bar none

Ever since we moved and I started my new job, coworkers who knew we used to live in Northfield have been very resourceful in finding news articles that seem to point out the absurd situations and people related to that community. Occasionally, I find some on my own. Like this one from the Locally Grown blog.

City of Northfield earns “Friend of the Bar” award from MSBA

Seems the fine citizens of Northfield are spending a great deal of their public and private money to keep the pockets of several capable attorneys well-lined. Maybe I should seriously consider that law school idea…

the telephone number is 911

The Pearl Street 911 Center has come under fire ever since it started. A recent letter to the editor in the Northfield News reminded me of one of the reasons.

There was a letter to the editor in the 9-28-05 edition of the Northfield News that caught my attention. The writer was registering a public complaint about the Pearl Street 911 Center. I won’t go into the details of the letter, other than to say the writer was advocating for a return to having emergency dispatching services handled locally as opposed to the current system of a consolidated center.

The consolidation of government services is often a good deal. Smaller units of government can boost their purchasing power, reduce personnel costs and duplication of services. Sounds pretty good, right?

But there is a tradeoff. In this particular case, your dispatcher is now in the Law Enforcement Center in Owatonna. No one ever talks to one of them face to face, only over the phone or the radio. This reduces the level of personal service that many in Northfield grew accustomed to. Now if you stop into the police station and want to talk to a police officer, you have to pick up a phone in the lobby to talk to the dispatcher in Owatonna. You used to be able to talk to the dispatcher through a window, and often that person could help you.

This disadvantage also applies to emergency workers. Effective communication between coworkers (and that’s what dispatchers and emergency personnel are, right?) is dependant to some extent on a personal connection and level of trust. Hard to develop that over the phone or airwaves. So if a firefighter thinks a dispatcher made a mistake, he either calls over the phone or tells his supervisor. If a dispatcher thinks a firefighter made a mistake, they have the same obstacle. Bad for everyone.

Is the tradeoff worth it? That question needs to be asked of our elected officials. The Joint Dispatch Center has oversight and budgetary control from a joint powers board consisting of elected officials from Rice and Steele Counties and the cities of Faribault, Northfield and Owatonna. They meet the first Wednesday of the month at 4:00 p.m. at one of the County Government Centers.

The Joint Powers Board is getting ready to spend a significant amount of money (probably in the millions) to revamp the computer aided dispatch system and records management system. Seems like a good time to follow along.

In my opinion, the joint center is a good idea. Some of the complaints in the letter to the editor have more to do with the differences between the two types of incidents the writer described than the difference in dispatching services. There are always ways to improve, but as the center looks to make significant changes in technology, I am more concerned about them making choices that allow for expansion and addition of services and updated technology. We’ll find out in the next few months if they can meet that challenge.

video killed the radio star – part two

Poscasting is taking the world by storm. The release of iTunes version 4.9 has exploded the format, for good or bad. This is the next evolution of mass communication among ordinary folks.

What is Podcasting? It’s kind of like time-shifted internet radio. A whole bunch of people are basically taking advantage of the capabilities of RSS and using it to distribute audio content.

Why should I care? Well, what you are reading right now is a blog. (Duh, Ted. I’m not stupid) A podcast is an extension of the blog format. People create the content (an interview, some music, some ranting, whatever), post it on the internet, and other people either go to the site directly or get the feed from an RSS reader. I think this is really important and I’ll explain a little bit about why.

We are seeing an increase in the number and influence of blogs on the political process. During the 2004 major party conventions, bloggers were given press credentials. They were recognized at that point as being part of the media. Part of the information exchange that influences the way the world works and how we are governed. In Northfield, several people who are either elected officials or in influential positions in government or commerce are also blogging. You can see this by starting with and continue with Jim Pokorney, Jessica Peterson, Gary Smith, Diane Cirksena and Ray Cox. And these aren’t the only examples.

So we now have a fairly easy way (or the beginnings of an easy way) to expand that community journalism concept into a digital version of community radio. What’s community radio? Well, let’s just say it’s a chance for anyone to broadcast pretty much whatever they want. You’re interested in city politics? Start your own podcast and interview local figures and local folks about the issues. And even more significantly – say what you think about them. Have a need for speed at the local stock car racetrack? Tell everybody about what’s going on each weekend and make your favorite drivers and crews feel like the “big guys” by interviewing and promoting them on your own show.

I would encourage anyone to check out the available podcasts that are out there. Many of them provide a nice alternative to the standard mass-media radio and often do a better job of informing on issues like technology and local politics.

Here’s a couple sites to get you started. The easiest way to get started listening to podcasts right now is to get iTunes from Apple. There are versions for both PC and Mac, and a lot of people already have it. You will need version 4.9 or later to get the podcast page in the iTunes Store. Another “podcatcher” that is popular is ipodder lemon. Heard of Adam Curry? The old MTV v-jay has been on the bandwagon for podcasting since the beginning and is involved in the ipodder project.

There is a huge amount of dicussion about this topic and how it relates to blogging, commercial radio, music promotion and licensing, community radio, politics, marketing and a bunch of other stuff. But, in the interest of keeping it simple I’ll just say that I think this new medium is pretty interesting and I am really enjoying it.

Here’s a partial list of podcasts that I’ve been listening to:

TWiT – This Week in Tech (this is the crew from the old ScreenSavers show on TechTV)
Daily Source Code – Adam Curry
Podcast 411 – Information on podcasting and interviews with podcasters
Geek News Central – Tech news and commentary from Todd in sunny Hawaii
Inside Minnesota Politics – Peter Idusogie (an unabashed Democrat, but he does some interesting interviews)

a hypothetical destination, say, who is this walking man?

Northfield’s downtown is growing, and this is something that needs to be encouraged. A large constituency of Northfield residents have strong feelings about centering community life around the downtown and preserving/expanding its historical character. They want this to continue to feel like the small river town it has been throughout its history, regardless of growth.

There has been a discussion on the “Issues” list about pedestrian safety related to this growth. Basically the issue centers around growth across Highway #3 to the west. If this area develops as a commercial area, there will certainly be a lot of pressure to make it a continuation of the existing downtown. If this is the way the area develops, it will be important that pedestrians are able to safely and conveniently cross Highway #3 between what exists now and what will come to be on the other side of the highway.

Jim Pokorney, a Northfield City Councillor, recently discussed this in his weblog. He included a reprint of an editorial he wrote for the Northfield News.

He makes several important points that bear some reflection. For my part, I’ll make some observations of my own.

Councillor Pokorney is exactly right to point out that downtown commercial development should be treated as fundamentally different from the highway commercial development on the south end of Northfield, extending into Dundas. These two different areas can complement each other well despite what some naysayers will tell you. It is important to recognize this distinction and separate them when discussing development and planning. Downtown is and should be pedestrian focused, as opposed to the south highway district which is vehicle focused. They each have advantages and disadvantages and I’m sure that a lot of folks use both for different reasons.

The City should be planning for this development and expansion of the downtown and has an interest in making pedestrian crossing safe in order to further that vision. MNDOT has an interest in this section of Highway #3 as well. Their interest is focused on safely moving vehicles north and south on the highway, as well as improving access to Highway #19 for truck traffic.

Both of these interests are valid and appropriate undertakings for government. Both the City and MNDOT want improvements in the infrastructure that will increase safety and ensure that commerce can effectively be carried out. That’s what they’re supposed to do: health, safety, welfare, commerce.

As to the specific issue of a light at 3rd Street, I think it’s a “chicken or the egg” scenario.

On the one hand, it may be difficult to support the expense of a signal based on current statistical information about the intersection. There may be more supportive statistics available when more pedestrian-engaged business is carried out on the west side of the highway.

Then again, how attractive will it be for developers to want to improve/renovate that area when they don’t see a ready-made conduit for their foot-powered customers to get to them?

So, I see the question as: when will the light(s) be added to Highway #3, as a result of the redevelopment or as a necessary precursor to it? I am convinced they will be there (MNDOT is installing wiring in anticipation of it as part of the existing project) we just need to decide what the actual mechanism for requiring them will be.