VICTORIA — The GreenStep Cities program continues to face opposition as Victoria Mayor Tom Funk motioned to remove the city from the program during the Feb. 11 City Council meeting.
The Council voted narrowly to stay in the GreenStep Cities program with a 3-2 vote.
The Victoria City Council heard from two testifiers, Diana McKeown, Metro CERT Director for the Great Plains Institute, a program partner of GreenStep and Shannon Bruce, a Minnetrista City Council member, who has taken an interest in the program.
McKeown said she hoped to clear up some of the misinformation about the GreenStep Cities program. She also mentioned that Victoria was one of the first cities to join GreenStep when it was just a beta program.
McKeown’s three main points for the City Council were that GreenStep is not international, not mandatory and not a tool for requiring regulations or ordinances.
She also said the Metropolitan Council is not a GreenStep partner and nothing is reported to it. McKeown said some of GreenStep's partnerships, such as the McKnight Foundation, are funded by the Met Council, but GreenStep itself has never been funded by the Met Council.
Bruce’s testimony directly disputed most of McKeown’s claims, instead framing GreenStep as a tool of the Met Council to gain enforcement control over municipalities.
“This is a Met Council driven agenda that the Met Council came up with and it’s their desire to get cities to adopt these best practices and sample ordinances so that there is an enforcement mechanism to them because the Met Council does not have any enforcement powers at all, cities do,” Bruce said during the meeting.
Philipp Muessig, Minnesota GreenStep Cities program coordinator, told Lakeshore Weekly News in November 2019, that the program isn’t regulatory. Cities can receive help, ideas and recognition but there are no consequences if a city does not follow through on a step it undertakes.
“And then your staff person gets calls from this person that is charged with making sure cities progress through the steps and implement the program,” Bruce said.
Based on Bruce’s testimony, Minnetrista City Council members asked City Manager Dana Hardie her experience working with GreenStep and if she’s ever felt harassed by staff members, looking to get a program passed.
“In my experience both in previous cities that I’ve worked for as well as current, that’s not been my personal experience,” Hardie said. “In the year that I’ve been here, in conversations with our staff that have been our primary contact, outside of us reaching out for assistance, we have only completed the annual survey that is required and that takes about 10 minutes of our time.”
City Council members discussed the dilemma of whether or not to stay in the program, with Funk stating firmly he wanted the city out of the program.
“I want to see us removed from this. I just don’t think it's worth our time. Especially since we can just go look at the sample ordinances and adopt anything we want. The part of my problem with this is the Met Council is behind this, they already tax us without representation,” Funk said during the meeting.
Other City Council members did not feel the same way about the program.
“I know by not participating, isn’t going to stop the Met Council from being the Met Council,” City Council member Judy Black said during the meeting.
City Council members Deb McMillan and Tom Vogt felt the program was good for the city’s sustainability and there was no reason to withdraw.
“We are in the driver’s seat and I don’t see any reason to actively withdraw from the program. I think it’s great because it creates awareness,” McMillan said.
Mayor Funk and City Council member Tom Gregory voted to leave the program, while City Council members Black, Vogt and McMillan voted to stay in the program.
Victoria joined GreenStep in June 2012 and is at step three. According to GreenStep, among the notable best practices Victoria has done is adopting a comprehensive plan and future land-use plan, achieving higher intensity commercial/industrial land use and implementing a TMDL or total maximum daily load plan for four of its lakes: Lake Wasserman, Lake Virginia, Tamarack Lake and Stieger Lake.