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Councilmembers face off regarding responsibility, attendance, rates

By Staff | Jul 14, 2008

Three items on Monday’s Blue Earth city council agenda caused more debate than all others combined.

Hot topics included council responsibilities by wards, council attendance at committee meetings, and reducing swimming pool rates.

Councilman Dick Maher brought up the first two items. He said he wanted to clear the air on several issues.

Maher referred to a May 1999 council agreement which states councilmen are responsible for taking care of issues in their own wards. He said Councilman Les Wiborg has signed two complaint forms about junk cars in Ward I, which is Maher’s ward.

Wiborg said former City Administrator Ben Martig asked him to make a list of all the junk car problems in the city.

“I was following up on that,” Wiborg said, “Because nobody else is doing it, including Dean (Police Chief Dean Vereide). He should be more pro-active in this.”

“Just stay out of my ward,” Maher said. “The people of Ward I elected me to be their representative, and if there is a problem John (Councilman John Huisman) and I will take care of it.”

Councilman Glenn Gaylord asked about pursuing an issue in a ward he does not represent. “I brought up the problem of ATVs in Putnam Park, and that is not my ward,” he said. He asked if he needed to go to a councilman from that ward.

“There are some issues that are city-wide,” Mayor Rob Hammond responded, adding he generally turns a complaint over to the councilmen from the ward that the complaint comes from.

“This is a big deal to me,” Maher responded to a question about why he brought this up. “I will take care of my ward and I don’t want someone else jumping in.”

Maher’s next broached council attendance at meetings.

“Now that we got a raise, I think we should put more teeth into the attendance policy,” he said.

Wiborg pointed out that councilmen used to be called and notified before all the meetings. Maher answered that a lot of them are on a regular schedule.

“I’ve never seen any schedule,” Wiborg retorted.

Councilman Dan Brod said there is a provision in the ordinance concerning missing meetings, but there are no repercussions to it.

“I don’t have as much flexibility in my job schedule to attend meetings as some of the other gentlemen sitting in this room,” Brod said.

Wiborg agreed, saying he could not always take off work to attend meetings.

Mayor Hammond said private citizens take off to attend committee meetings. “We do a disservice to them when we miss a meeting.”

Gaylord suggested a better system of making sure everyone is aware meeting dates and times.

“I serve on the parks committee and they make every effort to meet when I am able to attend, and I appreciate that,” he said.

Brod suggested a better system of divvying up the council memberships on committees, as some serve on more committees than others.

Brod’s suggestion that pool rates be lowered for the remainder of the season was the third item receiving a long discussion, and several confusing motions.

He made a motion to reduce the family and individual passes to two-thirds of the original amount. Brod said he wanted to give kids who couldn’t afford the original rate a chance to go swimming.

Gaylord said he doubted a rate reduction would do the trick and amended it to lowering the daily pass in half, from $4 to $2 for kids and families who had a note from either a minister or a social worker showing they had a financial need for the lowered rate, he said.

The amendment passed, but then a question arose whether the motion had Gaylord’s amendment added to it, or whether the amendment replaced the original motion.

“I meant to replace it,” Gaylord said. However the rest of the council felt it was an addition to the original motion.

That amended motion was voted down, and a second one, which included only Gaylord’s proposal, passed.

The half-rate daily passes were to go into effect immediately, the council said. But it does require a note from a minister or a social worker.