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Northfield City Council Meeting - February 5, 2013

February 6, 2013 at 12:03 pm
By Jane McWilliams

Skate Park Funding Options:  After a complex and prolonged discussion prompted by an unidentified memo sketching out the skate park design and construction process, the council approved both the Parks and Recreation Board’s allocation of $30,000 from the park fund and $30,000 from the general fund for the construction.  A number of people addressed the council prior to the vote, including members of the skateboard coalition. Rob Hardy, a supportive citizen, called attention to a city council document from 1989 (which he found by searching the city’s new website) referring to placing a skate park in Babcock Park. Dimitry Pitzavas, of Basil’s Restaurant, mentioning the long-standing relationship with the Key when it was located next door and the work of the coalition, pledged to contribute $500.00 toward the new skate park. 

Councilor Jessica Peterson White said she wanted the project to move at a “faster clip” and that the memo wasn’t clear on where responsibility for making this happen lies. City Administrator Tim Madigan explained that he had prepared the document in response to questions about the process. In answer to Councilor Rhonda Pownell, City Engineer Joe Stapf said it doesn’t seem like a complicated project and the construction itself wouldn’t take more than six weeks to finish. The project development stage is complex because of the number of groups involved. 

Councilor David DeLong was critical of the process, suggesting that the funding should be allocated after the cost is known.  Mayor Dana Graham appeared to agree, saying they could approve the PRAB request and then see what is needed later, and that he was willing to be “flexible on the back side.”

The final motion to approve funding also stated that the PRAB would be the final driver of the project, which must be completed in 2013.  Drew Voegele, AmeriCorps Promise Fellow at the Key, mentioned during the break that he will meet the following day with the engineering staff to show them the draft of the new plaza which has been designed collaboratively with skate boarders and Charlie  Hussman, who has been involved with the skate park movement here for years.  This will initiate the city’s work as well as being crucial for the soon-to-be undertaken fundraising, which several community members have volunteered to assist.

Convention and Visitors Bureau Budget:  The council had a long and complex discussion of this item. At a work session earlier this year, the CVB presented for approval the 2013 budget, but instead, the majority of the meeting was taken up with a presentation of the work plan.  At that time, the council asked that there be a policy on how the CVB fund balance would be used, a commitment to tourism stakeholder membership on the bureau and that the bylaws be revised.

Tonight, several councilors had questions about items in the budget, but there was no one from the CVB to respond.  Several motions were offered and defeated, including one which the mayor ruled out of order, to have the CVB be appointed by the mayor and that members should not overlap with the chamber board.  Councilor Suzy Nakasian, who represents the council on the CVB, asked whether the board could continue to operate without the budget in order to give the council time to address policy issues. She received no answer. Councilor DeLong objected to the “micromanagement’ of the CVB.

It was the opinion of City Attorney Chris Hood that they could approve the budget and change the contract or conditions of the contract in the future.  At 10:55, the council finally approved a motion to approve the budget. That approval is conditioned on the revising the bylaws to include stakeholders’ representatives, the creating of a fund balance policy and submitting these to the council by May 20, 2013. In addition, the city attorney will revise the outdated contract between the city and the chamber of commerce as well as the ordinance code by May 28, 2013.

2013 Street Improvements:  Responding to residents’ objections to putting sidewalks on the east side of Maple Street, Councilors David Ludescher and Delong and Mayor Graham voted against the project. Because of state law requiring a supermajority (6) for approval, the resolution to move all the street improvements forward failed. In spite of arguments that the city has “a stack of policies” supporting the sidewalk, as Councilor Peterson noted, Councilor Ludescher said he would not support the project with the sidewalks. “Citizens know better than we do what they want.” The mayor agreed, saying there are some other things they can do to slow down the traffic.

Authorization of Plans for Pool Concession Stand: There was an extended discussion about this proposal. Councilor Nakasian suggested that a mobile food truck be created instead so that it could be used all year round and assure better financial payback. PRAB member David Hvistendahl responded that they had looked into this but did not want to get into the food service business. Councilor DeLong said he would support it, but would like to see a business plan in comparison with that of the arena. There was a unanimous vote to include windows obvious to the public on the street side so that items could be sold outside the pool. 

Other Agenda Items:  Because of the length of the meeting, the council did not take up a two ordinances (relating to board and commission term limits and taxi service), approval of their Rules of Business or their Final 2013 City Council Meeting Schedule.

Comment:  What to say about this long, complicated meeting? Several factors might explain the length and dynamics. Lack of clarity in process is understandable, if unfortunate, in the skate park issue. Mr. Madigan’s memo was not helpful, partly because it was not identified, and partly because of perceived vagueness. There were definitely different philosophies in play in the case of the sidewalk issue, with some members supporting policy and others favoring public sentiment. In this observer’s opinion, the CVB budget matter suffered because the council never did explicitly address the revision of their relationship with the CVB as was discussed late last year prior to taking up funding.

How all of this is a reflection of the DISC analysis the council underwent at their retreat could be a lively topic of discussion. 


  • February 7 2013 at 5:12 pm
    kiffi summa

    what a mess!!! sorry, but it's true... a little discussion leadership after Councilor deLong's motion to separate Maple from the other street projects should have corrected what is now a failure to get approval. Given the known objections from Maple st. residents on the sidewalk issue, I think it was foolish to bundle all the street projects together, allowing this setback to happen. If the one street that was going to be a problem had been separated out administratively, the other street projects could be moving down the road, no pun intended! But, I don't think it's quite as simple as policy versus public sentiment. Given the opportunity that deLong's motion created, there should have been a discussion that explored when it was absolutely essential to hold to the guiding documents policy, and when other factors specific to the property in question need to be considered. As it 'shook out', it just looked arrogant and adversarial, IMO. And I would have to agree with your comment about the DISC process, Jane. Two hours and 45 minutes of a four hour retreat spent , for what result?

  • February 7 2013 at 6:32 pm
    David Ludescher


    I don't think anything else could have saved the street repair discussion.   The council is clearly divided on the need for a sidewalk on east Maple.  Because it takes 6 votes to do anything, I doubt that Maple Street will be resolved soon.  It was disappointing that we couldn't do the other streets where there seemed to be agreement.  I think tensions were high, and both "sides" wanted to assert their will.  But, we still have plenty of opportunity to work on the "sidewalk" policy.

    The CVB discussion suffered from a number of problems.  The most notable problem, which I objected to a number of times, was that several council members were trying to pass motions on items over which the city doesn't have control - namely the composition of the CVB board, and the attempted rewrite of the Chamber contract.  I think we will get that straightened out as this council challenges itself to better understand what are the proper limits of its powers.

    Given the nature of issues to be dealt with, I thought that Dana did a really good job of controlling the meeting; it was surprisingly orderly, and I was pleased with the process, although not all of the results.  

    We can probably look forward to more meetings like this last one, unless we can find a way to engage in some of our philosophical discussions on non-meeting times.  Unfortunately, with the Open Meeting Law being what it is, we can't have much of a personal or issue relationship outside of the chambers. 

    I think staff will pick up on our new style, and help us come to some conclusions. 

    Lastly, I am hoping that some of the citizens have restored faith that this new council is listening to them.  Almost all of the Maple Street residents were against the sidewalk for what I thought were very legitimate reasons.  I don't want to ignore the citizens in favor of a "policy" that seems to be more of a dictate than a policy.  I have to believe it restores people's faith in government to see that councilors are listening.       

  • February 7 2013 at 7:36 pm
    Jane McWilliams

    David - Maybe I misunderstood, but all last year it was my impression that the council was going to take a second look at the contractural arrangement for providing convention and visitors bureau programs, funded by the lodging tax. Have I been wrong all these weeks? What happened to the proposed discussion by the council and CVB of the outline of the partnership model where, as Chris Heineman said in his January 15, 2013 memo, "the CVB services would be untundled and the CVB Board would report to the City Council." That model was created at the direction of the council at their September 25, 2012 work session. You're right, until that contractural arrangement is changed or terminated, the council (and the chamber) must respect it. Just the same, it seems to me that there should be a way, within the contract, for the council to have some influence on the CVB programs if for no other reason, because the council must approve the budget. That is why I thought it unfortunate that there was no real focus on what the council was approving, much less on the question of the contractural agreement. At the same time, I think there is merit in having stakeholders on the CVB board, there needs to be a fund balance policy and I am pleased that that has been communicated through the resolution you adopted along with the budget.

  • February 7 2013 at 10:18 pm
    David Ludescher


    I think the new council members have a different concept of whether it is necessary for the council to micro-manage the CVB.  I suspect that severing the Chamber/CVB relationship will be worse for the city, CVB, and the "stakeholders" (whomever they may be). 

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