Proactive approach or problematic perception?
Meeting with developers one-on-one or stopping in at out-of-town businesses to sell Cottage Grove: it's a practice Myron Bailey says is being proactive. His opponent Fred Luden says it's potentially problematic.
The differing views of Cottage Grove's two mayoral candidates on non-public meetings with businesspeople and developers illustrates the divergent styles Bailey or Luden would bring to the council chambers as the city's No. 1 elected official next January.
Bailey says it's a necessary aspect of a plan to aggressively court new retail and job growth to Cottage Grove; Luden says it's a practice that creates a problem with perceptions of residents and businesses alike and could be done more publicly.
"What can be discussed one-on-one with a developer that can't be discussed with (city) staff present?" Luden wondered aloud last week. "When you're talking as one person, the (developer) will assume you've got more authority than you do -- you're just one vote of five."
While campaigning, Bailey has mentioned repeatedly his meeting with Minneapolis developers Paripassu last fall. At the time, debate raged over the proposed regional retail center on the Cottage View Drive-In site along Highway 61 and County Road 19, and Bailey says he met with the developers to discuss possible anchor tenants for the site after strong opposition to the planned Super Wal-Mart surfaced.
(A Wal-Mart spokesperson later denied the discount retailer had any interest in entering the Cottage Grove market.)
Bailey cites the independent conference as evidence of his "proactive" approach. At Monday night's League of Women Voters-sponsored forum, Bailey again said he was the lone council member to meet with the developer after some on the city council came out against PariPassu's proposal.
In an interview Bailey said he's "kind of surprised" by the reaction from other council members to his meeting.
City Council member Mark Grossklaus, who has endorsed Luden, said he isn't comfortable with the practice of individual members acting independently of the council. He said Bailey's meeting with PariPassu "kind of threw us off."
"I don't like the idea of one of us being the person going out and soliciting people," he said.
Bailey says his discussion with PariPassu was part of a wider effort to get officials to discuss what qualms they had with the proposal and what could be done to move it forward.
"I definitely want staff involved," Bailey said last week. "There was so much dissension (on the council) there was no way to get everybody together."
Luden says he met with PariPassu late last year to discuss the now-stalled proposal, but with city staff members present. Luden stressed he doesn't believe anything improper has occurred at meetings his opponent has had with businesses or developers, but says the Economic Development Authority and city staff can better handle direct dealings with entities interested in locating in Cottage Grove.
"That's what they're here for," Luden said.
But Bailey said he doesn't see it as acting outside the system or moving independently of the city council. To him, it's another opportunity to "tout the benefits of Cottage Grove" and take a more active role in bringing new retail and business to the city, an issue at the top of his list this election season.
In meeting with developers Bailey's intent is to "talk to them, to help make their project successful," he said.
Jon Avise can be reached at email@example.com.