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Changing land sale process?

By Staff | Dec 29, 2013

David Frundt

If the city of Blue Earth wants to buy or sell land, they have to virtually pass a new law to do so each and every time they make a deal.

That is because the city’s charter says land purchases or land sales by the city require the City Council to pass an ordinance, not simply vote on a resolution to do so.

City officials say this could potentially put the city at a distinct disadvantage in attracting new business or industry.

They would like the Charter Commission to consider amending or deleting that requirement from the charter.

“If a company is looking to locate in Blue Earth and the city or the Economic Development Authority is going to sell them the land, that sale could be delayed up to six months because of this requirement,” city attorney David Frundt told the Charter Commission members at a meeting on Thursday morning, Dec. 19.

And what is worse, Frundt pointed out, is that a group of citizens could block the sale altogether.

Here is how it works.

The EDA would bring a proposed land sale to the City Council for their authorization to proceed with the sale.

The council has to give its approval by passing an ordinance (city law) on a roll call vote allowing the sale, not just pass a simple motion.

A new city ordinance needs to be published in the legal notices of the official newspaper of the city.

If a group of 250 citizens sign a petition against the new ordinance, it would block the land sale and cause the whole matter to be put on the next (or special) election ballot for a vote by the people.

This could take up to six months to accomplish, Frundt says.

City administrator Kathy Bailey says a delay of that length could easily cause a business or industry to decide not to locate in Blue Earth and go elsewhere to a city where it can establish itself much more quickly and easily.

“I had the League of Minnesota Cities (LMC) research this situation and they say they cannot find another charter city that has this same requirement,” she says.

Some members of the Charter Commission agreed it could be a concern. However, member Mike Enger disagreed.

“I think there is a very slim likelihood of this (delay) ever happening,” Enger said and asked if it had ever been a problem in the past.

Frundt said there had not been an issue in the past to his knowledge.

Enger urged caution in taking away citizens’ rights to change a council action they did not agree with.

“The citizens can always go to the City Council with their concerns,” commission member Gary Armon said. “That is a way they can get things changed.”

Commission member Frankie Bly agreed.

“If no other city in the state has this requirement, then maybe we shouldn’t have it either,” Bly said. “Especially if it puts us at risk to lose an economic development project.”

Armon added that improving the efficiency of the process of the city buying or selling land outweighs the slight possible issue of a citizen protest of the transaction.

Enger repeated his doubts it would ever happen, but Mayor Rick Scholtes says he can cite a recent example where it very nearly did.

“There was a group of baseball supporters ready to sign a petition to halt the land swap deal with the fair board if it didn’t include a possible ball diamond,” Scholtes said. “But they decided not to proceed.

In the end, the commission decided to postpone any decision on changing the charter until further discussion at their next meeting.

Should the commission decide to do away with, or change, the wording concerning the ordinance requirement for city land deals, it would go to the City Council for their approval first.

If it fails to be passed unanimously, the next step for the Charter Commission could be to take it to a vote of the citizens of the city.