in Crystal, Minnesota, a majority of libertarian-leaning members was formed.
The seven-member council consists of the mayor, a representative from each of four city wards, and one from each of two sections. Dahl was elected in Ward 1 and Parsons in Section 2. Libertarian Casey Peak was elected in Ward 3 in 2012.
Two other council members are liberty-minded: incumbent mayor Jim Adams, and Ward 2 Representative Jeff Kolb who was elected in November 2014.
“We have a really amazing team on the committee,” said Parsons.
After Peak was elected, he saw that he needed to get more libertarian-minded members on the council in order to get things done. So he formed a group to recruit candidates, which landed Dahl, Parsons, and Kolb. The three campaigned together and shared contact information, greatly enhancing their prospects for election.
The five are aligned in their goals to cut city spending and bureaucracy and to expand transparency and responsiveness to citizens. They work closely together, already raising awareness in the town and getting results.
They defeated a $13 million bond for a public works facility in February, which Adams and Peak had been fighting on the previous council. The city has “more than enough cash” according to Dahl to pay for the facility while leaving a sizable reserve for emergencies.
Their opponents claimed that the bond was needed to mitigate “generational inequity,” arguing that since future taxpayers will benefit from the facility, they should have to pay for it.
“A well-managed city should not need bonds for capital projects,” countered Peak. “Nor should it sock future taxpayers with spending they didn’t vote for. They have every right to benefit from investments we make. After all, former taxpayers paid for the roads and facilities we use today.”
Dahl noted that just as people often want to upgrade their homes to keep up with the neighbors, city spending advocates — usually government employees but also some constituents — compare Crystal City to other cities.
“There’s a lot of worrying the city won’t be up to snuff,” said Dahl. “But we can’t forget, taxpayers are footing the bill.”
Dahl ran against 20-year incumbent councilman Mark Hoffman, who had said that the city can “tax anytime [they] want to, for any reason [they] want to, [they] can tax and cover [their] butts.”
Voters apparently rejected his view, giving Dahl 67 percent of the vote.
Casey Peak’s priority is getting the city government off people’s backs. “There are way too many city rules and laws that prevent people from earning income, starting a business, and living as they see fit,” he said. Dahl notes that citizens have been trying to reduce the volume of regulations for years, unsuccessfully.
Peak said that some regulations even cite international building codes, specifying, for example, how homeowners must put up a wall in their own house. Another ordinance mandates that citizens must eradicate certain weeds on their property, including violets, which Peak notes are native to the area and which some citizens like to plant.
The city’s regulations comprise 35,000 lines of code — more than there are residents in this town,” said Dahl.
The council is taking a hatchet to overregulation. They’re putting together a task force to go through all of the city code and eliminate anything that is “none of government’s business.”
In another victory, Adams and Peak succeeded in eliminating language from city law last year that restricts firearms on public building premises.
Crystal had maintained a ban on guns in public buildings in violation of a state ruling. Adams and Peak brought the law into compliance and got notices of the gun ban taken down from City Hall. It’s now legal to carry.
“The law was not only harmful to rights of the people, since City Hall is their building, but was also contrary to state law,” said Peak.
Fulfilling their promise of responsiveness to citizens’ concerns, Kolb, Dahl, and Parsons created the Citizen Connection Initiative, which promises Crystal citizens that council members will respond to issues and concerns they raise within 48 hours. It also includes a Facebook page and website, where the three post highlights of city council meetings and keep citizens abreast of major issues.
A major challenge for the council is to tackle what Dahl calls “insidious assessments” — hidden taxes that are included in property tax bills.
“While most citizens assume their entire bill is for the city’s property tax, about 70 percent of it is assessed by various jurisdictions and quasi-government agencies such as school districts, county government, fire districts, and watershed districts,” said Peak. “The list of taxing entities goes on and on.”
Council members intend to educate citizens to be more aware of the taxes they pay.
“If we can get that moving, we’ll have a lot more credibility to make other moves in the future,” said Dahl. “There are lots of options for cutting taxes and spending.”
The group is also fighting eminent domain. Federal law gives railroad companies the authority to demand that private property owners sell their property. Canadian Pacific and BNSF railroad companies are now exploiting this power in their attempt to put a new line through the middle of town.
Council members are holding public forums packed with attendees to raise awareness of the situation. They have teamed with County Commissioner Mike Opat to fight it. The county, which has the funds to fight the railroad in court, is buying land from owners before the railroad can, in order to serve as plaintiff.
Crystal is a suburb of Minneapolis with a population of 23,000, including many young families who moved from other locations.
During her campaign last year, Dahl, a mother of three young children, knocked on all 2,300 doors in her ward.
Parson’s section is twice as big, which she also managed to canvass in its entirety — both before and again after the primary — as the mother of two children. She spent an average of three hours every day for four months.
“I had the support of my family and strong backing in the community, which made my election possible,” said Parsons.
Council members online:
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