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Letter: Balsanek says he was just the messenger

To the editor,

Don't blame me! I was just the messenger.

When it was announced that the Hastings bridge would close over the weekend of Sept. 7-9 for 48 to 72 hours, I was approached by business owners and constituents, who asked if I would send a request to MnDOT that they not close the bridge over the weekend because of all the local events scheduled during that time, including the Woodbury/Hastings football game, the downtown car show, the LeDuc Civil War presentation, Prescott Daze and the Hastings Fire Department Booya.

All these events would add dramatically to the average number of vehicles crossing the bridge, which we all know is around 30,000 crossings per day.

The requests, in my mind, had merit so, around the first of September I sent an email to Steve Kordosky, the Hastings bridge project manager, requesting that he consider all the weekend events and move the closure of the bridge to the following week. And in my email I said, "Don't blame me. I'm just the messenger."

Kordosky wrote back almost immediately stating that there was no ideal time to close the bridge, and no matter when it closed, there would be inconveniences to someone or some event. So the bridge would close on the seventh, eighth and ninth. I wrote back and said thanks for his consideration. End of story? I'm afraid not.

Move ahead to the City Council meeting on Sept. 4. At the meeting a representative from MnDOT addressed the council to announce that the bridge would remain open for the weekend. But he did not elaborate on why the closure was delayed. The bridge would now close for three days beginning Sept. 12. End of story? I'm afraid not.

Word got out that I had sent my email requesting MnDOT consider local events and keep the bridge open during the coming weekend. The Star Gazette even wrote a front page story implying that my email was the reason the bridge would stay open. As I went around town I received overwhelming approval from business owners, a wedding party and representatives from the LeDuc and Prescott Daze. End of story? I'm afraid not.

I also received a minority of comments telling me various reasons why I had overstepped my bounds in requesting the change in the closure. One phone call was quite vociferous in telling me off and concluded with a wish that my "... political career would crash and burn." End of story? I'm afraid not.

Let me make two points. First, as an elected City Council member from Ward 2, I assure you that by no means am I a politician. I'm 66 years old and this is the only public office I have ever held. And my biological clock tells me that the Hastings City Council is probably as far as my public career is going.

My second point is that, as a public official, when I get a constituent request seeking resolution to some problem or concern, I will honor that request and follow through on it. Believe it or not, I do this about five to six times a week. The types of requests run full measure; barking dogs, fence heights, garage rezoning, snow removal, stoplight changes, cutting brush, potholes, parking, drug enforcement, no-wake zones and, yes, bridge closure requests, to name but a few. I am not selective, nor do I discriminate on the requests. If people take the time to contact me then I'll take the time to help them reach resolution, one way or another, up or down, yes or no, regarding their concerns. I may not care for the issue, but I like the opportunity to serve and help. After all, I was elected to represent the good people of Hastings.

In conclusion, I assure you that one local public official doesn't carry that much clout when it comes to moving mountains, or in this case, bridges. As we've all witnessed, the bridge closure and arch installation are subject to the weather, engineering checklists, and a calculated study of the big and little pictures required when someone decides to float seven million pounds down river.

So, don't shoot me! I'm just the messenger. End of story? Yes, I think so!


Joe Balsanek

Ward 2

Hastings City Council

Editor's notes: The reason our article implied Mr. Balsanek had something to do with the closure was this email he sent out Sept. 4.

"OK, the Hastings bridge will be open this weekend. The closing is now scheduled for the middle of next week. Open the ... minutes from the city council meeting tonight and you will notice the MnDOT report announcing the change. I had written an email to MnDOT requesting the delay because of the many events taking place over this weekend in and around the Hastings area ... Woodbury at Hastings football game, downtown car show, fire department booya, Prescott Daze and a couple of other events are all happening this weekend. So the schedule has been changed for closing the bridge, probably starting around noon next Wednesday."

Lastly, Mr. Balsanek asked us to let readers know his views expressed here are not necessarily the views of any other Hastings City Council members.