Shakopee Mayor Brad Tabke sizes up a busy year in office and vows to run again -- but only once more.
Brad Tabke blasted his way into office last year as mayor of Shakopee with an aggressive campaign targeting a personable veteran mayor.
Within days of taking the job, he was seizing a statewide stage with a sudden proposal to locate a Vikings stadium in Shakopee. If that concept fizzled, by December a business publication was hailing the city as a "development darling" and praising him for making it happen under the headline, "Early wins for young Shakopee mayor."
But jump-starting commercial development was only one in a long list of goals, springing from an equally long list of complaints about the city's performance. One year later, how does he feel he's done?
Here's a list of campaign issues, followed in each case by the gist of his self-assessed report card today:
CRIME: People are scared of crime and gangs, and the city is underpoliced, short by several officers compared to what's needed.
We have added to the budget a civilian position that will free up a sworn officer to work on the street instead of at a desk. We are also working on a plan for how many officers we really do need. It's been a systemic thing in the city either to not have plans or to fail to stick to them. There are some extremely valid reasons sometimes, but let's a have a process and a plan -- and either stick to it or amend it.
COMMUNICATIONS: The city did a poor job communicating in a digital age.
We have not come nearly as far as I want or had hoped. [With frequent tweets, blog posts and the like] I've been kind of fulfilling a role as "communicator in chief." That has worked -- I have about 700 Twitter followers, and through various means, touch thousands of people -- but it isn't a long-term solution by any means. Or even a short-term solution. We have hired a reporter as communications coordinator, and she'll bring a very different understanding of what people want to hear about. She is a high user of technology, and she will spearhead a revamp of our website.
IMMIGRANTS: The city had done little to connect with growing immigrant groups that feel alienated or even resented.
It has been really phenomenal to see what has happened out of one of the big things we talked about in the campaign. We've set a different tone and feel. We have invited people of all cultures, races, sexualities to be a part of things, versus just being on the outside. [A diversity summit and lots of follow-up activity have] easily been one of my favorite things to be able to do. We have to get this right. We have a community-based group that, with lots of help from the schools, is helping do things like step in when a Somali, for instance, confronts a cultural gap.
THE TRIBE: The city has had a way-too-irritable relationship with a powerful Shakopee tribe that could be a great asset and partner.
We've made progress. We have an intergovernmental working group now, which is huge. We're starting to tackle some big things in that group. We are working to proactively handle land trust issues [rather than just react to surprise land buys that cut into the city's development base]. We are building trust. We are talking about things that affect all of us. It has been great.
PARKS: The city has underperformed on parks promises.
This started when I was on the park board, but we are putting together a process to identify how to get things done versus just saying we want to. Figure it out on the front end, so everyone knows what's going on. We're planning to get a dog park [under study for the better part of a decade] into the design phase and get it done.
ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT: The city has not been as business-friendly as it could be on multiple fronts.
I'm pleased at how much movement we've had. We amended an electronic sign ordinance so it can change more than two or three times a day. It took a lot of work but was low-hanging fruit. We want to completely rewrite our sign ordinance, hopefully by the end of 2013.
We do have businesses coming in, though I alone can take credit for absolutely nothing: Some of the bigger deals were underway before I arrived. I'm a part-time mayor and can only do so much and still pay the mortgage. We are adding an economic development person, and that is huge for our community. We were asking one person to do that and many other things, and that was a recipe for failure.
NATURAL RESOURCES: The city had no one handling environmental issues.
We're adding a person, not only important for the environment itself but also to do environmental assessments when a new business wants to come in. We didn't have anyone to push that along.
DOWNTOWN: The city has a real downtown, but it was flagging, with too many empty storefronts, and needed far more vigorous action.
Any progress on that? Not really, no. We haven't done nearly as much as I want to. I hope the economic development person will push that.
ELECTIONS: Off-year elections should be stopped; join in with the general election so more residents take part.
I still feel strongly about that, not just for participation itself but because it costs a lot of money to run off-year elections. But it's not the highest priority.
LEADERSHIP: The mayor wasn't standing up and leading forcefully.
I hope what we've done this year speaks to that. We have taken on difficult issues the city hadn't taken on before, like the future of the fire department.
And beyond that ...
Tabke's first year didn't just turn out to have to do with issues from the campaign. Among the surprises and Tabke's thoughts in hindsight:
That was key to setting the tone. It was shock therapy for Shakopee. It's not good enough for us to sit by and watch things happen. We need to step up and be a player. We are getting our name out there today. We're not just a city south of the river where everyone commutes to Minneapolis to work. The stadium idea sounded crazy, but it made sense when people thought about it, and it elevated the visibility of that site: We went from zero momentum on a site that had been empty for 10 years, to multiple people wanting to occupy it.
[Stepping out as an advocate for gay marriage] was the right thing to do. This is an extremely dicey issue within the community, and we are very much split on it. But we need to support a small minority. We launched a discussion from City Hall and won by 1,500 votes in Shakopee, which speaks for itself.
We didn't get it, but it's a priority. We have zero control over the Legislature, which needs to lead on this.
[The city has long been split on whether a fence should be built around the Shakopee Women's Prison, with some neighbors opposing it. Tabke supports building the fence.]
The 2013 budget. We got a lot of things in there that improve our foundation and open up so many avenues to continue to get more things done. Things like the economic development director. We have 40,000 people and we need to act like it, and this budget starts us down that path.
Very easily the community center/arts center [a failed proposal to turn a disused fire station into a lively gathering spot]. I didn't lead as well on that as I should have. A portion of our city is completely underserved. It would really have helped a lot of people without much investment from the city.
To be a better dad. I will run again [for another two-year term] but I plan for it to be the last time. That was part of my discussion with my wife: If I was to do it, I needed to now while the girls are young and don't have all the concerts and games. I am a soccer coach this year -- and it was tough.
David Peterson • 952-746-3285