Council member scolded about second-guessing staffA discussion about a nuisance ordinance – and a council member’s decision to seek outside opinions about it – triggered a terse exchange among council members Monday night. The changes were recommended by City Attorney Tom Jacobson and the city’s legislative committee.
By: Al Edenloff, Alexandria Echo Press
A discussion about a nuisance ordinance – and a council member’s decision to seek outside opinions about it – triggered a terse exchange among council members Monday night.
The changes were recommended by City Attorney Tom Jacobson and the city’s legislative committee.
Jacobson said they’d solve a problem the city has encountered from time to time: Trying to track down a property owner in a nuisance complaint involving long weeds, trash, deteriorating structures, junk vehicles or other problems.
The proposed changes would add a “responsible party” section identifying whom the city could send the complaint notices to, such as property managers, deed holders or others having an ownership interest in the property. The changes would also allow the city to post a notice on the property.
Council member Virgil Batesole said he reviewed Jacobson’s proposed changes with two other attorneys earlier that day. He said they told him that parts of the ordinance were too vague, such as the enforcement section that stated “the city” would determine if a nuisance violation had occurred.
Batesole said “the city” could mean a janitor or other city worker who could be trying to get back at a neighbor.
Jacobson said the use of the term, “the city,” is common in many other city ordinances. He said it means those acting as agents of the city. He added that if someone receives notice of a nuisance complaint, the person can easily contest the action and bring it before the council.
Council member Owen Miller said that Batesole’s decision to show the city attorney’s recommended changes to other attorneys was upsetting. He said going to other sources was “second guessing” and showed a lack of trust and faith in city staff.
Council member Elroy Frank and the two other council members agreed with Miller and thanked him for his comments. Frank said that Batesole’s actions were “utterly ridiculous.”
Jacobson responded by saying that he didn’t mind having his recommendations scrutinized by others. Frank said that Batesole should have talked to Jacobson about his concerns in private – not in the public eye during a meeting.
Batesole did not respond to the comments.
The council approved a preliminary first reading of the nuisance ordinance changes on a 5-0 vote.
IN OTHER ACTION…
In other action, the council:
• Approved a conditional use permit from Living Word Lutheran Church to build a 20,000-square-foot building housing a fellowship hall, narthex, offices, nursery and other church-related functions. Built in phases, it will be located on the east side of County Road 46 (McKay Avenue) south of a proposed 16th Avenue extension. When complete, it would have room for 928 church-goers and 232 parking stalls.
• Tentatively approved redrawing the boundaries of the city’s five wards to reflect population shifts, as required by state law. The council considered three options – A, which would split Ward 1 into precincts; B, which would split Ward 5 into precincts; and C, which would create precincts in both Ward 1 and 5. After hearing that option C would place Douglas County Commissioners Paul Anderson and Dan Olson in the same district, the council settled on option B.
• Approved a conditional use permit from Gardonville Cooperative Telephone to build a 150-foot high wireless communication tower southeast of 30th Avenue, southwest of Willow Creek.
• Accepted a report that examined the cost of improving two downtown city parking lots – the one adjacent to 5th Avenue East and Hawthorne Street, and the one adjacent to 7th Avenue East. The total cost was estimated at $356,180. The city will pay 20 percent of the cost and the rest will be assessed to the benefiting property owners. The money will come out of the city’s revolving improvement fund. At the request of downtown businesses, the project is being done two years ahead of when it was budgeted so that it will be completed before Broadway is reconstructed in 2014. A public hearing is set for April 23 at 7:45 p.m. at City Hall. The city also plans to hold another informational meeting with the downtown merchants prior to the hearing.
• Accepted a $6,000 bid from JLG Architects for cost estimates, design work and other architectural services to build a new public restroom at Dean Melton/Fillmore Park. It would include both men’s and women’s bathrooms, a cold storage area and a covered picnic shelter. Batesole was the only council member who voted against it. He said the city should hold off spending money until it knows where the budget is headed. Frank noted the project has been in the city’s capital improvement fund for three years.
• Rescheduled the public hearing on proposed improvements to Thomas Drive. It’s now set for April 23 at 7:30 p.m. at City Hall.
• Approved an agreement with the Minnesota Department of Transportation for milling and overlay work on Broadway from Interstate 94 to 8th Avenue, including parking stalls along the street. The city’s share of the project is $13,815, which will come out of its street paving fund.
• Approved a contract between Alexandria Light and Power and the Western Area Power Administration (WAPA). Between 30 and 35 percent of ALP’s power comes from WAPA’s hydro-electric dams, according to Al Crowser, ALP general manager. The contract goes through 2050.
• Agreed to apply for home fix-up loans through the Small Cities Development Project offered through the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. It would provide funding for energy-efficient projects in 43 rental units in Alexandria as well as the cities of Osakis and Starbuck. Alexandria is the lead city. Batesole voted against applying for the money. He said it seemed like a one-sided agreement that placed too much burden on Alexandria. Erin Bolland, financial coordinator with the Alexandria Housing and Redevelopment Authority, which would administer the funds, said that no city dollars would be involved in the project. The city will know by this June whether its application was approved.
• Called for bids on a project to reconstruct Fillmore Street between 7th and 9th Avenue.
• Referred a request to name a holding pond at Fred Foslien Park to the city’s park board. Miller, noting the shape of the pond, suggested calling it Horseshoe Pond.