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Bill paying at council not so routine

It typically takes the Alexandria City Council a few seconds to approve its monthly bills.

At its February 14 meeting, it took 15 minutes and several split votes.

Ward 1 city council member Virgil Batesole said he had many questions about the bills and asked that the bills be pulled out of the "consent agenda" the council routinely approves.

He then made a motion to delay paying the bills. Council member Elroy Frank seconded Batesole's motion so it could be discussed.

Batesole said he wanted to find out specifics about some of the bills and hadn't yet met with the city's finance director, Jane Blade, to go over them in detail. He added that council shouldn't pay the bills until it knows exactly where the money is going.

"We the council are responsible for every check," he said.

Frank said that the council has authorized city staff to pay certain bills and the city receives discounts if the bills are paid in a timely fashion.

Batesole said that any pre-authorization to pay bills conflicts with the city's charter, the rules that govern the city. He said that the sequence of events for paying bills is established in the city's charter, which is the "gospel."

"We the people have a contract and the charter is the contract," Batesole told the council.

Council member Dave Benson said that certain items the council pays were authorized before Batesole joined the council at the start of the year.

Batesole said that the only way to change the charter is to call for a referendum that must be approved by the voters.

City Administrator Jim Taddei said that a section of the city's charter gives the council some discretion in paying bills to "expedite" the process.

Council member Sara Carlson said that the city must pay its bills in a timely fashion.

After Batesole repeatedly asked council members to state their position on paying the bills as it relates to the charter, Frank made a motion to end discussion on the issue.

The motion was approved on a 3-1 vote. Batesole voted against it. (Council member Owen Miller was unable to attend the meeting.)

The council then voted 3-1 against Batesole's motion to delay paying the bills. Batesole was the only one who voted yes.

The council then made a motion to approve the bills and it passed on a 3-1 vote. Batesole voted no.

After the vote was revealed on the electronic board in the council chambers, Batesole said that the vote results should be stated verbally, including who voted for a motion and who voted against it. City Administrator Jim Taddei agreed to do so.

Later, during the public comment portion of the meeting, the topic of paying city bills popped up again.

Don Kleine, a former candidate for the Ward 1 position, wanted to know why the paying of bills was a point of contention between Batesole and the rest of the council.

Carlson responded by saying that she firmly believes the city is following its charter for paying bills. She said the city's legal counsel would not allow the city to pay bills with an illegal process. "Our ordinances are the law," she said.

Carlson added that there are also state laws that supercede the city's charter.

Batesole was not present during this part of the discussion. A few minutes earlier, Mayor Dan Ness ordered a police officer to escort Batesole out of the meeting after a discussion of the city budget grew heated. Ness said that Batesole broke decorum by not asking for permission to speak and for not following Robert's Rules of Order.

Al Edenloff
Al Edenloff is the news and opinion page editor for the Echo Press. He was born in Alexandria and lived most of his childhood in Parkers Prairie. He graduated with honors from Moorhead State University with a degree in mass communications, print journalism. He interned at the Echo Press in the summer of 1983 and was hired a year later as a sports reporter. He also worked as a news reporter/photographer. Al is a four-time winner of the Minnesota Newspaper Association's Herman Roe Award, which honors excellence in editorial writing.  
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