TOWER- Nearly a month after former council members Kevin Fitton and Brooke Anderson first announced their resignations, the city council in a marathon session here was again unable to fill the …
TOWER- Nearly a month after former council members Kevin Fitton and Brooke Anderson first announced their resignations, the city council in a marathon session here was again unable to fill the vacancies left by their departures.
At their meeting Monday, Mayor Orlyn Kringstad asked remaining council members Rachel Beldo and Steve Abrahamson to add council appointments to the agenda after City Clerk-Treasurer Linda Keith had refused Kringstad’s request last week to make sure the appointments were ready to proceed.
According to Kringstad, Keith had refused to allow the appointments to appear on the agenda because the positions had not been advertised. On April 29, the city council had directed Keith, by motion, to advertise the openings in the city’s official newspaper, but for two weeks in a row, Keith had failed to do so. She also failed to post the openings on the city’s website as she had indicated she would do.
Kringstad argued that both newspapers in town had published articles about the vacancies and that the city was taking applications. He said he had reviewed the four applications that had come into city hall as of late on Monday and proposed appointing Mary Shedd and Sheldon Majerle. But Keith said a fifth application had come in at the last minute, from Cynthia Spicer, a new resident to town who had previously spoken to the council about her desire to allow people to raise chickens in town.
Kringstad argued for the council to move forward. “The reason I want to do this is that the council is really hampered by having three members…I would like to appoint and seat them tonight. There are many things on this agenda which require a full council to review.”
City attorney Andy Peterson, who was present for the entire meeting, said there wasn’t a problem appointing new members that evening.
“If the council feels comfortable, you can appoint tonight or you can wait,” Peterson said.
Kringstad added that there was nothing in the city charter or information from the League of Minnesota Cities that said a city must advertise the openings. Past practice of the council has been to appoint at the pleasure of the remaining council members.
But councilor Rachel Beldo felt uncomfortable making an appointment before she had time to review all the applications, including the last minute one from Spicer.
“I want to get our council completed,” she said, “but I also want time to review.”
In addition to her refusal to include the item on the agenda, Keith did not provide the council members with the applications submitted by the five city residents expressing interest in the openings. Applicants included Dick Larmouth and Josh Zika in addition to Shedd, Majerle, and Spicer. Majerle is a former council member, who has also served for years on a number of city commissions, and Shedd ran for council last November, losing to Beldo by two votes.
Without clear support to fill the seats immediately, Kringstad agreed to delay the decision until the May 28 meeting. The city will not be taking any additional applications for the openings.
But on Wednesday, May 15, Kringstad decided to call a special meeting for May 22 at 5:30 p.m. to complete the appointments and seat the two new members.
The question of whether or not the city’s grievance committee has the authority to bind the city council to its findings also remains unanswered. Earlier this winter, two members of the city’s grievance committee, Steve Altenburg and Brooke Anderson had approved a remedy to a grievance filed by Keith against the city council that prohibited the council from investigating a laundry list of allegations against Keith, some of which are criminal in nature. Altenburg and Anderson’s remedy also prohibited Mayor Kringstad from engaging in any oversight over Keith. Both provisions of the remedy appear to directly violate the city charter, yet Altenburg submitted the remedy to the union without council approval and the union has since accepted it.
The council had raised questions about the entire grievance committee procedure, including the fact that Councilor Abrahamson, who was a member of the committee, had not been properly notified of the committee meeting when the remedy was drafted. Altenburg and Anderson had also failed to obtain guidance from legal counsel before taking their action, after agreeing in a prior meeting to do so. In addition, some city residents have raised questions about the impartiality of Altenburg, who sits on the grievance committee as a “resident.” Altenburg is a city employee who reports directly to Keith, and also had filed his own complaint against Kringstad, which the city council later rejected as frivolous. Anderson was also involved in the Altenburg complaint, since it arose from a claim she made about a conversation she had had with Kringstad and Beldo regarding Altenburg. Beldo, on April 8, disputed Anderson’s account and the council dismissed the complaint. At that same meeting, the council tasked Beldo with obtaining a legal opinion from an outside attorney on whether Altenburg and Anderson’s grievance remedy could legally tie the council’s hands in addressing Keith’s alleged wrongdoing. Current city attorney Andy Peterson has declined to offer guidance on the issue.
Beldo said she had spoken with Vermilion Law Office, and they had directed her to Mitch Brunfelt, from Colosimo Patchin Kearney & Brunfelt Limited, who said he could work for the city at a rate of $200 per hour. She also had gotten some information from the League of Minnesota Cities, but that had come with the suggestion that the city get advice from their legal counsel before acting on the information.
“We don’t have a grievance policy or policy to guide us,” Beldo said. “That is being worked on.”
Abrahamson said he would like a full council on board before deciding on whether or not to retain outside council.
The cost of retaining the attorney was of concern to all at the table.
Peterson told the council that they did not need to seek outside advice if they didn’t want to.
Kringstad said it made more sense to deal with the question “in-house.” He said he could recuse himself from some portions of the discussion if needed.
The council voted to table the issue until the next meeting.
The council did take the first step of looking into establishing a city grievance policy that had been drafted by Altenburg from information he had found on the internet. The policy does state that the workplace grievance process may not conflict with Minnesota laws or the city charter. In the case of Tower, the city charter gives the council the authority to make investigations into the affairs of the city, the conduct of any city department, office or agency.
The council voted to forward the draft policy to the city attorney for review and asked that it be put back on the agenda for May 28.
In other business, the Tower City Council:
Set the next council meeting for Tuesday, May 28, since the regular fourth Monday falls on Memorial Day.
Accepted the resignation of Brooke Anderson and will send a letter of appreciation for her service and willingness to postpone her initial resignation until after the Local Board of Equalization meeting last week.
Heard public input from Jodi Summit, who asked that the city provide more updated and comprehensive information on the city website. Specifically, she asked that the website include upcoming council and committee meetings, city legal notices, ordinances with their titles not just numbers, current city staff contact info, and other information important to the community.
The issue of the city website had come up earlier this winter and Keith had told the council that she was able to update the website, but no upgrades have been undertaken since. The council said this would be put on the agenda for the May 28 meeting.
Was questioned by Tower-Soudan Historical Society Board Member Nancy Larson over whether the city had submitted a report to the state historical society detailing any impacts the planned work on Pine Street will have on the Historic Depot, which is on the National Historic Register.
Larson said that issues with drainage from the civic center parking lot have been previously detailed by a state-funded study on the depot building. That study, she said, outlined issues that need to be considered when making any changes to the impervious surfaces draining towards the depot. City engineer Matt Bolf said that the project calls for curb and gutter along that portion of Pine Street that is adjacent to the civic center parking lot, and that would reduce water inflow into the area.
“We did not file anything,” Bolf said, “There is no negative impact to the building.”
Larson said it was her understanding that the report needed to be done in either case.
Heard from Keith, who complained that the Timberjay had inaccurately reported the amount spent on a new furnace for the Hoodoo Point Campground store building. The Timberjay had already published a correction. The Timberjay had reported the total quote which also included a hot water heater and air conditioning, but the city had only accepted the quote for the furnace.
Approved demolition of the old wooden trail kiosk by the mini-park. Electricity will still be available at the site for any future trail head signage.
Will post “No Wake Zone” signs on wooden pilings near the Your Boat Club marina. The council noted that enforcement would be through St. Louis County Sheriff’s Department.
Approved airport project proposals for 2019 and 2020. Projects include crack sealing and design and construction of a 40’x40’ heated storage building for the city-owned airport maintenance equipment. The city currently has to lease heated space for its large snowblowing apparatus. The city needs to contribute five percent of the total cost for the projects, estimated share to be $4,610, which will come from the city’s airport fund, which has $5,000 set aside for the project at this time.
Approved a $75,000 Blandin Foundation grant to TEDA for the broadband project.
Approved a $2,707 transfer from the Gundersen Trust to the city ski trail fund to help purchase a new cross country ski trail groomer. The club is still looking to raise funds to purchase a new snowmobile to pull the groomer.
Passed a resolution of support to apply for state bonding funds for a Tower-Breitung Waste Water filtration plant project. The city would act as the fiscal agent for the waste water joint powers board, since Breitung Township is not eligible for state bonding funds, but the city is.
Heard an update from city engineer Matt Bolf who reported on the lack of progress on approval of a plat for the town home project. Bolf said the city was still waiting on the vacation of an old unused DNR snowmobile trail easement, which he said was sitting in the attorney general’s office. A few other items for the plat have been tied up, or will be completed soon, Bolf said. Once the county plat is approved, the developers can submit their own CIC plat (common interest community overlay), which is required before they can start selling town home units. The city’s planning and zoning will need to approve the CIC, and once approved it will also go to St. Louis County for recording.