Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Arrogance Continues at University of Minnesota...

From the Pioneer Press:

Negotiations between the University of Minnesota and Central Corridor light-rail-line officials stumbled again this week, with the U apparently reinstating tens of millions of dollars to its wish list of payouts and Metropolitan Council Chairman Peter Bell alleging "arrogance" in response.

The dust-up has caught the attention of state lawmakers, and it looks like they're going to step in. On Friday, state Rep. Alice Hausman, a St. Paul Democrat, said she's planning to convene a meeting Wednesday in Ramsey County offices with leading lawmakers and both sides to try to sort things out.

"The stakes are pretty high, so it seems to be a time to try to pull everything together," Hausman said. "It's not just St. Paul. It's Minneapolis and the whole state."

"The FTA has clearly sent the message that this project is not going forward until (an agreement with the U) is done," said Ramsey County Commissioner Jim McDonough, who also chairs the county Regional Rail Authority. "The U continues to say they want to get this resolved, but their actions have not been consistent with that. I'm not so sure that their concern is as paramount as ours, which is getting this done on time and on budget."

So far, the plan is to spend $27 million on the U. Politically, some of those expenses are touchy. For example, negotiations have included discussions on the size of trees to be planted and the design of lampposts along the mall. But on University Avenue in St. Paul — where businesses and residents have been clamoring for assistance — there is no project money for anything. No trees, no streetlights, just tracks and stations.

"This $11.1 million transit mall is going to be, quite candidly, better and nicer than any other station," Bell said.

Hausman said she was "very disappointed and alarmed" to learn that on Monday the university reiterated prior demands to be reimbursed perhaps $2 million for U-hired consultants, perhaps $20 million for lost revenue from two parking lots that would be disrupted and for a "free-fare zone" for students traveling between stations on-campus.

"It did feel to me that there were suddenly four or five new things plunked on the table," said the St. Paul lawmaker.

As for the question of whether the university is hogging taxpayer money that could go elsewhere, O'Brien said: "The university has a great deal of sympathy with others along the line. Our job as officers is to represent the interests of the university."

Bell, himself a former member of the university's board of regents, bristles at comments like that.

"The arrogance is just counterproductive to moving this project forward," Bell said Friday. "They need to understand that, yes, they have a fiduciary duty to the university, but they also have a duty to the public. ... I always say and believe that the university has legitimate concerns. They need to acknowledge that we have legitimate constraints, and they have refused to do that."

Both Bell and O'Brien said they'll be at Hausman's meeting.

Bell said he has requested a meeting to speak directly to the regents. He said he has been refused.

Breathtaking, sad, arrogant...

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