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Northfield City Council Meeting - September 18, 2012

September 19, 2012 at 9:55 pm
By Jane McWilliams

Councilor Ganey Resignation:  With his voice cracking with emotion, Council Patrick Ganey announced that he will resign from the council, effective September 23, in order to take a position at Middlebury College in Vermont. “It has been a great honor to be able to serve as an elected official,” he said. Mayor Mary Rossing said though she was disappointed, she was happy for him – predicting it wouldn’t be the last time he serves in public office. She praised his skills at parliamentary procedure, attention to detail and skill at talking about things he believes in strongly. “We haven’t seen the last of you yet!”

Severance Payment to Former Administrator Al Roder:  Though no action was required on it, Councilor Erica Zweifel asked that the item be removed from the consent agenda for discussion.  In August 2008, following a turbulent tenure, Mr. Roder resigned. Charges against him were initiated by then Chief of Police, and were being investigated by Goodhue County Court. In keeping with the September 15, 2008 severance agreement between Mr. Roder and the city, he was paid a lump sum of $10,000 and was promised, should the pending investigation by Goodhue County exonerate him or be closed without charges being brought, an additional $25,000. Attorney fees without dollar limitation were to be paid as well. (To date, these total $33,236.15)

In the August 7, 2012 letter to Mr. Roder’s attorney, Goodhue County Attorney Stephen Betcher said there is not sufficient evidence to prove Mr. Roder has committed a criminal offence and he declines to file charges.  Meanwhile, the criminal case against former Mayor Lee Lansing is in process, and now that he is not longer being charged, Mr. Betcher agrees that Mr.Roder will receive immunity in testifying in that case.

In a September 18, 2012 memo to City Administrator Tim Madigan, noting that the Lansing case has gone on for years, Councilor Suzie Nakasian asked whether the city has explored options for settling the matter.  He replied the city attorney would have to respond to this.  Furthermore, during the meeting, Mr. Madigan said his strong advice was not to get involved in a criminal case in which the city is not a direct party. Councilor Zweifel said the matter is worthy of a primer from the city attorney. Councilor Betsey Buckheit said she didn’t feel the need for an opinion.

Resolution on Marriage Amendment:  In response to a request brought by a constituent, and drawing upon the procedures laid out by Mayor Rossing at their work session earlier this month, Councilor Zweifel brought a motion that the council consider a resolution on the marriage amend at the next regular meeting (October 2, 2012).  She noted that thirteen other Minnesota municipalities have made a statement and the citizens want to add Northfield to the list.  The motion passed with Mayor Rossing voting no.

Downtown Parking Subcommittee Report:  In March, the council charged Councilors Buckheit and Nakasian to bring potential solutions for increasing available parking space in the downtown district and committed $500,000 of TIF funds for parking.  The subcommittee focused on short term solutions for additional parking near the north end of Division Street and proposed policies for parking and traffic circulation for all modes of transportation to the through downtown.  Short term suggestions include: expansion of the Washington Street lot (including the purchase and demolition or moving the 11 unit apartment building) adding 25 stalls; and acquisition of the “Byzantine” property on Highway 3.  Each of these has long term possibilities as well.  Councilors Buckheit and Nakasian noted the obsolescence of the 2001 Walker Parking Study, saying that there have been many changes in town since it was done.  They recommend that in the long term, rather than first focusing on building additional parking, the city should concentrate on “parking management” with the goal of reducing the need for additional lots in the downtown. Land supply is limited and higher density desirable.  Rather than adding parking – use multiple, more narrowly tailored strategies to address parking issues. The subcommittee provided at the meeting a comprehensive report of their deliberations and suggestions.

Other Matters:  There was a favorable update on the new transit system.  The council authorized the Arts and Culture Commission and city staff to submit an application for a grant from the Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council for the sidewalk poetry project.  They referred to the Park and Recreation Board a request from the Veterans Memorial Park for the city to purchase adjoining property and make improvements to expand the park and provide parking.

Also distributed at the meeting was a memorandum to the council and city administrator from Christopher Hood, the City Attorney, discussing the requirements of the open meeting law. This was provided in the context of communications Mr. Hood had had from attorney David Ludescher about a lawsuit his client Ken Malecha had authorized him to file and of questions in the community about the legality of the September 11 closed council meeting. Mr. Hood concluded that “a closed meeting under the facts and circumstances presented and the procedure followed by the City Council was fully compliant with the open meeting law.

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