Alexandria City Council members vowed to follow three “Rs” in 2021 – their roles, responsibilities and respect.

At their first meeting of the year Monday night, they unanimously adopted a Code of Conduct for elected officials.

The 13-page document, originally adopted in 2016, describes how the mayor and council members should treat one another, city staff, consultants, constituents and others they may come in contact with while representing the city.

It also provides guidance related to conflicts of interest.

Some highlights:

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All council members should:

  • Fully participate in City Council meetings and other public forums while demonstrating respect, kindness, consideration, and courtesy to others.

  • Prepare in advance of meetings and be familiar with issues on the agenda.

  • Represent the city at ceremonial functions at the request of the mayor.

  • Be respectful of other people’s time.

  • Stay focused and act efficiently during public meetings.

  • Serve as a model of leadership and civility to the community.

  • Inspire public confidence in Alexandria government.

  • Demonstrate honesty and integrity in every action and statement.

  • Participate in scheduled activities.

During public meetings, the code says council members must practice civility, professionalism and decorum in discussions and debate.

“Difficult questions, tough challenges to a particular point of view, and criticism of ideas and information are legitimate elements of a free democracy in action,” the code states. “This does not allow, however, the mayor and council members to make belligerent, personal, impertinent, slanderous, threatening, abusive, or disparaging comments. No shouting or physical actions that could be construed as threats will be tolerated.”

The code urges council members to be aware of the insecurity of written notes, voicemail messages, e-mail, text messages, “tweets,” and social media.

“Technology allows words written or said without much forethought to be distributed wide and far,” the code says, adding that before recording or putting something in writing, council members should consider how they’d feel if emails or text messages, for instance, were forwarded to others or if their tweet or social media post went viral for the world to see and read.

The code also covers the conduct of the mayor and council members in unofficial settings. It says they should:

  • Make no promises on behalf of the council.

  • Make no personal comments about the mayor or other council members.

  • Remember that despite its continued growth, Alexandria is a small community at heart and the mayor and council members are constantly being observed by the community every day that they serve in office.

“It all comes down to respect,” the code says. “Respect for one another as individuals, respect for the validity of different opinions, respect for the democratic process and respect for the community that we serve.”

In a related action, the council approved its rules of procedure for the year, as required under the city’s charter, which is the document that guides how the city operates. For many years, the charter required the city to use Robert's Rules of Order.

Those rules, however, were meant for larger parliamentary bodies, so last year, the city adopted rules of decorum based on the Minnesota Mayor’s Handbook Rules of Order, which was created by the League of Minnesota Cities and the Minnesota Mayors Association.

The council voted to follow those rules again in 2021.

The council tabled taking action on setting rules for a public comment period, which typically take place near the start of every meeting. The rules were temporarily suspended last October after several speakers used it to raise allegations against Todd Jensen, a council member at the time.

Council member Roger Thalman made the motion to table, saying that he wanted more time to study and discuss the proposed public comment policy, which is five pages long.

City Attorney Tom Jacobson said the goal is to not squelch public input but instead come up with a way that is balanced and fair for those wanting to comment.

Deer hunt update

The city is continuing to explore the possibility of offering an archery deer hunt within the city.

City Administrator Marty Schultz updated the council, saying that city staff has conducted some preliminary research into the process and will be reaching out to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to get more information on how the DNR can help the city.

Schultz provided the council with links to information about deer hunts that were organized in four other cities – Red Wing, Anoka, Bemidji and Grand Rapids.

Schultz referred to a story in the Echo Press about a deer hunt, which said that public meetings and hearings would be an important part of the information gathering process.

Mayor Bobbie Osterberg said the city should try to get hard numbers on the deer population in the city.

COVID-19 updates

Schultz also updated the council about COVID-19 news:

  • The Runestone Community Center reopened on Jan. 4. The facility can only hold practices until Jan. 14, at which point competitions can resume. The governor’s Jan. 6 executive order allows for 25% capacity or 150 spectators, whichever is greater. The RCC Main arena will have a capacity maximum of 150 and the West Arena will be set at 80.

  • Restaurants and other facilities that had been closed to indoor service were allowed to resume service on Monday, Jan. 11. Occupancy may not exceed 50% of capacity for restaurants with a maximum of 150 people. There is a maximum of six customers per table and on-premises consumption must be closed between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m.

  • Douglas County has partnered with the Alexandria Area Economic Development Commission to create the Douglas County Business Relief Grant. Details on the grant, which uses funds made available by the State of Minnesota can be found at www.livingalexarea.org. In order to qualify, businesses must certify they have experienced a financial hardship due to being directed to close or modify their businesses operations by Minnesota Executive Order 20-99 or subsequent order. Order 20-99 was the order issued on Nov. 18 that closed many facilities. The application deadline is Friday, Jan. 29, at 5 p.m.

Agreement with police officers, sergeants

After four rounds of negotiations, the city has struck tentative agreements with the unions representing the Alexandria Police Department’s patrol officers and sergeants, according to Schultz.

The council went into a closed session to discuss and review the agreements.

Official newspaper designated

The Echo Press was once again designated as the “official newspaper” for the city.

The city’s charter required the city to annually designate a newspaper for publishing legal notices and other required documents.