JANUARY 6th CITY COUNCIL MEETING SUMMATION: After the Pledge and roll call (council member Tom Ingemann absent) Mayor Laurie Elliot highlighted item #12 on the agenda which is a discussion item on declaring a local state of emergency. She noted the rise in Covid-19 infections in MN and wants to discuss the need to go back to Zoom meetings for the council. A local declaration of emergency is needed for this to happen. Laurie pointed out that the council and staff are spread out in the council chambers to provide adequate social distancing for this meeting. Council adopted the agenda 4-0.
Public comments: none. Consent agenda: Laurie pointed out that the consent agenda contained the sewer and water rates schedule for 2022-2025. The rate schedule was based on a 5% increase instead of the originally planned 6% increase. She wants people to know that the council has heard the concerns about utility rates and are doing what they can to mitigate increases. (See photos 2,3, and 4 below) Sheriff’s report: Sargeant Harrell was not present so no report.
Fire Chief’s report: chief Steve Wiley had nothing to report.
Engineer’s report: none. Public Works report: superintendent Bruce Hanson informed the council that Emily White’s Girl Scout service troop will be up at Bailey School Forest for their winter activities kickoff from 6-8:30pm on January 14th. This is outside regular hours for the park which is why the city was informed and permission granted. Bruce wants people to know that it is illegal to push or blow snow across a street as that can create hazards.
Lastly, the rink and warming house at Loveland Park is open now. Cold does not affect the hours of operation. Bruce says he does not want a child heading up there in cold weather and then finding the warming house closed and being unable to get in and out of the cold.
Administrator’s report: city planner Nathan Fuerst introduced the variance request of Leeland Kimmel for his property at 460 12th St. Mr. Kimmel would like to improve his driveway surface but since the driveway does not meet setback standards it is considered “legal nonconforming”. Such properties cannot be improved without a variance approval. The Planning Commission at its December meeting held the public hearing (one person spoke and was in favor of the request) and recommended that the council grant approval. The PC felt the request was reasonable. Mr. Kimmel will also realign a section of the driveway which was encroaching on the neighboring property.
Council member Marvin Taylor noted that at one point the alley that had allowed access to Mr. Kimmel’s garage, which sits towards the back of his property, had been vacated. This leaves the noncompliant driveway as the only access to his garage. Council approved the variance 4-0.
Administrator Deb Hill informed the council that city staff will go back to having only 2 staff at city hall during business hours. The other 2 staff will work from home. Staff rotate between at home and in city hall. Business hours will remain the same. If a resident needs to speak to a particular staff member they are encouraged to call or email ahead of time. Residents can also meet with staff over the phone.
The council then discussed the need for a local emergency declaration so that council meetings can be held via Zoom. Laurie noted that the mayor can declare the emergency but then it needs to be voted on by council. Council member Roz Johnson said she would go along with it if necessary. Council member Kevin Chapdelaine acknowledged that he pushed for this. It might not be needed for very long, maybe 2-3 meetings. “We know how to do this.” Marvin preferred to stay with in person meetings. Laurie noted that a council vote would likely be 2-2 with the mayor being a tiebreaker. She opted not to declare the emergency but wondered about a mask mandate for those inside city hall.
Mayor and Council reports: Laurie: noted the large snowfall over the holidays and how so many neighbors got out there with shovels, snowblowers and plows and helped out others. “This is a great community.”
The Parks and recreation board is hosting their annual Family Fun Night at Loveland ice rink January 29th from 6-8pm. There will be music, games, refreshments and a bonfire. The free skates for kids and adults to use at the rink are up at the warming house for the season. (These skates were made possible by the volunteer group Newport on the Move.)
Laurie also encouraged residents to check into the city’s new autopay system for utility bills. This is handled by a third-party vendor so checking/savings account information is not stored at city hall. You still get the postcard bill in the mail but also an email from the vendors giving you a “heads up” on the upcoming debit and then an email confirming the payment. Go to the city’s website to sign up. There is no fee involved.
Lastly, Laurie held up a print, Red Rock Prairie, that has been donated by Corinne Mars. (See photo 5) the print is by Henry Lewis who did many drawings of areas along the Mississippi River. He had a showing of his art in Germany, at some point. The city will have the print framed and it will be hung in the new public service building.
Kevin: the 3M drinking water meetings will resume next week. He and city engineer Jon Herdegen will attend with the possibility of a third member coming along.
Marvin: he reported that he has been visiting ice rinks in other cities to get ideas for the new rink to be built by the new public service building. He has visited Edina, Maple Grove and Woodbury. He talked about mechanically refrigerated surfaces that can keep ice frozen well enough to double the ice-skating season. The cost per user of such a system has to be considered. Maple Grove’s ice track attracts hundreds of users. They rent out skates for $7. Woodbury has taken a pragmatic approach to their warming houses. These buildings “become something else during the summer.” Placed near playgrounds the buildings are used for birthday parties, etc during the warmer months. Marvin encouraged people to visit other rinks and make suggestions for what they would like to see at our new rink.
Roz: asked if an ice rink can be used for roller skating during the summer? Marv replied that there are such surfaces. He told her that there are basketball courts that have hoops that can be turned away from the court so that the court can be used for roller skating or other activities besides basketball.
Laurie then closed the council meeting to the public. The council will be discussing possible litigation in regard to the construction of the new public service building. Laurie took care to explain the legal basis for closing the meeting. Our new city attorneys recommended that she read a script that they provided that gives the legal basis for closing the meeting. This is common practice at other cities but new to Newport. (Editorial comment: closed meetings are not new to Newport but giving the necessary legal basis and defining the scope of the meeting is new to Newport) The script that Laurie read basically said that the need for the council to discuss in private the legal strategies needed to handle this potential litigation outweighs the benefits of an open meeting. The discussion will only be on legal strategies and no decisions will be made. It benefits the city to not have their discussions open to the people involved in the litigation and it benefits the residents as this litigation can impact the city’s finances.
The council then held this closed-door portion of the council meeting.