Citizens cause stir at BE Council meeting
Two Blue Earth citizens caused a stir at the City Council meeting here last Monday – on two separate matters.
One asked about a rumor concerning the airport runway project, while the other told the council he was guilty of breaking their sidewalk usage agreement.
Citizen Jim Ekse spoke during the public discussion part of the meeting. He asked about a rumor that three council members had met secretly with the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA).
Mayor Rob Hammond said he had no knowledge of any such meeting.
However, Councilmen John Huisman and Les Wiborg both reported that they – along with citizen Rodney Anderson – had indeed met with Sandy DePottey of the FAA on the Friday after Thanksgiving.
Huisman said the three of them met with the FAA representative as private citizens, and not as council members.
“We had concerns about the inflated numbers used for the airport runway project,” Huisman says. “I said this at a council meeting before. We think the airport usage numbers were too high, and even when Bolton and Menk lowered them, they are still not realistic – and we wanted Sandy DePottey to be aware of these concerns.”
Councilman Rick Scholtes wondered why they were doing this now, since the airport project had already been voted on.
“Since we voted on this and approved it, we will be on the hook if she (Sandy DePottey of the FAA) decides not to send us the money,” Scholtes said. The FAA is funding 95 percent of the runway extension project.
“The chances of it being overturned by the FAA are slim and none,” Huisman said. “I went as a private citizen, which I have a right to do.”
Ekse said he agreed Huisman and the others had a right to their opinions, and hoped they were acting as private citizens and not as council members.
“I feel the airport project is important,” Ekse says, “very important to Blue Earth. Others don’t feel that way, and I respect that.”
Huisman says he also feels that the airport is essential to Blue Earth, but called the runway extension a “luxury.”
Local business owner Kevin Guilliatt was at the meeting at the request of City Administrator Kathy Bailey.
“We have had some concerns with Mr. Guilliatt following the sidewalk usage variance,” Bailey said.
The council had previously granted a variance to the sidewalk usage ordinance to Guilliatt’s Blue Earth General Store.
In it, they allowed him to put merchandise in front of his store at 210 N. Main, but only out 30-inches from the building.
“We have had noted that the merchandise is also in front of 208 N. Main, and that it has been out further than 30 inches,” Bailey says.
“I’m guilty as charged,” Guilliatt told the council. But he had a simple solution to the problem.
“Just let me put my things out 60 inches from the building and everything will be fine,” he says.
Guilliatt explained that business has been so good that he is taking in at least two trucks full of merchandise each day, and selling most of it within hours.
“I don’t have any more space in my building at 210, and I don’t have any alley or access out back,” he says. “I need to have things on the sidewalk, or my business won’t survive.”
Guilliatt also said he does well on Sundays, when other stores are closed, and suggested others be open then too.
Bailey said they have also received complaints from patrons of Southern Jack’s Bar and Grill, located across the street from Guilliatt’s store, that he has told them not to park in front of his store.
“Not their customers,” Guilliatt told the council, “only their employees who park there all day.”
Mayor Hammond said it is not possible to tell people they can’t park on a public street.
Several councilmen wondered how far Guilliatt will go out into the sidewalk.
“If we say OK to 60 inches, how long until you go over that?” Councilman Glenn Gaylord asked. “And you are back here asking for more space.”
Guilliatt said if he ever went over that length, the city could pull his variance immediately.
“We have that right already,” Bailey said. “That is why you are here now.”
Gaylord suggested the matter be postponed two weeks, so he and other councilmen could go to the store and measure how much of a hindrance the five feet of merchandise would be.
The rest of the council agreed to tabling the matter. But, Councilman Dick Maher told Guilliatt he had better make a formal request for a new variance of 60 inches so the council could make a decision one way or the other.
“We don’t want to run your business out of town,” Maher said. “But we need to be reasonable about this.”