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Northfield City Council Meeting - June 19, 2012

June 20, 2012 at 10:31 am
By Jane McWilliams

Way Park Presentation:  Two members of the Friends of Way Park, Matt Rohn and Sarah Carlsen, gave a brief pictorial history of the evolution of the park restoration, highlighting the creation of an amphitheater, trees planted by local nurseryman Leif Knecht and carefully maintained by members of the Friends, and the recent construction and planting of two rain gardens. The Friends contributed $28,236.93 toward the cost of last year’s grading of the south end of the park, the first step in the restoration.  The rain garden was made possible through a partnership with the Northfield Area Foundation, the Cannon River Watershed Partnership, Friends and the city. Volunteers played a major role in the installations. To see photos of the rain garden installation: Ms Carlsen invited the council to the Scandinavian Midsommar in Way Park on Sunday, June 24, at 5:30 p.m.

Charter Commission Appointments:  There have been four vacancies on the Charter Commission since January 1, 2012. Mayor Mary Rossing presented six names in ranked order to be voted on in the consent agenda, which is approved without discussion or debate. Councilor Patrick Ganey asked to have the matter placed on the regular agenda so that it could be discussed.

By statute, upon the expiration of each term, the district court chief judge appoints commission members. If the chief judge fails to appoint new commission members within 30 days then thereafter the governing body of the city appoints new commission members.

In January 2010, District Court Judge Robert Benson requested that the city after verifying their data, forward applications to him. He asked that a “neutral entity” provide list of the candidates in order of choice. The council at that time adopted a process according to the judge’s request.

Council members had several concerns. Councilor Ganey noted that while the mayor’s names of recommended appointees usually are accompanied by a short bio, there was no information about these candidates.  Councilor Rhonda Pownell, said that the council had on several occasions voted down proposals from the Charter Commission, and that the council is not a neutral entity.  There have been no communications with the judge since the appointments ended in December, which raised questions about the 30-day rule.

The council adopted a motion to forward to Judge Benson the names of the six applicants in unranked, alphabetical order. Councilor Pownell voted no.

Hospital Audit Report 2011:  Rob Schile representing the audit firm Clifton Larson Allen reported the results of the 2011 audit which had been given to the hospital board earlier. Mr. Schile has worked with the hospital since it was located across from Way Park and said he has watched as it moved from a hospital to a health system.

By evolving into a regional system with clinics which feed the hospital census, the hospital is in good financial shape. This assures cash reserves which permit flexibility to do capital projects, ride out changes in government funding and keep up with the transformation as a result of health care reform. He noted that providing health care is a “new game”, but the Northfield Hospital has a strong history of maneuvering through past changes. There is no reason to suggest it can’t continue to be successful in the future.  For him there are five critical elements for success:  effective leadership, high quality health care, strong relationship with the physicians, operational excellence and strong community support.  The hospital is a tremendous asset to the community – an economic driver.

Mayor Rossing asked whether city employees could become part of the hospital’s self-insured program. Although Chief Financial Officer Tim Gronseth seemed doubtful because the city and hospital are two separate entities, Mayor Rossing suggested that the newly appointed city/hospital task force look into this possibility.

Depot Funding Request:  The council declined to allocate $119,600 from the TIF District #4 to fund infrastructure and streetscape elements in preparation for moving the depot to the new site. The site in question is not in the TIF district, and some councilors wanted to hear from the Streetscape Task Force which is looking at a number of other projects before committing money from the TIF fund. There was also concern that the depot group has as yet not documented their fundraising success. Mayor Rossing suggested that the request be sent to the Task Force to see how it fits into their priorities.

Domestic Partnership Registry:  Approval of the second reading and of the summary publication of the ordinance moves the registry forward. Following publication of the summary on June 23, the ordinance becomes effective on July 23, 2012.

Fire Service Study Process:  The council approved the mayor’s letter to the Rural Fire Protection District Board, Township Supervisory, and the Cities of Dundas and Dennison committing the city to working on a partnership for fire services.  Councilors Erica Zweifel and Betsey Buckheit volunteered to represent the city. Mayor Rossing noted that the study likely will be a lengthy process and in an election year, appointees may not be able to serve out the entire time.

Statement on Bonding for Police and Fire Facilities:  City Administrator Tim Madigan circulated a revised draft of an informational statement to be used for public communication about the project. Proposed by Councilor Buckheit at their last work session, the edited statement will be circulated to the press and will appear on the city’s website.

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