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America’s One and Only City Council Run by Libertarians

In a Minnesota suburb, libertarians are making a lot of changes people might expect. But not everyone is happy.

If you had to guess which jurisdiction in America has the greatest Libertarian influence, a Minneapolis suburb probably wouldn’t leap to mind. But Libertarians claim their only majority in the country on the city council of Crystal, Minn., population 22,000.

Elected officials in Crystal are technically nonpartisan, but like a lot of suburbs in the Twin Cities area, Crystal historically was run by politicians associated with the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party. Mayor Jim Adams and Councilman Casey Peak, both Libertarians, were first elected four years ago. Two years ago, they put together a council majority of Libertarians and people Adams describes as “liberty-minded.”

They’ve pursued some of the ideas you would expect, running a task force that’s been going through and questioning almost every law on the books. An ordinance requiring bomb shelters, for example, has been eliminated, and the pool table at the community center is now legal. A lot of the changes have strengthened property rights, whether it’s eliminating point-of-sale inspections or taking care of smaller matters, such as lifting a ban on keeping chickens in yards. “We’re not doing a lot of fundamental changes in terms of wiping out stuff and changing how things operate,” Adams says. “We’re getting rid of obsolete stuff.”

The biggest change the council has made is to insist, when it can, on paying cash upfront for capital projects. It paid for a new public works building with $13.5 million in cash, rather than issuing bonds. If the city had borrowed the money, it would have paid back $1 million per year for 20 years. Driving down the cost over the long term made a lot of sense to Adams. Not everyone agreed it was a good idea. Paying for the building meant siphoning money from other accounts, reducing city reserves by nearly a quarter. As a result, the city has raised property taxes, as well as water and sewer fees. 

John Budziszewski, who was re-elected to the council in November after a two-year absence, complains that the council eliminated the licensing requirement and fee for those who operate rental properties. He notes that the mayor, who has a home remodeling company, owns several rental houses. “It looks like they’ve pretty much created a tax break for themselves,” says Budziszewski, “while raising a levy for the rest of us.”

Budziszewski managed to unseat Peak this fall, but the election of a “liberty-minded” candidate to another seat means the Libertarians have kept their working majority intact. “I don’t know anybody in the metro area who is taking this approach beyond us,” Adams says, “but we’ve got buy-in from the council and that should not change.”

Alan Greenblatt is the editor of Governing. He can be found on Twitter at @AlanGreenblatt.
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