by Frances Edstrom
It would be hard to be a developer in Winona without becoming paranoid.
"Why is it," a developer might ask, "that mountains of signed letters to the editor against a proposed development by out-of-towners are summarily dismissed by City Council members, while unattributed e-mail and phone calls to council members' private numbers are considered sufficient to deny my project?"
"Why is it that for some people variances are granted, while other developers get shut down?"
"How could it be," a developer might think, "that a guy who just lammed out of town after several months, taking $20,000 of our taxpayer money (for which he accomplished precious little for the community), could convince the City Council to deny my variances? It's especially puzzling since my family are longtime Winona residents and I have a track record of redeeming old downtown buildings that would otherwise be left vacant."
The present Winona Mayor and City Council appear often to govern by whimsy. The long-range implications of their actions seem to bow to the pressure of the few. Real and meaningful public discussion is rarely encouraged, and in fact, when the Winona First Coalition and the League of Women Voters first suggested a discussion with city government on the implications of a Wal-Mart Super Store in Winona, the city declined to partake. That discussion is finally slated to take place on November 12 with one person from city government involved.
If the public were privy to city government's rationale for voting in one way or another, we could understand their reluctance to enter into a discussion in another forum separate from council meetings.
More often than not, however, we are treated to "There is nothing we can do" or "We don't need any more information."
Discussions of public policy on development need to take place in Winona in public. City government needs to share with the public they serve why decisions are made as they are, and what impact those decisions will have on the future of Winona.
We should not have a city government that seems to have understudied with former school district administrations which made what seemed like simple decisions with simple outcomes, but in fact led to drastic changes for our school children. Think of the decision to build a new middle school and where that has led. The fifth graders were moved from the elementaries, creating "extra space" there, which has led us to the present discussion of converting what are now neighborhood schools into grade level schools.
Is city government prepared for the inevitable fallout from a Super Wal-Mart? Does their "laissez faire" attitude prepare us for, say, large empty blocks of real estate?
We don't know, because they aren't talking.