Mayor Mary Rossing called the meeting to order at 6:30 p.m. in order for the council to adopt a motion to close it “as permitted by the attorney-client privilege.” According to the City Attorney, Chris Hood, the closed session is driven by conversations he has had with local attorney David Ludescher (who is also a candidate for city council). Ludescher’s client, Ken Malecha, has authorized him to file a lawsuit challenging the council’s August 28, 2012 resolution authorizing “the execution of a lease-purchase agreement between the city of Northfield and US Bank.” Although scheduled for 30 minutes, the closed session lasted an hour. When the council came back into open session, Mr. Hood announced that the council had authorized him to defend them in any lawsuit that might come forward. No other information about the discussion was provided.
Gas/Electric Utility Franchise Review: Finance Director Kathleen McBride noted that contracts with NSP and DBA Xcel expire this year. Negotiations are under way with the focus now on the NSP agreement. A key piece of the new agreement will be language allowing a franchise fee. Implementation of a fee requires adoption of a separate franchise fee ordinance. This is not part of the current negotiation process. The council’s Finance Advisory Group had recommended such a fee to east the city’s financial problems.
HRA Tax Credit Project: Community Development Coordinator Michelle Merxbauer reported that application submitted to MN Housing Finance Agency (MHFA) in 2011 for a 28-unit tax credit project was finally fully funded. This means the Spring Creek Town home project may move forward.
Arts and Culture Commission: Philip Spensley and other members of the commission reviewed their report and discussed requests from the council.
Filling Council Vacancy: With the recent announcement that he would resign soon to take a new job in Vermont, the council will need to fill Councilor Patrick Ganey’s position. City Administrator Tim Madigan said the process would be according to the charter: an appointed individual would serve through 2013, and there would be a special election to fill the position through 2014.
Process for bringing items forward for council agenda: This item came out of last week’s postponement of the proposal for a policy on statements.Mayor Rossing suggested that in the future policy statements:
- May be added to the agenda by council action (upon a successful motion by a councilor)
- May be added to the next published agenda by council action.
- Must include supporting documents and information and action requested and sample motion.
Comment: In a 9-12-12 post on the web site Locally Grown, Mr. Ludescher said: “Just so it is clear to the reading audience: I have not threatened to sue the City of Northfield. My complaint is against the councilors who voted in favor of certain contracts. I am of the opinion that there is no statutory grant of power to the city council such that the councilors can bind the City of Northfield to the contracts of which they have authorized execution.” He disputes the statutory authority under which the council approved the financing method for the safety center. He asserts that because the city will be “renting” the facility from US Bank until the full cost of the financing is paid, it is at risk of whatever the bank should decide. In addition, Mr. Ludescher states that this council has “backed future councils into a very difficult position.” Subsequent councils might fail to appropriate funds to pay the annual fee for the loan. He criticized this council for not asking their consultants what they would do under such a circumstance.
At the council’s August 28, 2012 special meeting, Mr. Ludescher said if he were elected, he would vote against appropriating funds for the agreement. In addition, he said voters should have an opportunity to vote on the project. In other posts on Locally Grown, he has criticized the scope and cost of the safety center project, says the plan doesn’t address the problems with the present fire facility and that no allowance fur future operating and maintenance costs have been discussed.
We are in the middle of yet another chapter in the protracted issue of the safety center. It isn’t clear how a lawsuit would affect the process of the funding. A change in council personnel may complicate matters even further. Two years ago the decision-making process was altered by the election of new council members. With the possibility that there will be a new member in the near future, not to mention possibly three new members in January, the process may again be at least slowed down, if not halted altogether.