Barbara Carlson continued a 20-year tradition Dec. 16, 2012 by giving members of the Spring Lake Park City Council personalized Christmas bulbs.
But it will be the last year she does so as Carlson has ended her 22-year run as a city council member.
Carlson was appointed to the council February 1990 to fill a vacancy created when Councilmember Harley Wells stepped into mayoral position after Don Masterson resigned.
She had been on Planning and Zoning Commission since 1988 and former Spring Lake Park Councilmember Alice Johnson, who was in the House of Representatives at the time, approached her to apply for the opening, Carlson said.
Carlson does not remember the full details of what transpired other than thinking she loved planning and zoning and she was not sure what an old housewife could contribute to the city council.
Her memory is one of the reasons she decided not to run for council again as well as the problems she is having with her feet, Carlson said.
With the number of new people moving into the city, candidates really have to walk door-to-door and get to know people, she said.
Carlson said she has arthritis in her feet and it makes it hard for her to go door-to-door, she said.
A paraprofessional at Park Terrace Elementary School at the time and mother of three teenagers, Carlson was one of two candidates for the vacancy in 1990.
There was a learning process becoming a city council member, Carlson said.
Shortly after her appointment, Carlson heard the fire department responding to a nearby fire and followed to see it at work.
City Administrator Don Busch saw her at the fire scene and asked her why she was there.
When he found out she was there to see what the fire department was doing, Busch politely told her the council member’s role is to make policy decisions for the city at the council, not to micromanage the staff, Carlson said.
It hit home for Carlson and she has passed it along to each new council member.
“All of them listened, but not always followed it,” Carlson said.
“I found out over the years that an elected official is a public servant and a public servant takes care of the people,” she said.
“We are there for the people, not ourselves or for our (political) party.”
Party politics should not figure into city level government as city council members should be doing what is best for residents as a whole, said Carlson, a confirmed Democrat.
“It is really hard for a city if the people on the council think they are more important than the people on the street.”
It’s the same for every level of government, all the way up to the president, Carlson said.
To get the feel of what her constituents were thinking, Carlson would talk to Spring Lake Park residents attending her church and at Park Terrace School before her retirement.
It was a way to find out how people were feeling on the issues, she said.
Things were not always easy for Carlson on the council.
The men on the council in her earlier years would turn down any items she brought up at the meetings, only to reintroduce them at a later meetings as their idea, Carlson said.
“You don’t now how often that would happen,” she said. “They would cut my neck off at the public meetings only to bring it back.”
But she also kept at least one of them in line.
Wells was a talker and when he was droning on, she would bring out a pen with a blue light on it, Carlson said.
“I told him when he saw the blue light he should get to the point,” she said.
One of the biggest issues Carlson remembers facing as a council member was the need to rebuild nearly every road in Spring Lake Park in the late 1990s.
All of Spring Lake Park’s roads had been built in 1965 after a tornado had torn them up and they all went out at the same time, Carlson said.
From 1999-2004, the city had to rebuild the roads when they reached the end of their life span, she said.
A citizens group worked together to inform residents about the project and walked each street talking to residents, Carlson said.
The city received very few complaints during the rebuilding process and “I am proud of that,” she said.
Not all of the issues facing the council were easy for Carlson.
When Povlitzki’s on 65 wanted to change the city ordinance to allow it to have a mixed martial arts event in April 2012 to bring in more business, Carlson said she was torn.
“I don’t ever want to close a business because they are few and far between in Spring Lake Park,” but mixed martial arts was new to the area, she said.
It was the hardest decision she had had to make, but information the council has received since then has confirmed that the May 2012 decision to deny the request was the best to make, Carlson said.
“We have found out that… the people running them are not always a high class element,” Carlson said.
Another situation Carlson found hard was to vote against was giving tax relief to a family who bought a home on old Highway 10.
The family bought the house and did not know it was zoned as a commercial property until the tax bill came, Carlson said.
“They were flabbergasted when their tax bill came,” she said.
“I would have liked to have seen (the home) changed to residential until the family sold the property, but we could not do it,” Carlson said.
“We could not help the family.”
Understanding the sudden changes in state funding also presented Carlson with a challenge.
It was a challenge to make sure the city had the money to be fiscally sound, especially after the state cut so much from the city budget, Carlson said.
Through the years, Carlson said she learned to understand how the funding works, but there were a lot of meetings with the bookkeeper to find out how the dollar amount the city receives from the state is determined.
Carlson is proud that she was able to convince the Spring Lake Park City Council to make the city parks smoke free and post No Smoking signs in the parks.
“Kids don’t need to see adults smoking as they are using the parks,” Carlson said.
“It is so much better for our children.”
While change is always a good thing, Carlson said she will miss being a council member.
“I always enjoyed being on the council,” she said.
“I have met a lot of good people and have learned a lot.”
City staff have been so helpful over the years and she will miss them as well as the camaraderie of the council, Carlson said.
While Carlson is retiring from the council, she will still be helping in the community.
She will be continuing to perform with the Culver’s Jammers at the Blaine Culver’s every Saturday and volunteering with the Knitwits.
All of the money she and Gary, her husband of 52 years, receive from performing is donated to the Southern Anoka Community Assistance (SACA), Carlson said.
Carlson also donates her time during the Christmas season at SACA signing people up to receive a Christmas basket as well as raising funds for the Lee Carlson Center for Mental Health and Well-being.
Carlson has given up her Beyond the Yellow Ribbon Committee position, but she will continue donating items through the Knitwits to the organization.
And she already has plans for the 100 Christmas bulbs she makes annually for friends and family.
Tammy Sakry is at [email protected]