Manufactured Dissent

They own their homes. They pay property taxes. But if development forces them to move, they may not get a penny.

Anna has just gotten home from her longtime job at water-purification systems maker Osmonics, and she talks across the counter as she fixes dinner: "I think that the mayor is a weasel, a wimp. I was expecting hands-on government, and that's what's most irritating." As debate over the proposed ordinance heated up this summer, she says, it became clear that residents were much better informed than their elected representatives: "We've checked out surrounding parks and state laws, and no one on the council has done their homework."

Nor, says Troseth, could anyone from City Hall be bothered to come to a May barbecue hosted by Valley Haven, despite repeated invitations. The slight has taken on symbolic meaning for the residents: "It deflated us, took the wind out of our sails," says Althea Rank. "How can they not want to see the people involved, see the [park's] palatial homes?"

It was meetings with mobile-home residents, says Lake Elmo city administrator Mary Kueffner, that prompted her municipality to adopt a park-closing ordinance last year. When the issue was first brought up, she acknowledges, "I thought it was a little ludicrous that these people actually concern themselves with this. But then we talked with them, and I could see that there was a real genuine fear."

Mobile no more: Althea Rank and her husband Bob had hoped to retire at Valley Haven
Dawn Villella
Mobile no more: Althea Rank and her husband Bob had hoped to retire at Valley Haven

Shakopee City Council member Robert Sweeney, however, has no regrets about skipping the Valley Haven feast. "Are we to go anyplace that we're asked to go?" he inquires. "We are not at people's beck and call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and that's a policy of mine." The same applies, Sweeney says, to the residents' desire for a park-closing ordinance: "They've been at two council meetings and heard at length," he notes. "What they're really saying is that they're not getting what they want on the schedule that they want it. I'm sorry. But government doesn't necessarily function that way."

Park owner Johnson says he does not oppose the ordinance, but he's not sure that the compensation for the residents should come out of his pocket: "The money would have to come from someplace," he says. "The owner of the park, the buyer of the park could pay some of it. Maybe tax-increment financing, or maybe a combination of them. I haven't really thought how that would work."

Shakopee Mayor Jon Brekke says the city is planning to arrange for a meeting between Johnson, the residents, and city staff. Then, he says, city staff will draft an ordinance, which could come before the council later this year or maybe early next. But while that may be good news for Valley Haven residents, Earl Leman says the intervening months will feel interminable. Leman, 70 years old and the proud owner of a vintage 1963 "Hilton" model, falls quiet as he smokes his last cigarette of the evening. There's a burst of traffic on the highway, and headlights illuminate the lines of his face. "This means security, if you know what I mean," he says, pointing to the white-and-light-blue trailer. The letters HILTON twinkle in the light as the evening commute races by.

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