Studying a Controversial Local Issue
Beth Walter Honadle
In 1991, citizens from Branch and North Branch, Minnesota, signed petitions in favor of consolidating these two small cities in Chisago County. (For more information about this case study, see Honadle 1998, 1996, 1995; and Busse 1994. These studies deal with different aspects of the case, including legal, process, and financial analysis issues.) The petitions cited economic development, planning, duplication of services, and environmental concerns as reasons for the proposed consolidation. The citizens presented the petitions to both city councils, who were known not to favor consolidation. In fact, the two city governments did not have a cooperative, friendly relationship. Reluctantly, the two city councils passed unanimous resolutions asking the Minnesota Municipal Board to appoint a consolidation study commission, which was to conduct a study and make a recommendation within two years. The reason the city councils approved the resolution was that it assured a citizen referendum before consolidation could occur. A group of 20 citizen-volunteers studied the proposed consolidation from 1992 to 1994 and recommended (by a vote of 14 to 6) consolidating the cities. Ultimately, the citizens in both communities approved the consolidation and the new city came into being in the fall of 1994.
This case study examines the process that the commission used to reach its conclusions. The stages in the process were designed to maximize citizen participation and openness. The steps were: (1) review of state law and initial work plan, (2) solicitation of public input to the commission's study agenda, (3) draft report and resource fair, (4) solicitation of public input on draft report, and (5) preparation and presentation of final report.