This week at the City Council:
- Downtown Northfield Post Office to close
- Council defers addressing concerns in consultant report on EDA; instead gives EDA 60 days to produce budget and work plan
- Council approves purchase of the Key property
- Motion to review city policy related to adult businesses fails on a divided vote
Tuesday, April 5, 2011, 7:00 p.m.
Jane McWilliams, LWV Observer
All councilors were present.
Post Office Closure: Former Northfield Postmaster Mel Miller was among the many people attending the early portion of the meeting to communicate their concerns about the closure of the downtown post office. According to Miller, as far as the postal service is concerned, the decision to eliminate the Bridge Square facility and move retail services to the annex to the south of town is final. The only hope the Northfield community may have is to appeal to their members of congress to reverse the decision.
Two people from the postal service explained the decision to close the main facility. Garry Mattox, Real Estate Specialist, described the deterioration of business in post offices nationwide caused by the changes in how taxes are filed, bills paid, and other effects of new technology, along with competing enterprises. The service is working with congress to gain flexibility in order to avoid consolidation of facilities. He said, “Other businesses are struggling to reinvent themselves to find their way in this new world.” The Postal Service is no exception.
Mattox noted that most towns have only one facility, and the loss of their post office is dramatic. Because Northfield has two and all services can be relocated to the annex, the city will continue to be served. Margaret Campbell, another postal official, suggested that even with the inconvenience for some of a new retail facility at the annex, other options are available, including online purchase of stamps, free package pick up, and contract postal units, similar to several in effect in Northfield now. There may be additional options in the future. The postal representatives and the large group of citizens adjourned to another room for an hour so that citizens could express their concerns and ask questions.
Later in the meeting, the council took up the closure issue once more. Several citizens spoke, including Don McGee who urged that the council set in motion a plan for the building. He suggested that the city purchase the building. The post office could continue to use the lobby rent-free and could find uses for the rest of the building. The Northfield Downtown Development Corporation had organized a campaign to persuade the postal service to rethink the decision. Ross Currier, NDDC Executive Director, said it is now important to get the Congresspeople and Senators to town.
The meeting tonight triggers a 60-day comment period after which the decision is final. The council also agreed to change strategy, and to work with a task force Councilor Suzie Nakasian said is already in place to invite the members of Congress to meet with the council and citizens in an effort to enlist them in reversing the decision to close the Bridge Square facility.
Authorize EDA Directions: Amid disagreement about whether the council should appoint two members immediately and to abide by other short term recommendations in the report submitted by Tom Clough, it directed the Economic Development authority within the next 60 days to develop a 2011 work plan and budget for council approval. On the basis of the work plan the council will decide whether to retain the EDA as a separate entity. The evaluation would hinge on the 13 goals contained in the city’s Economic Development Plan. In effect, this decision defers addressing the short and long-term recommendations in the March 22, 2011 Clough report.
In the meantime, the council will assess the economic development goals in the 2006 plan, amend it if necessary and identify strategies to achieve the objectives. .
Councilor Suzie Nakasian made the motion, saying that she wants clarity on what goals the EDA has been working on and what they have accomplished before making a decision about the future of the EDA and whether it should be retained. Councilor Patrick Ganey said that her plan wouldn’t address the internal dysfunction but could demonstrate whether the EDA is able to move on.
Councilor Rhonda Pownell said the council should take the time to tell the board what the problems are face to face. They’re not giving the board a chance to succeed with new members. It sets a bad precedent.
Mayor Mary Rossing asked the council to move forward to reaffirm the work of the EDA and appoint the members so the EDA can work on a plan as a full group. If later they believe the plan is not acceptable, the council can work to change it. The vote was divided with Mayor Rossing, Councilors Pownell and Kris Vohs voting no.
Mr. Clough’s recommendations for improving the EDA processes, clarifying the relationship between it and the council, and ensuring adequate professional staff support received no mention during the discussion.
Following the vote, Councilor Ganey moved that they appoint Ann Mosey (Northfield Arts Guild Executive Director) and Council Buckheit. City attorney Chris Hood stated that the motion was out of order because the mayor has to make recommendations. The motion was withdrawn. The mayor expressed confusion, thinking that the majority seemed unwilling to move on appointments, but then Councilor Ganey went ahead with a motion to appoint. Mayor Rossing said she was open to suggestions for candidates, and added she doesn’t want to bring nominees to have them shot down.
Because of their new practice of adjourning at 10:00 unless a motion were made to extend the meeting, the EDA discussion was ended. The meeting was extended, and was adjourned a little after 10:30.
- The council directed the city staff and boards and commissions to incorporate the GreenStep Cities goals in their work plans and recommend local partner groups which could work with the city on action steps. The program will be used as a guide in sustainability policy development. For more information read Mary Schier’s story: http://northfield.patch.com/articles/northfield-a-green-place-to-live
- Initiatives to complement the storm water ordinance, including public education of low impact development techniques, incentive programs and Rice Creek watershed management were approved.
- The fact-finding to assist the council in determining the cost of remodeling the current public safety center and to provide information about viable sites for one or both departments was approved.
- Councilor Pownell brought to the council a request to ask the city attorney to review current regulations of adult uses and businesses to assure they meet legal standards. On a divided vote, a motion not to proceed with this was approved.
- Council approved the purchase of the Key property for $49,000.00 and directed staff to prepare a purchase agreement for later approval.
- Discussion items (including goal setting) were deferred because of the lateness of the hour.
The council will hold a retreat on Saturday, April 9, 2011, 8:00 a.m.
The meeting was adjourned at 10:35.