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Northfield City Council Meeting - January 15, 2013

January 16, 2013 at 1:47 pm
By Jane McWilliams

Specifications for Police Facility:  It took over an hour of sometimes-contentious discussion, but the council, on a divided vote, authorized the plans and specifications for the police facility. This set in motion the construction drawings which the consultants, DLR Group, will create for approval in late February in preparation for letting of bids.  Although it was not the topic of discussion tonight, the total cost of the project is anticipated to be $7.2 million.  Councilors David Ludescher and David DeLong voted against the resolution.

Interim Police Chief Chuck Walerius explained how the design would benefit the police department operations. DLR Architect Mike Clark repeated some of the information he had presented at last week’s work session and concluded that the building will solve the city’s needs for at least 20 years, that it meets the Land Development Code and sustainability goals and is with the budgetary goals set by the council in the fall. City Finance Director Kathleen McBride explained the adjustments made to bring the budget into balance, given unforeseen costs identified at the work session.

Anticipating that this item would take time, and expressing his concern that other agenda items not be compromised, Councilor Ludescher earlier in the meeting moved that this topic be taken up at the end of the regular agenda. His motion was made after the council had approved the agenda, and his subsequent motion to reconsider that approval failed. On the other hand, Councilor Suzie Nakasian’s motion to reconsider and move an item from the consent to the regular agenda passed.

During public comments period on the facility plans and specifications, Councilor Ludescher moved that a member of the public, Don McGee, be permitted to speak for 10 minutes. He had prepared a chart illustrating a cost comparison spanning 2010 to the present, documenting an increase from $4,979,173 to the present $7,372, 724 and was prepared to discuss this. The mayor ruled Councilor Ludescher’s motion out of order because he had not recognized him. Councilor Ludescher protested the ruling. Consulted by the mayor, City Clerk Deb Little said that the chair decides when a vote is required.  There was no attempt to move to overrule the chair, and Mr. McGee was limited to the two minutes allowed for public comments.

Mayor Graham also ruled that each councilor would have two minutes to comment on the motion.  Councilor DeLong said he felt muzzled by this and hurried through a series of suggestions for how to reduce the cost. Councilor Ludescher pleaded for more time for this saying that there had never been a public hearing on the expenditure of $7 million. In addition, he asked about how the funding works, who will own the building and what would happen if the bank (which would own the building until the bonds are paid off) went under. He said that they should design a less expensive building the police can use and save the additional funds for the fire department. Other councilors also asked about ways to reduce the cost of the building, including using pre-cast concrete as suggested earlier in the evening by local contractor Ray Cox, redesigning the garage and eliminating a foyer.

Councilor Erica Zweifel thanked Mr. Walerius and Mr. Clark and said they understood what the council had asked for. She was very excited to vote for this and to move it forward.  Mayor Graham agreed and said he did not want to go back and retrace all the steps. This is the third council to have this before them and while he has been critical of the process at times, it is time to move on.

Public Hearing on Maple Street/Prairie Street Improvements:  The council had received several written comments before the meeting. During the hearing, they heard from ten other citizens in opposition to the construction of sidewalks on the east side of Maple Street and on Prairie Street, concerns about removal of trees and pedestrian safety and questions about the assessment process.  At their February 5 meeting, the council will take action to order the improvement and for preparation of plans and specifications.  At that time, the council may give direction about sidewalks and other design features.

Appointments to Boards and Commissions:  On the consent agenda, Mayor Graham had a roster of appointees for council approval to 16 of the city’s advisory groups. Councilor Suzy Nakasian asked that this be discussed on the regular agenda because she was concerned about a potential conflict of interest of EDA appointee Todd Bornhauser because of his job as Executive Director of the Lakeville Area Chamber of Commerce.  Mayor Graham emphasized Mr. Bornhauser’s valuable regional perspective and doubted there would be a conflict of interest. His one-year term would provide a demonstration of his contribution. The council approved the recommended appointees.

Skate Park funding Options:  Four sources of funds for the recent appropriation of $30,000 by the council were discussed. While some seemed to think the park fund would be appropriate, Councilor Rhonda Pownell asked to see the budget of that fund before taking action.  Mayor Graham said he’d rather contribute after the coalition has a design. Staff will put the matter on the February 5 council agenda along with the budget and options for the council to consider as they decide which fund to draw from and whether to use the funds immediately or later.

Purchase Agreement for Veterans Park Property:  The council approved development of a purchase agreement for property adjacent to the Veterans Park.

Q Block Environmental Cleanup:  The request for proposal was approved.

Convention and Visitors Bureau Structure:  This item was deferred owing to the lateness of the hour. The present CVB will meet with the council at their work session next week. The packet included information from staff about a proposed scheme as requested by council in which the CVB would report to the city council rather than as a department of the Chamber of Commerce.

The meeting adjourned at 11:08 p.m.

Comment:  The council would benefit from a session on parliamentary procedure as was evident at this meeting when at several points, there was confusion about appropriate procedures.  In last week’s packet, the staff included proposed changes in the council’s Rules of Business (formerly adopted on 1/3/12) the following:

“The mayor presides at the city council meetings. The best and most efficient meetings do not overly rely heavily on parliamentary procedure to organize and manage them. But the underlying foundation of these principles is used throughout public meeting processes.“ It is this observer’s opinion that a closer adherence to Robert’s Rules would not only make for more orderly decision-making, it would emphasize that no decision is made until a majority of the council votes in favor.

The council has an agreed upon a limited set of procedures for their meetings. For example they have a routine for taking up actions: staff presentation, council questions, public comment, motion, discussion, vote. There are occasions, however, when situations arise when reliance on parliamentary procedure would assure fairness and could prevent conflict. At this meeting when Councilor Ludescher’s motion was ruled out of order and the council acquiesced, he or another councilor could have appealed the ruling which would have required that the mayor submit the ruling to a vote.  Councilor DeLong also could have appealed Mayor Graham’s ruling about the length of council arguments during the safety facility discussion.

The confusing motions earlier in the meeting to reconsider the approval of the agenda seemed to this observer an example where a clearer understanding of parliamentary procedure would have assured fairness.

The analogy of fairness at meetings and fairness in games applies. It is a lot more fun to play tennis when everyone knows and respects the rules. It would be a lot more fun  (and more efficient), if the council were to know and respect the rules!

Comments

  • January 17 2013 at 7:19 am
    David Ludescher

    Jane,

    I appealed the chair's ruling of my motion to have Don McGee speak for 10 minutes instead of 2.  All 3 people consulted the City Administrator, the City Clerk, and the City Attorney ruled the appeal motion out of order.

    In the end, there isn't much that can be done when there is a super-majority interested in stifling debate.  I would have been interested in hearing from Mr. McGee and I think other councilors could have learned something from a second opinion.   

    I am hoping that, in the future, the five who voted in favor of the new USBank building (aka the Safety Center), don't take the same approach on other issues.  

  • January 17 2013 at 10:03 am
    Jane McWilliams

    David - I probably should have said that you "appealed" the chair's ruling, rather than "protested". In any case, shouldn't your appeal have been brought to a vote by the council - in spite of the "opinion" of the staff? My point is that the entire council holds the authority for the management of its decisions. In this case, if you are right about the super-majority, your appeal would have been voted down, of course, but that's the reality of the parliamentary process. The majority rules!

  • January 17 2013 at 10:56 am
    kiffi summa

    Jane : This was a very good comment which made more clear the tenor of the meeting. I fully agree with you that the staff quote from the City Administrator in the previous week's packet certainly did nothing to enhance the oft-times convoluted procedures of the Council. Either there is a procedure or there is not; a 'sometimes' attitude about it leads to nothing but manipulation. I have a further observation: I have seen 5 incoming councils in the years I have been in NF, and I have never seen the incoming members treated with as little respect as these have been. If this is an indication of 'sides' being established from the beginning, then I am very disappointed , ad apprehensive of what dynamics lie ahead. I DO think the LWV should address the procedural issue with a letter to the staff and councilmembers.

  • January 17 2013 at 9:32 pm
    David Ludescher

    Jane,

    Dana is new to the council and parliamentary procedure, so I can't really fault him for not knowing what to do.  What was more disappointing is that the "old" councilors did not want to hear from someone other than the hired guns.  I had quite a few questions of the design, costs, etc.  But, it was already late, and little would have been accomplished even by a thorough review of the subject.

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