Scott County must begin to think far more daringly about ways to make government cost less.
It needs to stop being victimized for its wealth.
And even though the fight over a proposed amphitheater was one of the two hairiest episodes of the past decade, the county could give a lot more thought to enhancing its position as the metro area's center for fun.
These were among the points Dave Unmacht made when he sat down a few days ago for an exit interview. He had just attended his last meeting of the County Board as its top administrator -- and after roughly a quarter-century of leadership positions in the southern suburbs.
He was asked to look to the future, to give advice. These were among the topics he addressed:
The county and its cities should move more aggressively to combine staffs and services.
"How many park directors do we need? How many administrators do we need? How many people should be providing police or other public services?
"We've touched on these issues amongst ourselves; we haven't aggressively started to talk about it. I predict that will happen in the next one to three years. And fiber optic [the network of high-speed data transfers now in place] allows that. The foundation is there. And the relationships are there. We're not just passing out business cards anymore" when leaders from across the county meet regularly as part of a group they call SCALE. "We're talking about how to do things better."
The southwest suburbs, as they develop, need a lot more help from other layers of government in meeting dire needs for things such as roads and bridges.
"There's a perception that the southwest suburbs" -- the swath of them from Carver through Scott and around to Dakota, sometimes called the "Golden Crescent" when combined with the Eden Prairies and Edinas -- "are flush with money and there's no need to send any there. It's simply not true. Our growth demands exceeded expectations."
PLACE TO PLAY
To the extent that it does need to pull itself up by its own bootstraps, Scott County should play off its own great strength: as a place for fun.
"It's been an enigma to me all along. Why don't we have more of a countywide conversation on the importance of entertainment and how we can help support it, grow it, look for more?"
Scott County is home to a huge casino, horse racing, Valleyfair, a re-created historic village, a Renaissance fair, two racing speedways and more. A suburban Brainerd, so to speak, yet arguably without the same collective energy or brand image. "It's a missed opportunity."
Unmacht's 11 years in office coincide with a warming in relations with the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community. The tribe has lately agreed, among many other projects, to plow millions into an upgrade of County Road 83. But he remains cautious.
"The issue of the land trust," the removal of tribal land from tax rolls, "is still raw. We're still not completely over that." And the threat of the tribe's blocking the county's growth plans through strategic land buys?
"They have the wherewithal to acquire land in magnitudes that I don't think anyone could have predicted years ago. They also have the privilege, if you will, to keep their long-term strategies to themselves. I don't know what their ultimate objective is with respect to land ownership. I don't think it's a coequal relationship now and I don't know if it ever will be. Ultimately the key is elected officials: their ability to get along with tribal officials."
One of the most contentious issues lately has been the county's desire to do more with parks, including developing acreage it has long held. And Unmacht foresees a continued push.
"You will see the board talk about a bond issue one of these days to develop this property. We may have to go that route to obtain a large amount of money. It's not an issue for today, but certainly down the line."
David Peterson • 952-882-9023