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Commissions play a valuable role in city government

Not everyone who puts in the time for the city of Farmington gets to be in the spotlight.

There are no fewer than 20 Farmington residents who have faithfully given their time to making the city of Farmington a better place to be. They don't get all of the attention the Farmington City Council does, but they make lots of decisions about the city's future, all the same.

Among the city's five boards and commissions - the parks and recreation commission, planning commission, heritage preservation commission, water board and Rambling River Center Advisory Board - 25 residents take time out of their lives to serve their community. Depending on which board or commission they sit on, these folks make many of the decisions that have to be made before issues can even get to the Farmington City Council for consideration.

Council members make the decisions when it comes to just who can serve on the city's commissions. City staff post openings in the late fall, then anyone interested is asked to fill out an application stating which position he or she would like to fill, and why. The city council interviews candidates - those were held this week - and choose the best candidate to fill open seats on the boards and commissions.

"They're an extension of council and an extension of staff," said city administrator Peter Herlofsky. "It's a way to keep things fresh and going on. Simply put, it's citizens helping with the task of government."

Some commissions or boards are better known than others. One that gets the most attention is the planning commission, a five-member group that has a say on all growth that happens in the community.

The planning commission reviews all development and site plans. They pick their way through the city's comprehensive plan every time it comes due, and they make recommendations as to what should change, and what should stay the same. They also establish the zoning for the city, and they're the ones who decide what type of business is appropriate for which neighborhoods. They grant conditional use permits, and they interpret city code when residents have questions on what is an appropriate land use and what is not.

"It's a voluntary group," said assistant city planner Tony Wippler. "A very, very important voluntary group."

Other groups, like the water board, don't receive as much attention - until someone gets a ticket for watering on the wrong day during a watering ban, or until new infrastructure projects requiring water main are set up.

Tom Jensen has been on the water board for the past decade, and received word his tenure will be renewed this year. Water board members serve three-year terms, and they've all been on the board for several years.

The water board regulates the entire city water system. They make decisions about the system, make maintenance decisions for the infrastructure including wells and water towers and act as the review board for those who get watering tickets in the summer.

"I enjoy it, and serving the community is the greatest thing anybody can do I think," Jensen said. "The other two on the board are just as dedicated to the community as I am."

A retired firefighter and one of Farmington's former fire chiefs, Jensen chose to get onto one of the city's boards because, he said, "I really love working for the community." Over time, he has come to appreciate the role because of the board's role in educating residents on issues like conservation.

"The water we get here today took 10 years to get here. You have to be careful how you use it," he said.

Last year, Jensen had perfect attendance at the water board meetings, as did his fellow member, Jeff Krueger. Dave McMillen of the parks and recreation advisory commission, Dirk Rotty and Doug Bonar of the planning commission and Sarah Miller of the Rambling River Center Advisory Board also attended all of their respective meetings in 2010. Attendance information for the city's heritage preservation commission was not available.

The men and women who serve on Farmington's boards and commissions do a lot of the background work on issues before those issues come to the Farmington City Council for final approval. The work they do, Herlofsky said, is invaluable to both council and staff.

"When you really think about it, the rewards aren't big, but they get a chance to see what it's like to be a government official," Herlofsky said. "We really do appreciate the citizens who do offer themselves up for that sort of a venture."

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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