Candidate Viewpoint: Cottage Grove City Council candidate Michael FoutsResidents are disappointed in the current City Council for a variety of reasons, as evidenced by an unprecedented number of first-time candidates running in this election. Each of us made the decision to seek office for different reasons, but all of us felt that we were not being heard by those who are supposed to be representing us.
By: Michael Fouts, South Washington County Bulletin
Thank you for taking the time to learn about the local politics of Cottage Grove. My name is Michael Fouts, and I have been a resident of the city for nearly six years. During this time, my family and I have immersed ourselves in the community. My wife chairs the environment committee at our parish, St. Rita’s, and is committee chair for Pack 287 of the Cub Scouts. My two boys participate in countless Parks and Recreation activities throughout the year and are active in Scouts (there is still time to order your wreaths and popcorn). I have served on St. Rita’s planning committee concerning potential expansion and the parish council, including a term as chair.
Residents are disappointed in the current City Council for a variety of reasons, as evidenced by an unprecedented number of first-time candidates running in this election. Each of us made the decision to seek office for different reasons, but all of us felt that we were not being heard by those who are supposed to be representing us.
I support giving citizens more, rather than less, say in local government. The charter city concept allows citizens to retain a greater portion of this by forcing significant issues to a ballot, rather than deciding them at the whim of elected officials (e.g., spending an unknown millions of dollars on the palace for our city officials or assessing homeowners for unneeded projects.) That Mayor Myron Bailey refers to this as “another layer of government” and council member Jen Peterson “finds it funny how people who want less government now want this additional level of government” (Oct. 2 League of Women Voters candidate forum) show the chasm between our beliefs in what government is. They see citizen involvement (you and me) as getting in the way or adding a layer of government. I, on the other hand, say that you, private citizens, are the government; elected officials and bureaucratic baloney are the layers that need to be removed so that you, the real government, can be heard. Giving citizens more control over how their city is run, what is required for referenda, etc. — all of these are removing layers of government, not adding them.
I also believe we are at a critical juncture of our city’s history. There was a time, not too long ago, in which bedroom communities could exist as getaways from one’s workplace. Cities, such as Cottage Grove, could survive as residential areas for people working in the Twin Cities or Bloomington. Commutes of 10 to 20 miles were common. With the days of $2 gasoline long gone and the middle class being squeezed out of their homes, those days are gone. Commuter rail, however, provides an incredible opportunity to address many of the economic issues that have long plagued our community.
Cities that have been able to expand at moderate rates share one feature that Cottage Grove is lacking. We need more economic activity, more dollars, to be moved into the city. In general, retail development does little to bring new money in. Rather, it provides entry-level jobs and allows current residents an outlet for the cash that is already in the city, essentially spreading around money that residents possess. Luring corporate offices and high-paying manufacturing or development companies brings new money into the city. These positions necessitate restaurant and retail development to serve commuters from other areas. Likewise, corporate offices require additional lodging for visitors, and entertainment options quickly follow.
The arrival of commuter rail can be the impetus for establishing Cottage Grove as a destination city, rather than as a simple “park and ride” lot. If we approach this opportunity correctly, we can begin to address the economic malaise and residential decay we have seen over the past four years. For further details, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 651-769-2583.