#132: Albert Lea, MN 9/25/17

“It’s encouraging,” Mayor Vern Rasmussen, Jr. quipped after the Pledge of Allegiance, “to not see anybody kneel down tonight.”

That topical humor prompted guffaws from the audience. But faster than you could say “land of the free,” he reached for his proclamation on the splash pad community celebration.

“I think we have a little presentation,” he glanced toward the proud line of ladies responsible for this aquatic masterpiece.

Suddenly, city manager Chad Adams jumped in with a message: stall.

“My computer’s still configuring. If you want to do the check presentation?” he said with a frown.

One woman in a flowing sweater approached the mayor. “This is a check to the splash pad for $28,000,” she announced.

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Do spend it in one place.

Much to my chagrin, the check was not the gigantic, Publisher’s Clearing House-sized prop. Rather, a normal, deposit-ready slip that was quick to hand over.

Too quick.

“The slides aren’t coming up yet,” said Adams in exasperation. “Do you want to just talk about the fundraising?”

Another woman stepped to the podium and revealed the eye-popping total: “the fundraising cash value is approximately $152,000.”

But before you call that a lot of money, the economic development director stepped forward to provide the play-by-play on a major deal that had Albert Leans abuzz.

“In January, we signed a nondisclosure agreement so we could start working with the client,” he recalled mysteriously, only disclosing that Client X was seeking a “distribution center.”

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Blink once if it’s Amazon.

“In February, a contingency of us went to Saint Paul and pitched to the company,” he continued. Their response? Thanks, but no thanks.

However, “we submitted a revised proposal. The company was impressed and got us back into the running. We were in the final three.”

He braced himself on the podium to conclude with what councilors unfortunately knew already.

“It came down to Austin [Minnesota] as the preferred site and Albert Lea being runner-up. All of us are disappointed. The number one thing we’ve been hearing is we need to provide tax breaks and incentives.”

He looked slightly annoyed as he dismissed the naysayers. “We provided a VERY robust incentive package. We were gonna do water and sewer extensions. Cash. Waive permit and review fees. Tens of millions of dollars.”

Wow. Mister, if you’ve still got those tens of millions ready to go, I’m happy to locate the first-ever City Council Chronicles distribution center in Albert Lea. My only other requirement is a nearby splash pad, which–hey! You’ve got it!

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I could store SO MANY city council meeting reviews here.

But the director had one more point to make–apparently on the heels of some tumult in the community. “The negativity behind the scenes online…people see that. Be careful what you put out there.”

Councilor Jason Howland was still devastated and turned to the hotshot state executive in the audience. “Any idea why Austin ended up being chosen?”

The man shuffled to the microphone with his hand in his pocket. “Anything I state at this point is speculation,” he prefaced. “The site in Austin has great visibility from the interstate. Folks put value on getting that free advertising.”

(Again, City Council Chronicles has no such demand. Only tens of millions of dollars in cash.)

“I just want to show you a couple of photos,” broke in the city manager, who at last got the splash pad slideshow functioning. It was a nice reminder to be thankful for what the city does have.

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