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Northfield City Council Meeting - September 4, 2012

September 5, 2012 at 11:57 am
By Jane McWilliams

The council dispatched what looked like a heavy agenda quickly, and ended the evening in a discussion and tabling of a controversial proposal for a council policy.  Following the meeting, the last item was the topic of a lively discussion between Mayor Rossing and several concerned citizens.

Architectural and Engineering Services:  During the consent agenda, which the council adopts without discussion, they approved a contract with architects, DLR Group for the architectural and engineering services for a new police station with a future fire station for a fee of $314,540.00.  The full contract is available: http://www.ci.northfield.mn.us/assets/p/Packet251.pdf

Preliminary Tax Levies and Proposed General Fund Budget:  The first of two regular agenda items included adoption of the preliminary 2012 payable 2013 city tax levies including the operating levy, and those for the Housing Redevelopment Authority and the Economic Development Authority. The total levy is $7,774,635, an increase of 7.55%. Of the $546,026 increase, $451,505 is for the annual payment on the lease revenue bond for the construction of the police/fire administration facility.

The council also approved the proposed 2013 General Fund Budget. It is increased by 2.8% over the 2012 adopted budget and provides for relatively stable departmental operations, according to Finance Director Kathleen McBride.

By state law, the council must take these actions by September 15th annually so that the county can prepare proposed tax statement to be mailed to property owners in November.  Following further work on the budget and levy by the city this fall, there will be a public hearing on both in December prior to the council’s adoption of the final 2013 budget and levy that month.

Policy on Issuing Statements on Non-city Issues:  In accordance with the council’s 2012 Work Plan, City Administrator Tim Madigan brought a resolution for the council “establishing a policy of addressing only municipal related issues and topics as part of its business meetings and will not issue position statements on non-municipal issues or topics.”  The policy would not prevent individual members of the council from expressing their personal opinions on non-municipal topics.

The inclusion of considering a policy in the work plan was prompted by a proposal in January from Ross Currier and a number of other citizens to “ensure that the City of Northfield is committed to creating and nurturing a community that is safe and welcoming to all people.” The group hoped for adoption prior to Martin Luther King Day. No action was taken at that time, but the discussion of a policy was added to the work plan.

Several councilors were unprepared to take action on the proposal.  Councilors Patrick Ganey and Suzie Nakasian wondered which issues are municipal and which aren’t. Ganey wouldn’t want to tie the hands of future councils and noted that when a proposal came on a domestic partnership policy, the council delegated it to an advisory group (the Human Rights Commission) for study and guidance. Councilor Betsey Buckheit wasn’t ready to adopt the policy, saying there would be times when the council would want to affect state legislation on such issues and transportation, taxation, etc. Councilor Rhonda Pownell expressed concern about the council “vetting state and national issues” and wondered whether the views of the council have more weight than other citizens’. “Are we trying to influence citizens on issues they might vote on?”

Mayor Rossing said if the council decides on a case-by-case basis, the mayor needs direction on how to deal with the many citizen requests he or she receives. She cautioned that preparation of statements takes staff time, and could cause the chambers to be packed for support of matters which are not city issues.

The council approved Ganey’s motion to postpone consideration of the proposal.

Comment:  The policy on issuing statements raises important questions. What are “municipal related issues”? Can a policy be written to define them clearly? As a representative body, should the council have a role in taking a position on wider societal matters?

These were questions a group of citizens who gathered after the council adjourned discussed with Mayor Rossing.  They deserve wider discussion, not only among the city council, but also among the public.

There is precedence in Northfield for the council supporting a “non-municipal” issue. On the council’s web page is the statement: "The City Council has pleadged (sic) its commitment to the 2001-2010 International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Nonviolence for the Children of the World. The movement is a major mobilization effort being directed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)."

Other cities have taken positions on “non-municipal” issues. According to Minnpost, 13 city councils in Minnesota have voted to oppose the constitution amendment defining marriage.

These questions deserve discussion in preparation for the November election.

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