Chisago City and Wyoming have settled their annexation dispute. The account of the settlement is available at the Forest Lake Times. Congratulations to Mayor Don Taylor and Mayor Sheldon Anderson and their councils for working out a resolution.
In a county close to the metro area, it is a given that townships will be absorbed into cities unless a township chooses to become a city as Columbus, MN did in 2006. Wyoming Township, because of its geographical location, was ripe for this to happen, even though many did not want it to happen.
It’s easy for residents to settle down and enjoy the rural setting they chose, never thinking that their form of government might change. It’s easy to fail to think that a neighboring city has its eye on township land for expansion. It’s easy to not think about developers wanting to annex land for a residential plat. And if one thinks about such things, it’s easy to put off doing anything about it.
And then it happens. And residents are shaken to the core and instinctively fight for survival of their way of life. There are lessons here for all to learn.
People in townships do not want to lose their identity any more than a city wants to lose its school through a merger with a neighboring district. Yet cities need to expand, which often is not resolved as smoothly as another merger in Chisago County some years ago.
North Branch and North Branch Township merged after a long, deliberate effort of considering the pros and cons of merging. They had foresight and thought about it. And then they merged. Often times it does not proceed that well.
It would be ideal for all neighboring jurisdictions to talk through annexations, but too frequently that does not happen. A city has rights. A township has rights. And the law defines how they can exercise those rights. Using that prescribed procedure, in which an administrative law judge makes an informed decision, is not different than what happens in courts of law everyday concerning many issues. In and of itself, it is not wrong to use the procedures laid down in state statutes, especially when two jurisdictions cannot agree on their own. Those rules are there to handle disputes as amicably as possible.
Sometimes it appears the prescribed procedure is not working because personalities get heated, write nasty letters, act belligerently or make false accusations. That is not the fault of the procedure, but of the people involved. For the October 16th Chisago County Press, candidate Don Taylor and Rep. Jeremy Kalin were asked to respond to a statement: ". . . Minnesota annexation laws continue to be blamed by township and city officials in this region as actually hindering productive town/city relationships." Now that is a fair statement which could illicit a response. However, the Press prejudiced the statement by adding the word "antiquated" where the ellipsis is located in the above sentence. The County Press did not serve well the respondents nor the readers by making it prejudicial.
Perhaps the laws are not antiquated at all. Annexation laws are frequently adjusted, but will likely be regarded as antiquated by any jurisdiction that comes out on the short end in their mind. It would be a good exercise for each of the entities involved, Chisago City, Wyoming Township, Wyoming and Stacy, to individually identify the inadequacies in the law and then get together to compare notes civilly and analyze the process. A joint report would be beneficial to other jurisdictions in our county and elsewhere and for possible changes in the law.
In the midst of annexation struggles, Mayor Don Taylor demonstrated leadership by getting city mayors together to discuss issues. He also started meeting with township chairs to discuss annexation issues to get jurisdictions to talk with their neighbors. That is leadership. It has already borne fruit. In the same County Press issue there is a report that Taylors Falls, Shafer City and Center City have agreed on future boundaries.
Mayor Sheldon Anderson and Mayor Don Taylor have both shown leadership to settle the extended dispute. Both are commended for this resolution between two new neighboring cities. Both councils are commended for supporting the agreement.
In my reflections on the annexation, I have some comments on Rep. Jeremy Kalin's participation in the case. He tells us the legislature established a Boundary Adjustment Advisory Task Force to evaluate annexation policy. That may work; time will tell, but it did nothing for the current case.
He also helped to change annexation law to state ". . . our legislative preference for orderly annexation." That’s window dressing, for it states the obvious.
In his response to County Press questions, Rep. Kalin took Mayor Taylor to task for Chisago City’s decision, against Kalin’s advice, to exercise their city rights in the case. Why would a state representative even involve himself in a dispute among entities that he must represent at the state level? That shows preferentialism and a lack of leadership.