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City Council Work Session - Tuesday, January 12, 2010, 7:00 p.m.

January 13, 2010 at 9:58 pm
By admin

Jane McWilliams, LWV Observer

All members were present (Councilor Pokorney arrived at 7:50).

Land Development Code: The Planning Commission has been working for over a year on the ordinance creating regulations to implement the comprehensive plan.  According to Councilor Betsey Buckheit, who has been the commission’s council liaison, the planning commission felt that the version of the ordinance which the consultant provided was not aligned with the comprehensive plan. This work has been difficult and time-consuming for both staff and commissioners who have met weekly for a year to work on this.

Buckheit, Planning Commission Chair Tracy Davis, and city staff met yesterday and agreed on a new way of approaching the requirements for commercial and residential zones. Zones will be considered in “chunks” rather than in more global form.  At issue is how much mixture of land use is acceptable in an area and where the city wants to have in each zone. Buckheit believes the new approach will not only make the work more efficient, but will result in better regulations.  It should also improve communication between the staff and commissioners. At each stage of the process, the commission will ask for council review to assure that the regulations are consistent with the comprehensive plan.  Before the final adoption by the city, the regulations will be brought to the public for information and response. The commission will take up the new approach at the Thursday meeting.

Financing options for facility projects: In late 2009, the council agreed to plan for financing the $8.5 million required for replacing the police and fire facility and a similar amount for expanding the library.  Tonight they discussed the types of bond financing available and were asked to indicate what further information they would need in anticipation of deciding on a method in mid-February. Finance Director Kathleen McBride outlined three options, and explained the methodology and requirements of each. The packet included an analysis of each option, their property tax impact on several types of property, and interest expense. Decisions on the sites for the police and the fire departments, architectural plans with cost estimates and other preliminary work would need to be completed this spring, prior to a referendum in November, should the council decide to take that route. The staff assumed that all three projects would be included in the ballot, with the safety facilities being sold in 2011 (and construction in the spring) and the library bonds issue in 2014. (A clear explanation of referendum bonds, capital improvement [CIP] bonds and public project revenue bonds is included in the packet: but is not available on the web site. The charts are available there: )

The council asked for side by side timelines for the three financing options. McBride sought a straw poll as to which method, but the council didn’t seem ready for this. One possibility discussed is to go for the CIP method, which might be ready the soonest, but could possibly be reversed by referendum. This would require a strong educational effort before the decision to go forward. Walinski noted that city staff and officials are not permitted to promote a decision, but can make presentations of “plusses and minuses.” He promised the council the requested information by next week.

Boards and commissions: Three goals emerged from the December 14,  ’09 Council discussion:  improving effectiveness, efficiency and consistency of the advisory groups this year. To that end, there will be a joint training session/presentation on roles and responsibilities in March. A facilitator for this is being sought. Each group will adopt the minute-taking protocol used by the council to reduce staff time and provide consistency. The appointments and terms of the advisory bodies may be adjusted to run from April 1 through March 31 in order to provide more time for a new mayor to recruit and appoint volunteers. This change would require revising the city code, and could be effective in 2011.  The council discussed these changes, and, as they had previously, whether the current number of boards is needed, and how to respond to requests of groups like the former Energy Task Force which would like to become a regular advisory group (as would the Mayor’s Task Force on Drug and Alcohol and the Mayor’s Youth Council).  Buckheit asked whether all dovetail with the city’s priorities or whether some could work as private organizations. “How do we decide which is which?” Rossing noted that there would be continued discussion of the boards and commissions at the planning retreat.

Charter Commission appointments: On January 5, 2010, Judge Robert R Benson, Judge of District Court, wrote to the Assistant to the City Administrator Jennifer Nash his suggestions for procedures for filling vacancies on the Northfield Charter Commission during his tenure as Chief Judge: applicants will go to the city of Northfield, and not the chief judge; the city will follow its usual procedure for screening and verifying data in the applications; and a recommendation be submitted to the court, along with accompanying applications, listing the candidates in order of choice.  On January 7, Nash sent the judge’s letter along with her cover letter listing the city’s new process to the council  and members of the charter commission.

Judge Benson explained that he didn’t know whether the city had copies of applications, whether applications were for expired or unexpired terms, whether some could work as private organizations – and,  how many positions were open. He also noted that the court’s resources are limited, and that “I do not read the above statutes . . . as permitting that level of judicial involvement in an executive branch of government.”

Several councilors expressed concern about the commission. Councilor Jon Denison, who observes the commission meetings, said there is lack of public input on questions they’re asking.  Buckheit wondered how active the commission should be and whether it should be looking for ways to change the charter.  Councilor Jim Pokorney said he would like to know more about the commission and that there has been friction between the council and commission. “Why are we confrontational?” Walinski asked how the council wanted to respond to the judge’s request.  Rossing said she would present a motion at the next meeting agreeing to the new procedures.

Waterford Township: Walinski reported that the council would be talking about the annexation fee paid to Waterford as part of the 1980 agreement between the two jurisdictions. At the township board meeting on January 11, city staff conveyed a memorandum from City Attorney Christopher Hood analyzing the agreement and stating the opinion that the “1980 Joint Resolution has expired, is not enforceable and has no binding effect upon the City or the township.” There are yet unanswered questions about whether and how the staff got direction to request the memorandum, as there has been, to the knowledge of the League observer, no recent public discussion about the matter. Walinski said the letter was part of the process of looking at documents in an on-going basis.  Rossing added “it was the council asking staff to look at the documents and clarify the issues so we could have a discussion about what we want.”  Denison remarked that some people consider some things are too staff driven, and added that it helped deflect this criticism that he and Councilor Rhonda Pownell were at the Waterford meeting.

Waterford supervisors had not anticipated the presentation of this memo and according to the Northfield News, were upset by it. [More on this matter at]

Lansing investigation: Walinski reported that he had received a substantial data request from Goodhue County to be submitted by January 29. There have been 2 or 3 previous similar requests.

He has asked former City Attorney Maren Swanson, because of her familiarity with the case, to review the documents for privilege and confidentiality. This will involve several thousand documents.

The meeting adjourned at 9:23 p.m.


  • January 14 2010 at 7:30 am
    Former City Attorney hired to fulfill data requests from Goodhue County on the Lansing investigation « Locally Grown Northfield

    [...] City can least afford it. Jane McWilliams, observer for the Northfield League of Women Voters, has blogged her report on Tuesday’s City Council Work Session. The last paragraph: Lansing investigation: Walinski reported that he had received a substantial [...]

  • January 14 2010 at 8:04 am
    The fight with Waterford Township: communication/transparency issues again bite City of Northfield in the ass « Locally Grown Northfield

    [...] Jane McWilliams observer report: “There are yet unanswered questions about whether and how the staff got direction to request the memorandum, as there has been, to the knowledge of the League observer, no recent public discussion about the matter.” [...]

  • January 16 2010 at 3:01 pm
    Update for week ending 1/15/10

    [...] was given to the Planning Commission by the Council.  From the Northfield League of Women Voters Observer Report of the meeting: The Planning Commission has been working for over a year on the ordinance creating [...]

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