Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Council Meeting 4/24/19

The Grand Marais City Council met tonight for their final meeting of April. The video of the meeting can be found HERE.

The meeting was called to order right at 6:30 with all councilors present except for Councilor Schulte, who had a schedule conflict and was out of town.

The Open Forum was opened at this point; no public were present to speak so the Open Forum was closed.

The Consent Agenda had the typical three items on it (Approval of Agenda, Approval of Previous Meeting Minutes, and Payment of Bills). The Council had a few adjustments to the minutes to make sure that the minutes reflected the record of the meeting and/or to clarify intent of the statements made. It is very handy to have the recorded video of past meetings to compare against and make sure that the minutes accurately reflect the meetings.

With those modifications, the Consent Agenda was approved unanimously.

The next item on the Agenda was a request from the Art Colony for a temporary liquor license to be effective for their annual Artful Evening meal on the harbor. The application was exactly the same as last year's application. The Council asked the representative from the Art Colony, Kathi Polley, about challenges that they had last year at the event and if they had any concerns. Ms. Polley reported that there were some items of concern last year that they were able to overcome and have learned from that for this year and feel very comfortable providing a safe and law-abiding environment for the event. With those considerations, the Council approved the license unanimously.

Moving right along, the next item on the Agenda was a request for a right-of-way license for the property known as Buck's Hardware Hank to continue to have their fuel tanks in their current location, which is located in the City right-of-way on 1st St. The owner of the property, Buck Benson, reported that one of the tanks was installed in 1988 and the other in 1994. At that time there were no requests made for right-of-way access and that it was not made aware to him until the Hwy 61 redesign process identified it as an issue, which prompted this request.

As is, the tanks in the ground have been lined (reinforced) and have a voltage monitoring system installed to show when and where any corrosion is beginning to appear in the tanks, both of which are industry approved methods of monitoring and ensuring safety of the tanks.

The license at question is for 15 years, which should be seen as a period of time for the property owner to make a plan to replace/relocate the tanks out of the right of way. Mr. Benson acknowledged this and agreed to the language of the license.

A question was brought up as to whether or not the license went with the property or was assigned to Buck Benson himself. It was clarified that the license can be transferred to another owner with the written agreement of the City. This was an acceptable safeguard as viewed by the City.

Also, the license identifies that the City has no responsibility for the tanks or their maintenance and that if the City has need of the right of way in question, the City has the right to use it or change it.

With all of these considerations, the Council moved to approve the license and it passed unanimously.

The next item on the Agenda was an update on the City's Climate Action Plan input period, which is open right now. You can take the survey to give your two cents HERE.

CAP Coordinator Shane Steele prepared a presentation to take the Council through the history of the development of the Climate Action Plan, some of the work that went into it, and the feedback process planned/the schedule for the Council to continue considering the plan for a final draft.

The public comment period will be open until May 10th at which point the City staff and Shane Steele will process the input, suggest changes to the plan, and prepare a final draft for the Council to consider by May 22nd. If there is an overwhelming amount of feedback to process, they may request more time for processing. There is a chance that this more-or-less final draft will be on the Council Agenda for the May 29th Council meeting.

There was then a robust conversation about the implications of the plan and the timeline. I would encourage you to watch the conversation on the video as I can't capture the details as well as the video can. Suffice to say that there were many good points made that would make the project more successful in the future.

I am open to having a conversation on this with anyone who wants to have one.

Moving on in the Agenda, the Council considered a revised proposal from HKGI, the organization that the Council hired at the last meeting to perform the Planning and Zoning Commission's housing study. As per the City Administration, HKGI increased the estimated hours to be invested in the project by 20 hours and that action increased the not to exceed cost of the project to $14,550 from $12,660. The Council reflected that this was an understandable increase and that the interest of both the Council and the Planning and Zoning Commission is to make sure that the project is thorough and identifies ALL possible ways that the City can work to make housing development more accessible within the City while maintaining the village feel that is unique to Grand Marais.
After some conversation on the bid a motion was made and it passed unanimously.

The last item on the Agenda was a final plat reference for a development within the City limits called the Winterstone. It will be located between the Gunflint Trail and 9th St. N. This development identifies 8 building sites and a through road. The developer of the project, Taiga Design + Build, is owned by Councilor Moody, so for this conversation he took off his Councilor hat and put on his contractor/developer hat and was not a voting member of the Council and could not participate in conversation regarding the project as a Councilor.

*As a procedure, the only thing that was needed tonight was for the Council to refer the final plat to the Planning and Zoning Commission for consideration and assessment. It is then the P&Z's responsibility to assess the plan for suitability and compliance with the development rules of the City. During the process of passing the preliminary plat there were a few items acknowledged, such as odd lot shapes and sizes, but the preliminary plat was approved at that time. Now the final plat needs to go through a more rigorous process to make sure that it is designed in line with the City's rules.

There were a number of questions about how Councilor Moody's abstention from this process will effect the process overall, which can be boiled down to this:

Councilor Moody cannot vote on this. The remaining Councilors, due to the conflict of interest shown by Mr. Moody's multiple roles, must decide unanimously to approve the final plat. This is a state rule to ensure that there is complete confidence in the Council that the process was followed and that the decision being made is in line with the City's rules, not just of development, but of conduct.

After this conversation the Council moved to refer the Winterstone plat to the P&Z Commission and it passed unanimously with Councilor Moody abstaining.

Then it was time for the Council/Staff Reports:

Councilor Moody had no report

Councilor Kennedy had no report

Councilor Swearingen had no report

I reported on a meeting that I attended with representatives of Visit Cook County and the Cook County/Grand Marais Chamber in reference to planning about communication for he Hwy 61 redesign happening in 2020. The consensus was that communication about what is going to happen has to start this year and continue through next year. There needs to be a great deal of partnership between the City, local businesses, and other advertising agencies located/aimed at our area.

I also reported that I attended a candlelight vigil held by the Violence Prevention Center on Tuesday night to remember and support the victims of sexual violence as it is Sexual Violence Awareness Month this month. On top of that, today is Denim Day, a day to speak out about sexual violence. If you are not aware of this, please take the time to learn about it HERE.

I will be attending the Emergency Management Conference this weekend. Thank you for all of your work EMS workers!

Administrator Roth reported that North House Executive Director Greg Wright will be attending the next Council meeting to give the annual update of the organization and that the developer that provided a proposal for the City Hall/Liquor Store site will be in attendance as well to answer the Council's questions about their proposal and interest in the property.

He also reported that this week was Audit week for the City, which means that people from our auditing agency were in present at City Hall from Monday to Wednesday and they made a great deal of requests for information, but left today and will be providing the Council with an in person summary when it is finished. Thank you to Finance Director Dunsmoor for her work all year long and during the Audit process.

Councilor Swearingen asked for an update about the MN DOT property lease that the City asked for additional information back a few months ago. Administrator Roth reported that he has not received substantive information to answer the Council's questions, so that item will return to a future agenda when information is collected.

Having no further business, the Council adjourned at 7:55pm.

As always, if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me!

Thursday, April 11, 2019

City Council Meeting 4-10-19

Well, after a brief vacation I am back in town trying to catch up.

Thank you to the other Councilors and Councilor Moody for running the previous meeting in a shockingly efficient manner. If you have any questions about what happened in that meeting, you can watch the entire meeting in 19 minutes HERE.

This meeting can be watched HERE. Please note the work that Communications Director Knight has put into making sure that the recordings contain presented materials so that they are more complete. Thank you Patrick!

Starting from the top of the Agenda, the meeting was called to order at 6:30pm with all councilors present and ready to go!

There were a number of people who spoke during the Open Forum of the meeting:

-Andrea Orest, coordinator of the Sawtooth Mountain Clinic's Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP), came before the Council to ask for the Council's support for a grant for Arrowhead Regional Development Commission (ARDC) to work to revision the mission of the Active Living Steering Committee, a group that has done a great deal of work to improve active transportation around the community in the past 8 years. After a brief discussion of the virtues of the Active Living Steering Committee, the Council moved to write a letter of support for this grant. It passed unanimously.

-Community member Micki Brazell came before the Council to bring up some items of concern for him. He started by expressing concern for the safety issues that arise due to the lack of adequate sidewalks. He spoke of different locations around the City where pedestrians are forced to walk in the street, disrupting traffic flow and endangering people. He also pointed out that overgrowth and other obstructions at corners in the City causes vehicles to pull out much farther than the actual corner, potentially causing safety issues for people driving and pedestrians. *The Council pointed Mr. Brazell to the Pedestrian Plan that is available on the City website, which should address most of his concerns regarding sidewalks and pedestrians. His concerns about corner visibility is something that each and every one of us should check out and do our part to make sure that our hedges, trees, etc, aren't blocking sight lines. Maybe some trimming is in order!
The last thing that Micki wanted to talk about was seagulls. It is his observation that the number of seagulls in the downtown area has increased dramatically over the past several years and asked if there was anything that could be done. *I have actually done some research into this and found that our "American Herring Gulls" are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 which was put in place because of the crash of bird populations due to overhunting caused by the popularity of bird feathers for clothing decoration and other uses. The Act was obviously very successful and the protections still stand. The only way that the City can get permission to interfere with gulls in any way is to prove that frightening and mechanical exclusion techniques have failed and that the concern could be addressed with other methods. I will be doing some research to see if the City could get a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to allow property owners to remove nests from their properties if they do not contain eggs. We'll see what comes of that.

-Our last visitor was Kimber Wraalstad, the Administrator of North Shore Health. She informed the Council that North Shore Health's strategic planning included a desire to become more visible to the elected officials in the area, so she came to the Council meeting to inform the Council about some of the goings-on at the hospital. She reported that the hospital now has chemotherapy services available and that a handful of local residents are taking advantage of that. She also stated that she would be glad to field any questions that the Council may have for her or North Shore Health.

On to the Agenda!

The Consent Agenda had the typical three things on it and was passed unanimously after Councilor Swearingen asked for clarification about the order of "motion/second" for one of the motions recorded in the meeting minutes for the last Council meeting. The record would be checked and corrected if necessary.

The first item on the agenda was from the PUC requesting that the Council adopt a resolution in favor of a piece of legislation recently entered into the House of Representatives called the "Energy Innovation and Carbon Divident Act." This piece of legislation explains and puts into action a fee on the source of carbon intensive fuels/energy that is then given directly to citizens of the United States to defray the added cost of energy. PUC Commissioner George Wilkes then presented a slideshow to explain how the legislation would function and how the proposed "Carbon Fee and Dividend" program would play out.
*It is important to remember that the Council already approved a resolution in favor of such a carbon dividend program back in 2017, and that this would simply be a re-iteration of that resolution pointed more directly toward the actual piece of proposed legislation.
Councilors Swearingen and Schulte requested that there be some time given for them to do some additional research into the program and the Council agreed to revisit this topic in a future meeting.

The next item on the agenda was the Planning and Zoning Commission's results for the Request for Proposals put out for a housing inventory and for analysis of the City's Zoning Ordinance. The purpose of putting out this RFP was to answer the question about what the City could do to remove barriers to housing development in the City while preserving the environment of the residential zone.

The P&Z Commission received 4 responses to the RFP, all of which were found to be organizations that would be capable of doing the work. The Price range stretched from $12,660 to $19,500, and the P&Z Commission recommended the hiring of the lowest responsible bidder HKGI (Hoisington Koegler Group Inc.) to do the work. They proposed the $12,660 budget and provided a timeline of completing the work by roughly October of this year. There were a few questions from the Council on hiring this group since the Council didn't have a chance to see the proposal itself before the meeting, but the rigorous research done by the P&Z Commission suited the Council's concerns and the motion was made to hire HKGI for the work.

*You may wonder why the City is hiring out this work instead of doing it in-house. This was brought up at the City Strategic Planning retreat when housing concerns were identified as one of the top 6 priorities that the City needed to address. If the City was to do this in-house, it would require a great deal of staff time, pulling staff away from other work that still needs to be done, and it would require the City contracting with the County staff to get information anyway, so the incurred costs and staff time that we would invest into the project would likely add up to more than the amount bid by HKGI. This way the City can rely on planning professionals to gather the information, process it, and get the City useful suggestions/feedback in a timely manner so the Council can focus on taking action on their suggestions this fall/winter.

The next item on the Agenda was also an RFP, but an RFP for the City Hall/Liquor Store site. You may remember that the City put this RFP out to see if any developers would be interested in redeveloping the City Hall/Liquor Store site for commercial activity etc. The City was hoping to learn the suitability of the property for commercial development or the challenges to such.

It is fair to say that the City learned a lot. There were a number of developers that declined to provide a proposal due to concerns about: lot size (not big enough to work financially), density (some developers would need 4-5 floors to make the numbers work), flood concerns and other environmentals (such as foundation concerns--it is just beach gravel under that site), traffic and parking, but the main concern was about the financials. It seemed that it wasn't big enough to cashflow.

One developer DID submit a proposal with a few caveats. One of the caveats would be, due to the nature of the development, that the City sell the property to the developer for a "nominal amount." That amount isn't clarified and would have to be explored, but that is a bit of a bummer to hear, but the designs deserve to have a look because they provide insight into what would be financially feasible and under what conditions.

The developer provided two designs:

The first design showed a first floor that consisted of a new liquor store along broadway and office space/commercial space along 1st St. on the ground floor. The second floor would have 25 units of Workforce Housing (think studio apartments) and a lounge area with laundry. The third floor would have 14 units of lodging rental. There would be 28 parking spots included as well as a loading area for deliveries to the liquor store.

The second design showed the liquor store in its current location along 1st St. and office space along Broadway. Also on Broadway there was a pocket park (small grassy space). The second floor in this design had 18 units of workforce housing with 2 lounge areas and laundry. The third floor had 13 units of lodging with a laundry room. This plan came with 33 parking spots and a dedicated delivery area for the liquor store.

The Council had some discussion about these designs, but largely discussed what this taught the City about the property and options. A few Councilors were not too impressed with the designs, a few wondered if our RFP wasn't realistically written, a few were interested in more information about these designs.

In the end the Council decided to invite this developer to a meeting to discuss their thoughts further. The Council also suggested that the former Tomteboda property be discussed at the same time to see if there is a clear priority for where these different activities could/should be taking place. There was also a brief question about whether or not the City should re-open the RFP period for this project to see if there are more interested developers, but that was not explored.

After these conversations there was a quick piece of business: hiring a new firefighter! Thank you to Justin Rexrode for applying to be on the fire department! Your service is much appreciated. If you are thinking of being a part of the Fire Department, please speak with Fire Chief Ben Silence or stop by City Hall for more information!

Ok, after that the Council dealt with a request from a party seeking to lease the TIP portion of the City Hall building. This 640 sq. ft. section of the City Hall building is also known as the old visitor's center and the Office Outpost. The Council has had a standing offer up since the Office Outpost closed to entertain ideas for business pop-up or retail space in that part of the building and this group is the first to step forward and ask about a lease. The lease that was prepared by the City Attorney is a draft, but it holds the City responsible for very little of the operations or maintenance of the space during the lease. The estimated value for the space is $750/month, utilities included (because there is no way to meter them separately). The lessee is responsible for paying property tax on that piece of the property as well because it will be used for commercial activity.

After some questions about what the business will be selling, the Council agreed to move forward with the lease and work out some of the details that remain to be set.

It would be the hope of the Council that this serves as an effective business incubator spot while the City Hall building is still in its current state.

The final item on the agenda was a request for a license to use a public right of way on 8th Ave W. The owners have already received a variance to build a home on a substandard lot (just a little bit shy of a standard lot, but was plotted that way), but would need to use the right of way to access their property. Since this right of way, alley, has not been developed and there are no plans to develop it, the granting of a license to use the right of way isn't very controversial. The license stated clearly that the land remains public, that the owners of the license can't exclude people from using it, that the owners of the license will pay for the improvements that they make, and that if the City ever wants to make that into an alley or develop it formally, the license will expire because it will be unnecessary at that point. After asking questions about if this was handled in this manner for other properties in town (it was) and some clarification questions, the Council moved and approved the license to use the right of way.

Time for Council/Staff Reports:

Councilor Schulte reported on some positive work happening at the Park Board with Golf rates/promos being finalized. The new Course Superintendent also attended the meeting to meet people and discuss the upcoming season. There were also concerns at the Park Board level about the schedule for removing the Dog Pound and the old City Garage buildings from the Rec Park area. The Council will begin scheduling this soon. He also reported that reservations at the Rec Park are currently up 17% over last year, which points toward a likely very busy season.

Councilor Moody reported that the EDA has been discussing the County Vacation Rental Ordinance, which had its hearing the same time as the Council meeting. The Lutsen rental property is nearing completion and all of the units are rented out that are available. The homes being developed in Grand Marais continue to sell well and there will be requests going out soon to local contractors for the job of building 2 more in that area.

Councilor Kennedy reported that the PUC awarded its scholarships just before the Council meeting started. Congratulations to Reilly Wahlers, Will Surbaugh, and Greta Roth on their scholarships!

Councilor Swearingen reported on a concern from a citizen about out of order fire hydrants around town. Administrator Roth clarified that all of the hydrants can be opened, but the ones that are marked may not be able to be closed. It was brought up as a priority for the Water/Wastewater Department to look into replacing these as soon as possible.

I had several noise complaints from residents saying that there are a handful of very loud vehicles around town that tend to cruise around and, well, be very loud. This is against City ordinance and tickets can be given for this behavior. I will be following up with the sheriff to make sure that this is being enforced.
I also attended a Creative Economy Collaborative where the group reviewed the Cultural Plan that was written a few years ago through leadership from the Art Colony. The group looked through and updated things that have been done and things that have yet to be done and also things that are not on our priority list to accomplish.
Public Health and Human Services is performing a strategic planning process right now and I was able to attend their last meeting. In it they created goal areas for the department that focus on: Supporting families with young children, supporting aging adults and elders, supporting those who need behavioral care/assistance, making sure that people with substance abuse histories can get the care they need, making sure that people with needs for special services don't have obstacles to receiving the care they need, and housing. It was a very encouraging meeting and I look forward to seeing how this plays out in the future.

After that there was no more business, so the Council adjourned.

As always, please let me know if you have any questions.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

City Council Meeting 3-13-19

The Grand Marais City Council met Wednesday at 6:30 at the City Council Chambers amidst rain and mild temperatures for the first meeting of March.

If you would like to watch the meeting, the full video can be found HERE.
*A note and a thank you to Communications Director Patrick Knight for linking topics to specific times in the video (expand the notes on the video and you will see what I mean). That is just another way to make sure that the work of the Council is more accessible...

The Council was called to order without Councilor Moody, who is on his spring vacation. We hope he's having a good time and safe travels.

There were no public present for public comment, so the Open Forum was opened and closed and the meeting proceeded.

The Consent Agenda had the typical three items on it (Approval of Agenda, Approval of Previous Meeting Minutes, Payment of Bills) and an additional item, which was the renewal of the Curling Club's Consumption and Display Permit, which allows them to have intoxicating beverages present and consumed at club events. The Consent Agenda was passed unanimously.

The next, and one of the more significant items on the agenda, was a discussion on Calendar Parking brought before the Council by both the deep snow conditions of the winter and the County Highway Engineer, Krysten Foster. Ms. Foster presented a number of ways that snow emergency/snow removal scheduling/calendar parking has worked in other communities and provided a draft ordinance for a way that Grand Marais could implement such an ordinance to address the complications experienced in removing snow from City streets.

I will not spend a lot of time on the examples that wouldn't be ideal for Grand Marais, but to mention that they included having someone need to declare and communicate a snow emergency when parking restrictions would be implemented or to have there be a different mechanism that would put the parking restrictions in place. It was deemed that this would be onerous to residents of the community and that a communicated plan for calendar parking would be a better solution.

What is Calendar Parking?

Simply put, it is an ordinance that requires that vehicles/trailers (no matter who's vehicle/trailer it is) be parked on a specific side of the street on specific dates. The draft ordinance brought forward by County Engineer Foster identified a schedule of odd numbered days parking on the odd numbered house side of the street and even numbered days parked on the even house number side of the street:

For Example:
My house number is 8. That means that on the even numbered dates (2,4,6,8,10,etc) I will be parking on my side of the street (east side). On the odd numbered dates (1,3,5,7,9,11, etc) I will be parking across the street on the west side of the street. Not too complicated there.

Timeframe: The ordinance also suggests a timeframe. The City doesn't need this to be in effect all year round due to snow, so dates were suggested of November 1 to April 30 assuming that these would be the dates most likely to be impacted by the necessity of snow removal.

*There is also an allowance in the draft ordinance for an exception for enforcement at night because the plows won't be going out at night. The suggested time for this exception is from 7pm to midnight, but this is not finalized and will be subject to conversation. The main point to consider with this element of the ordinance is that there will be a "grace period" at night when the plows aren't going to be out plowing where you won't get ticketed/towed if you are on the wrong side of the street.

Let's talk about that ticketed/towed part for a second:

That's part of this that makes peoples' ears perk up. No one wants to get a ticket or be towed. No one also wants their car to be plowed in or to have big chunks of frozen snow from where someone's car was plowed in to end up in their driveway... It was suggested that, early in the season, before tickets and towing would start (and before the snow piles up to significant amounts as to create problems) there would be a period of time where warnings would be given out instead of tickets to educate everyone of the expectations. At a certain time these warnings would cease and ticketing/towing would begin to ensure proper snow removal of the city streets.

**There was no decision made by the Council on this topic at this meeting. There will be more discussion at future meetings and the community will be looked to for comment. It was noted during Council discussion that this seems to be the right direction to be moving in for City snow removal. Please let me know if you have thoughts on this. I hope that I did an ok job of describing the elements of the draft ordinance...

Following that discussion the Council proofread a letter to County Chair Storlie beginning the conversations identified in the City prioritization exercise done earlier this year. That exercise identified six things that the Council will be prioritizing for the next year or so, one of those things being the renegotiation of City/County agreements.

The letter outlined this information and requested that the full Council and Commission plan a time to discuss three major agreements between the County and City. Those are:
1. Support for the operation of a Community Center-- This agreement was made to support the YMCA, but was called a "Community Center" because it was unknown at the time of its drafting what the facility would be called. Since there have been significant changes in the operation and agreements pertaining to the YMCA, the City feels that it is important to re-address this agreement as well.
2. Law Enforcement-- The City has contracted with the County Sheriff Department for law enforcement services for nearly twenty years. As the City Council renovates the City Code the necessity of having the buy in from the Sheriff Department will increase. It is the desire of the Council to have up to date ordinances that are clearly enforceable, which will include the Sheriff Department as well as potentially an enforcement method provided by the City. At any rate, this needs to be discussed and renegotiated.
3. Street Maintenance-- This ties into the Calendar Parking discussion above. The City and County have a very old agreement for maintenance of streets within the City, some of which are actually County roads and some of which are City streets. The County has the equipment to do the City streets and the City has the equipment to take care of some of the more significant County roads, as in South Broadway and Wisconsin Street. This conversation will look at that arrangement and also hammer out ownership concerns regarding some streets that have had big question marks over them, such as 4th Ave W above 5th St... Otherwise known as the Old, Old Gunflint or the street behind the Recycling Center and by the softball diamond. All of this will be on the table.
*The Council authorized the sending of this letter with some proofreading corrections.

An ongoing item on the Council agenda has been the MNDOT Right of Way Acquisition/Lease offers. At the last meeting the Council looked over the offers and had some significant questions about how the leases would impact the City's ability to maintain or improve some of the stormwater drainages that MNDOT was interested in. Since the MNDOT did not reply with an answer to these questions, the Council decided to not take any action and continue to wait on a response from MNDOT.

Next on the agenda was a two part discussion regarding some ongoing personnel work.

Firstly, last year the Personnel Committee started the process of reassessing the position of Golf Course Superintendent and brought the reassessed position to the Council for approval. These reassessments are done using a common rating system and the increase in "points" for this position reflect the position being weighed with the same interpretation of the responsibilities of the position compared to other positions in the City organization that have similar responsibilities. The reassessment also placed the Superintendent position back in the same relative position to other supervisory positions within the City organization, which is a slight reassurance that the process is working the way it should be. The Council reviewed the reassessed position and approved the new rating for the position.

Secondly, with that reassessment completed, the Personnel Committee, along with the Park Department and the Golf Course Task Force, which was populated with interested/involved members of the community, brought forward a candidate and solution for the uncertainty at Gunflint Hills Golf Course. Through the process of looking for a new superintendent the City advertised, interviewed, offered, re-offered, created Plan A/Plan B scenarios, and considered many different concepts for the operation of the Golf Course. A few items rose to the top of discussion at all levels: The course must be in tip top condition or people will not want to play it and there need to be events/incentives to encourage new players at the course. Through the search process and all of the conversation, the City feels confident that we have found a candidate that can provide all of those things for Gunflint Hills. Paul Jones was the man contracted by the City last season to fill in the gaps for turf care and was able to do great things with the condition of the course. The Council authorized the hiring of Paul for the full time position of Superintendent, which will include clubhouse activities, events, course care, and staffing. This position is a part of the Parks Department, so Mr. Jones will be reporting to Parks Director Tersteeg. The Personnel Committee explained that the starting wage for Mr. Jones is in the middle of the approved range for the position and not at the lower end of it because of his work with the course last year and his broad experience in golf course management/turf maintenance. The Council looks forward to a great season at Gunflint Hills this coming summer.

Also included in the Personnel Report was the request from the Library to hire Tom Knutson as a part-time Library Clerk. Tom has previous experience at the Library as a technician and is familiar with the clerk position, so his addition will hopefully be seamless to the operations at the Library.

On to Council and Staff Reports:

-Councilor Schulte reported that the Park Board set rates for Gunflint Hills Golf Course aimed at maintaining the golfing population and incentivizing new golfers to come up and play. If you are interested in those rates, I believe that they will soon be updated on the Gunflint Hills website. He also reported that representatives of the "Stars of the North" Music Festival are still seeking an answer regarding the necessity of a "Beer Garden" enclosure for the sale of alcoholic beverages during the festival. This conversation will be taken up by the Council when the application from the organization is made.

-Councilor Kennedy had nothing to report other than that the Planning and Zoning Commission has sent out the Request for Proposals for assistance with the rewriting of the City Zoning/Housing ordinance. It will be a little while until the proposals come back, but more on that upcoming!

-Councilor Swearingen provided the Council with a copy of the existing North House Folk School lease requesting that the Council educate itself on the contents of that agreement as North House Director, Greg Wright, will likely be coming to make his annual presentation to the Council in the coming months. Any continuation of the conversation on the lease will require knowledge of the existing contract and its stipulations. She also reminded the Council that the Administrator position for the City does not have a formal Performance Evaluation process and continues to encourage the Council to adopt and perform one. Considering that Councilor Swearingen and I compose the Personnel Committee, we will dedicate some time to this and perform this evaluation in the coming months. This also brings up the fact that the City Administrator position is the only remaining supervisory position that has not been rerated in the past few years. Conversation about whether or not this position should be rerated will be ongoing.

-My report included my presentation at a panel put together by the Cook County Local Energy Project regarding the City's Climate Action Plan, which is nearing completion and will be put out for community comment in the coming weeks. In the work that I have done with Climate Action Plan coordinator Shane Steele, whose position has been funded by a generous grant by the McKnight Foundation, many great ideas have come forward and the plan will provide Grand Marais with a plan to reach its goal of carbon neutrality by 2040. In addition to this presentation and the Climate Action Plan, Coordinator Steele requested that the City accept an intern from the University of MN Duluth to help in updating the City's Greensteps City profile with all of the work that the City has done on the Climate Action Plan. This intern would work on this project as a part of his undergraduate work, thus gratis, and travel expenses for trips to Grand Marais would be handled by the Clean Energy Resource Team of MN, so the City will be getting free labor to get caught up. This is a double benefit as then Coordinator Steele can use the remaining McKnight funding for his position to participate in the vetting/iterative process and implementation of the Climate Action Plan instead of spending his time updating the Greensteps database. The Council agreed to move forward with this.
I also reported on the revision/renewal of the City's parts of the County Emergency Management Plan. Administrator Roth and I sat down and updated the different resources that the City can contribute to any Emergency Response. The plan is a crucial tool in preparedness for our community and Administrator Roth and I were impressed with how well it was written initially, requiring only minor updating.

Having no further business, the Council adjourned following that report!

As always, please let me know if you have any questions and I will do what I can to answer them.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

City Council Meeting 2/27/19

Tonight the Grand Marais City Council met for the final Council meeting of February.

It was a very full agenda with many items that required a great deal of consideration, so without any further ado, I will get to the summary. If you would like to see the video of the meeting, it can be seem HERE.

The meeting was called to order at 6:30pm with all members of the Council present.

The Open Forum was opened and community members present were invited to address the Council if they wished. One person, Michael McHugh introduced himself to the Council as an applicant to the opening of the Planning and Zoning Commission.

The Open Forum was then closed and the Council began with the Agenda.

The first item on the agenda, as usual, was the approval of the Consent Agenda, which had the typical three items on it (Approval of the Minutes, Approval of the previous meeting minutes, and Payment of bills). The motion was made to approve the Consent Agenda and it passed unanimously.

At this time the Council took up the business of appointing members to the City Boards and Commissions. There were two openings at the beginning of the meeting and the hope was to end the meeting with less than that, which is what happened.

The first opening was on the Planning and Zoning Commission, for which there were two applicants, Michael McHugh, a teacher at the school and area resident for 14 years, and Philip Oswald, a 5 year property owner and resident of the City with a background in planning and consulting. Both candidates presented themselves as fully worthy candidates, which put the Council in a tricky position, as only one could be chosen. After some discussion and question asking, a motion was made to appoint Michael McHugh to the Commission, which passed unanimously. Thank you both Michael and Philip for your willingness to participate! There will be some exciting work being done in the Planning and Zoning Commission in the coming years, so it is great to have a strong group of people working on it.

There is currently one opening on the Park Board as well! There is some exciting work to be done there as well! If you are interested, please come by City Hall and pick up an application!

Next Fire Chief Ben Silence and Assistant Chief Aaron Mielke came before the Council to present and seek approval of the culmination of several years of their work to write down and formalize the Standard Operating Procedures for the Fire Department. The result is a 50+ page document that outlines all of the necessary information for members of the Fire Department to reference so they can understand best practices and how the Department needs to be run and how they need to be a part of that. It is very well done and it was the Council's hope that this would make the operation of the Fire Department more streamlined and clear. A major driver for putting this SOP manual together was to achieve what was mentioned above, but also to lower the Fire Department's ISO (Insurance Services Office) score. This score is a risk score that rates the emergency response ability of the area around where people live. A high ISO score is bad and will result in higher home insurance rates because there is more risk that if a fire or calamity occurs, the Fire Department wouldn't be able to respond quickly or effectively. The Grand Marais Fire Department saw its ISO score go down (from an already respectable score) after the last rescoring, and it is assumed that having this manual and better record keeping will lower the score even more. That translates to lower home insurance prices for the community.

Discussion with Ben and Aaron diverged to a few other items after the plan was approved. Councilors asked what the Fire Department's plan was for testing fire hydrants and flushing them, to which Chief Silence stated that it is his hope to work with Tom Nelson at the Water Plant to do that work in the spring, thus replacing unusable hydrants in the early summer, or as possible.

It was also discovered that the Fire Department has only 18 people on it and the more, the merrier was the sentiment. Becoming a member of the Fire Department is very easy and the commitment is worth every minute of work you have to put in. There is also compensation for your years of service.

All you need is to live within a 10 minute response time of the Fire Hall. If you are interested in becoming a member, please stop by City Hall or stop by and talk with Ben Silence at his shop.

One last thing on the Fire Department: Grand Marais relies on these people a great deal and get an incredible service from them. One piece of equipment that the Department is seeking to replace is a support truck to go out on calls with. If you have a newer truck or SUV that is in good working order that you would be interested in donating to the Fire Department, please let me know and we can make that happen!

Moving along...
Next on the Agenda was a summary of the results of the Council's Prioritization Workshop held on February 19th where the Council and the Department Heads all got together and puzzled out what the priorities of the City should be for the next few years.

The process that was used was:
1. The Department Heads provided a "State of the City" report according to their department.
2. The Council and Department Heads brainstormed, from that information and other information discussed in Council meetings, a thorough list of priorities that could be addressed in the coming years. The list that I made had 54 items on it. The list made by the Council/Department Heads had 37, after consolidating.
3. All present people voted for their top 6 priorities and those votes were tallied, giving the Council its list.

*That list had to be weighed against the Community Values that were identified in the City Comprehensive Plan. Those values are:
1. Support and Enhance Local Business
2. Encourage Expansion of Sustainable Energy Uses
3. Develop Access to Housing that All People Can Afford Throughout Their Lives
4. Expand Education for the Mind, Body, and Soul
5. Invest in Safe, People-Friendly Infrastructure that Supports Active Living
6. Enhance the Community's Deep Connection to the Outdoors, and Active Engagement of the Environment.

The Six Priorities that rose to the top were:
1. City Code Update and Enforcement-Review, update, create enforcement strategy
2. Update City/County Agreements-Start conversations to renegotiate and update agreements
3. Redevelop City Hall/Liquor Store Site-Explore all options of development, including private development, considering cost and ongoing impact to the community
4. Highway 61-Advocate for community needs before and during construction. Work with MnDot to establish maintenance agreements
5. Housing-Evaluate City programs/regulations and potential changes to address housing. Identify a strategy to invest in housing
6. Capital Improvement Plan-Continue to maintain a capital improvement plan to fund upcoming, scheduled projects and to begin planning for upcoming projects that are not yet scheduled.

There were some comments from the Council regarding the wording of these priorities, but it was clear that the Council felt that these were very important to the vitality and health of the community and these priorities were adopted by the Council.

Each of these priorities will require community involvement to be effective, so please stay tuned and the City will be reaching out for engagement on each of these.

After that, and riding on the heals of priority #3 was a draft Request for Proposals (RFP) to be sent out to potential developers of the City Hall/Liquor Store site. There were comments regarding the implications that this would have for the location of the Liquor Store, and a concern about potential parking loss, but it became very clear that the Council can't answer any of those questions/concerns until more information has been gathered. The RFP, then, becomes a very useful tool for the City to be informed of what could be possible in the City Hall space, and how that would benefit the community.

Written into the RFP were requirements that went beyond designing a cool building.
It requests:
-A summary of proposed uses for the site and market potential for those uses
-Potential unit sale/rent prices and values
-Purchase price, terms, and financing for the developer to be able to fund such a project
-Schedule and proof that the developer can achieve what is being proposed
-How the proposal will address the City's Proposal Considerations, which were drawn from the City's Comprehensive Plan and from a Council worksession that took place in 2018. They include items such as: Enhance neighborhood vitality, Create pedestrian oriented development, Provide retail and other space that compliment and enhance the balance of downtown uses, Create efficient/environmentally friendly design, and define the City's participation in the project. This was expanded to instruct any respondents to give scenarios with the City's participation (i.e. Liquor Store and/or City Hall) and without.
The RFP was approved and will be sent out. The Council will be expecting to see responses in April.

The next item on the Agenda was a very technical piece from the MnDot. MnDot wants to purchase permanent and temporary easements from the City to complete the Hwy 61 project, but there was quite a bit of confusion as to why and whose responsibility the infrastructure on these easements would be.
There are three parcels, two permanent easements and on temporary easement. Councilor Swearingen recommended that we go through them one at a time, so we started with a small strip of land in front of the Library where MnDot would like to purchase a temporary easement to complete construction on the behind the curb work for project. This one was approved with the caveat that the Council would continuously check in to make sure that the Memorial Rose Garden remained untouched by the construction. The next parcel was a temporary drainage easement on the culvert west of 8th Ave W, up by Lunds Cabins. This would not impact any private property as it is on the south side of the road and was not seen as too controversial, so it too was approved.

The final parcel was the sticky one though. This parcel defined two permanent drainage easements, one in the drainage pond west of the entrance to the Rec. Park, and one at the Community Connection spot between the Rec. Park and North House. In addition to these permanent easements, there was a temporary construction easement running along the south side of Hwy 61. Since these easements are permanent, and that may impact the City's ability to improve the stormwater drainage of those two drainages, the Council opted to table that parcel until more information could be gathered. It will likely be taken up at the next Council meeting.

If you would like to see any of these diagrams, they are in the Council packet, which can be downloaded HERE.

The final item on the Agenda was the 2nd reading of the re-zoning ordinance for the properties on the east side of 5th Ave W in Creechville. These had been zoned Recreational/Commercial via a charting inaccuracy and with the approval of the second hearing of the ordinance they were re-zoned Residential Single Family (R-1). The ordinance was adopted, so those properties are now R-1.

Council and Staff reports were surprisingly brief this meeting. The only updates were Councilor Swearingen who had a YMCA Finance meeting where they looked at ways to increase fundraising and to further balance the operational budget and I reported that Feb. 26th (his birthday) was Norman Deschampe Day in Grand Marais due to a proclamation that I made and I was thrilled to report that Governor Walz declared the 26th Norman Deschampe Day in the STATE as well. Norman would have been 66 years old and will be greatly missed.

The speech by Governor Walz is on Facebook, so if you want to watch it, you can watch it HERE.

That was it for the night. As always, if you have any questions, please don't hesitate to contact me.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Council Meeting Feb. 13, 2019

The City Council met on a night that was about as different on a temperature basis than it could be...

-20F to +28F

Anyway, if you want to check out the recording of the meeting, here it is.

All Councilors and administrative staff were present for the meeting, no public were present, so the Open Forum was opened and closed and the Council moved on in the agenda!

The Consent Agenda had the typical three items on it (Approve agenda, approve previous meeting minutes, and approve bills) and apart from a correction from Councilor Kennedy that stated that since he wasn't at the previous meeting he couldn't vote in motions even though he was listed as having voted, the Consent Agenda was approved unanimously.

The next items were brought to the Council by the Planning and Zoning Commission (which is looking for a member if anyone is interested in participating!). They included an Ordinance to resolve a zoning issue that was discovered last year and a response to the Council's request for the Commission to look into how the City can remove barriers for additional housing development within the City.

-The first topic was a rezoning a chunk of land immediately to the east of Creechville Road that was initially zoned Recreational Commercial (RC) and not Residential Single Family (R-1). Most of the lots in this area are used for single family homes and one of those property owners sought a re-zoning last year so they would be able to better utilize their property, which called the entire piece to the attention of the Council. After asking the other affected property owners, the Planning Commission drafted the ordinance, which was passed by the Council. Since it is an ordinance it must have a second hearing though; that will happen at the next Council meeting. Councilor Moody brought up a question about the adjacent City-owned property to the west of Creechville Road. This property is also zoned RC, but was identified as a potential location for additional home development by the EDA's housing site suitability study (which was done to help identify potential locations for the Nordic Star housing development). Since there isn't any plan to develop this land right now, no action needed or could be taken to rezone this land R-1, although it could be done in the future.

-The second item was the Planning Commission's response to the Council's charge to look for City policy changes that could remove barriers from housing development within the City. The Planning Commission came forward with a plan with two parts:

Initial Data Collection 
1. Housing Inventory and Maps -Number, type, lot size, residential/non, vacation rental, seasonal, vacant building, vacant land, utilities, parking
2. Ordinance Review -identify regulations related to housing construction, improvement
3. Housing Solution Search -gather innovative housing projects or regulations in other communities

1. Identify participants
2. Brainstorm possible housing solutions
3. Identify favored ideas and barriers to success
4. Select barriers to address

*It was identified that the first part of this plan is very important as the City needs to be able to speak intelligently about the realities of housing in the City before any decisions can be made. Gathering all of this information could take months to a year depending on how many resources are put toward it though. The discussion circled around possibly hiring someone to compile all of this information so that it could be done in a more timely manner, leaving the Workshop section to be organized and executed by current City staff. That was only one way that this could be done and further definition on how this will be taken forward will happen at the Council's Strategic Planning Retreat next week when the Council will sit down for a half day of assessing projects, strategies, and priorities for the upcoming year or two.

Councilor Swearingen added that there should be information gathered about home prices per square foot, land prices, and tax values to fill out the information. Administrator Roth noted these and will add them to the list.

Following that discussion, the Council took up two items from the Personnel Committee. (The Personnel Committee is comprised of the City Administration, myself, and Councilor Swearingen.)
The first item from the Personnel Committee was the final re-evaluation of City supervisor job descriptions. A little history: In 2017 the City was faced with some significant changes in employee responsibilities due to retirements and changes in workload. Due to this, there were requests to re-evaluate these job descriptions to make sure that they accurately reflected the work that each employee was doing and was asked to do. It then became clear that other supervisory positions had not been reassessed for quite some time, so it was set out to re-evaluate all of the remaining supervisor job descriptions. There was one done in 2018, but the remaining position (Property Maintenance Supervisor) was just recently completed. The City uses a system that was put in place in the '90s that isn't perfect, but works and is consistent across all employees, resulting in an equal rating situation based on responsibilities and workload. When the re-evaluation of the Property Maintenance Supervisor position was done it showed a modest increase in responsibility over how the previous assessment was done and put the position back in alignment with the other positions at the City with similar responsibilities. A motion was made to accept the revised scoring of this position and that passed unanimously. The next step is for the employee Union (AFSCME) to be notified of this change and then the Personnel Committee will enter into negotiations for how that rating change will impact this position's compensation.

The second item from the Personnel Committee was an update on the progress on identifying a new superintendent for the Gunflint Hills Golf Course. The City opened up the application period late last year and received eight applications for the position. Some were under-qualified candidates, some were partially qualified and intriguing, and a few were well qualified and exciting. The Personnel Committee is in the process of not only sifting through this information and attempting to find the right fit for the golf course that will both provide a positive experience to users and that will also promote the course in the upcoming seasons. The Personnel Committee is working to create a "Plan A" and "Plan B" so that it will be assured that there will be proper staffing at the course no matter what happens. More to come on this in upcoming meetings.

The next report was simply an update on continuing planning for the Sawtooth Bluff Regional Park (SBRP). You may remember that the City approved the SBRP master plan last year with a contingency that, in order to have the City's support, there must be an adequate and mutually agreed to management plan for the property. This would answer questions like, "Who owns what?" and "Who builds what?" and "Who maintains what?"
The update provided states that the City has Councilor Moody as the City rep on a committee that is being formed to put together this management plan, but the City gets another voice on the committee as well. A representative from the Park Board will also serve on the committee. There was a bit of confusion about which Park Board member it was, but any of the people we have serving on that board would be great.
There will be more updates coming as progress is made on this management plan. Until then, the City has no commitment to the SBRP other than working to put together the mutually agreeable management agreement.

Following that item there was an appointment that needed to be made! The City received an application from Ann Possis to serve on the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) since Karl Hansen completed his terms at the end of 2018. Thank you to Karl for all of your years of service and thank you to Ann for stepping up to fill this position. There will be quite a lot of work for the PUC to do in the future as I will mention shortly...

That left the time for the Council and Staff Reports!

Councilor Schulte reported on a full Park Board meeting where 2019 Golf Course rates and strategies were discussed in detail, coming up with some exciting ideas to help draw new golfers to the facility. He also gave a brief update on the DNR Boat Launch project happening in 2020, stating that the DNR should be finalizing the lease for the property relatively soon. Administrator Roth acknowledged that the DNR has been asking for information piecemeal to complete said lease. Still in the same meeting, he reported that there were a number of permits that were approved for festivals happening in the upcoming summer season, but that there were some questions about whether or not beer sales on City owned property needed to be confined to a "Beer Garden" type space. There is on-going research into this subject and more information will come in the future.

Councilor Moody reported on an equally busy EDA meeting where updates came in on the Lutsen apartments (the first renter has moved in and it is expected that the third building will be occupied by April 1, which is on schedule), sales of the Grand Marais Nordic Star homes (all of the first stage homes are sold and occupied, the first of the second stage homes recently sold!), and an update on the finances of Superior National Golf Course (which made its 2018 round budget of 12,000 rounds and has budgeted for 13,000 rounds for 2019).

Councilor Kennedy reported that the PUC was presented with a draft of the City's Climate Action Plan, which has been developed through grant funds from the Lloyd K. Johnson Foundation, technical assistance from the Great Plains Institute, motivation from the Nordic Nature Group here in Grand Marais. The plan is very ambitious and lists numerous potential solutions that may not end up in the final draft. The reason that this was brought to the PUC was to make sure that the content/direction of the plan was something that the PUC could get behind and support going forward. The PUC voted to move the draft forward to receive public comment and made a few comments of their own. When the draft is ready to be brought forward I will share it here on the blog so that anyone who wants can access it and comment. It will also be on the City website and on social media. Kennedy then reported on a less glamorous duty of the PUC, which was approving the replacement of a septic lift station historically called the Gopher Lift Station, located at the Building Blocks development where Cty Rd 7 meets Hwy 61.

Councilor Swearingen did not have any meetings to report on, but sent her heartfelt condolences to the Grand Portage community as they mourn the loss of their Tribal Chair, Norman Deschampe.

I followed up on that by commenting that it was my privilege, in conjunction with Norman's family,  to issue a proclamation that February 26th will be Norman Deschampe day in Grand Marais to honor his life of service to not only his community, but to our community here in Grand Marais and the many other communities across the state he impacted. Giga-wabamin Menawah Norman.
I also updated the Council that the Cook County Hazard Mitigation and Emergency Response Plan is being updated this year and the City section needs to be proofed and commented on. I will be working with Administrator Roth to complete this.
Today I also met with a representative of Representative Pete Stauber and listed out our concerns that he as a federal representative needs to be aware of.
I attended a Creative Economy Collaborative meeting where there was ongoing organizational discussion and discussion of how the group can be most useful to the City.
Finally, there was an update concerning the Hwy 61 Redesign Project. There was a meeting yesterday of the Hwy 61 Steering Committee and the MN DOT representatives working on the project and there is some information that needs to be communicated.
#1. MN DOT admits that they have not communicated well through this process. This was refreshing that they acknowledged this. We have been pushing them to not only acknowledge, but improve this.
#2. MN DOT admits that there were errors in the initial survey work done in October that has resulted in a delay in the letting of the project, which is resulting in a delay of the project.
#3. That means that the Hwy 61 project will NOT be a 2019/2020 project, but will be a 2020/2021 project.
**This is definitely an unfortunate development on the surface, but it may turn out that this could work out better for the City. This means that the City and businesses will have another year to prepare and plan for the construction. It means that the construction in both of those years could start much earlier in the spring/summer than the initially planned July start date. We are definitely talking a May start date now and potentially earlier, which could complete the work on an earlier timeframe or at least insulate the busiest times of the summer from the worst construction. This means that the City has more time to advocate for this schedule to make sure that things turn out how it is planned this time.

MN DOT will be putting together another meeting in Grand Marais to update the public about the schedule changes. I will also post concerning this meeting when the date/time/place is set.

That was all. We adjourned at a few minutes before 8 and went home in the (relatively) warm winter air!

As always, please do not hesitate to reach out to me if you have questions.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Dedication to Norman Deschampe.

At times I have been stressed out by being involved in the work of the City. Sometimes I get really wound up and/or I struggle with what the right thing to do is. 

There are many techniques that I use to be able to address this stress; one of them is to think back to a meeting I attended very early in my service with Chairman Deschampe. The topic of the meeting is lost to me, but I remember Norman clearly in that meeting. He observed most of the meeting without speaking, quietly sitting and listening. When he was asked his thoughts near the end of the meeting he sat up and spoke calmly, succinctly, and with incredible candor. His words summarized the points that were made and reached out to those in attendance. His words answered questions that could be answered and made clear the questions that could not be answered. His words helped others start to shed their own stress about the subject, but provide practical ideas for moving forward.

That is just one experience with him, but it impacted me a great deal. I tend to talk too much and listen too little, but Norman's example helped me to work on that and realize the strength of the community around me. 

I, and many others, reach out to the family of Norman and the greater community of Grand Portage as they process and proceed with life without him. 

Because of the importance he held in our collective community, because of the relationships we foster in this county that he helped to build, and with the blessing of his family, I have issued this proclamation:


WHEREAS, Norman Deschampe dedicated decades of his life to the leadership, betterment, and support of the Grand Portage community, and

WHEREAS, his leadership and influence was felt beyond the North Shore through his participation in the Minnesota Chippewa Tribal Executive Committee, representing the six (6) Minnesota Chippewa Tribal Reservations amongst the Tribes’, other local, state, and federal governments, and

WHEREAS, his dedication the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa (Kitchi-Onigaming) promoted the understanding of traditional practices, preservation of culture, and stewardship of natural resources, which, along with the work of many others, has made the collective community stronger, and

WHEREAS, the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa (Kitchi-Onigaming) is an essential neighbor and partner to the City of Grand Marais, whose relationship is strong thanks to the life and example of Norman Deschampe and it is hoped that this relationship will continue to grow, and 

WHEREAS, there is no word for “Goodbye” in the Anishinaabe language; we show our gratefulness for the life of Norman Deschampe by wishing him “Minawaa giga-waabamin” or “I’ll see you again” and continuing offers of support to the Grand Portage community.

Therefore, let it be proclaimed that

FEBRUARY 26TH, 2019, his birthday


in the City of Grand Marais.


Wednesday, January 30, 2019

The Coldest Council Meeting of the Year? 1-30-19

The Council braved the cold weather to meet for the second meeting of the year, which was a few weeks after the Council's first meeting, since meetings occur on the 2nd and LAST Wednesdays of each month.

There was a strong showing at the meeting despite the cold, with only Councilor Kennedy absent due to being on vacation someplace warm. Lucky him!

Due to a lack of public (everyone was home and warm!), the public forum was opened and then closed.

The next thing on the agenda was the Consent Agenda, which is a way for the Council to consider and vote on a number of items together for efficiency's sake in the case that the items are not controversial or require further discussion. This Consent Agenda had the typical 3 items (Approval of the agenda, approval of the previous meeting minutes, and approval of bills), but also had 4 other items on it. Those items were: approval of the Legion Club's Bingo Permit, approval of the Lion's Club raffle permit (for Fisherman's Picnic), approval of city tobacco license renewals, and approval of Le Grand Du Nord's (a bike race that happens over Memorial day weekend) request to use City streets for the event.

Councilor Moody pulled the tobacco license renewal item from the Consent Agenda for further discussion, but there was a motion made to approve the Consent Agenda minus that one item. It carried unanimously.

The Council then discussed the age change for tobacco sales that just happened in Duluth and whether or not this is an action that the City of Grand Marais should consider. There was some conversation about what the purpose of changing the age would be and whether changing the law was the effective choice versus working to promote a healthy lifestyle without smoking. Considering that this conversation has been brought to the Council before by high school students at ISD 166, the consideration of this seems to be prescient. The Council's discussion moved in the direction of the importance of promoting a healthy lifestyle instead of limiting choice within the City. Following this discussion the Council approved the 4 tobacco sales licenses for the City.

Moving right along, the Council next addressed an issue that was brought to the table by the appointment of Councilor Schulte to the Council. As many are aware, Councilor Schulte is also the co-owner of the SuperAmerica store here in Grand Marais. The City had, many years ago, negotiated a price for the City's fleet fuel from the establishment and has stuck with that agreement since. This falls into the category of a contractual conflict of interest for Councilor Schulte, so there will be some additional checks and balances put in place to protect the City and Mr. Schulte from any allegations of wrongdoing or manipulating prices in this contract.
Through a resolution the Council formalized the agreement that the City has with Mr. Schulte's business and allowed the City to continue in a business arrangement with his business as long as the agreement was respected. Every time that the City pays a fuel bill to SuperAmerica, it will be separated from the rest of the bills and will be voted on with Councilor Schulte abstaining and with him signing an affidavit stating that this transaction was in line with the resolution.
*I would like to point out that this is not terribly rare in small town government. The possibility that the people who run for government seats also own businesses is pretty high and these legal solutions are very well understood and established.
The resolution passed unanimously.

The next item on the agenda was an update on the progress concerning the Hwy 61 Redesign Project that is slated for 2020. Well, was slated for 2020. It seems that the MN DOT is running into complicating factors with the assessments for leases and right of way purchases as well as a few other details, so MN DOT is discussing bumping the project back to 2021 in the City and 2020 for the mill and overlay at the edges of town.
*It is important to explain that the City is not certain what their reasoning is and is still gathering information on the situation. In some ways it seems that delaying a year will give the community another year's worth of time to plan for and accommodate the challenges that the construction will bring and also give the City another year to lobby for the best possible schedule for local businesses. In other ways delaying a year will complicate plans being put in place and other projects that the City has scheduled with other organizations (such as the boat launch in the Rec. Park, set for 2020 as well).
The Council will gather more information and have that prepared for the next Council meeting.

That was all for the listed items on the agenda... it seems that the cold has limited the agenda as well!

But the meeting wasn't over yet! We still had our Staff and Council reports:

Councilor Schulte reported that he has gotten orientation materials for the Park Board and will be attending his first Park Board meeting in early February.

Councilor Moody brought a question up regarding a scheduled Joint Powers meeting, which will be planned by the School administration. This meeting was planned for the 28th of February and will have representation from the majority of the elected boards in the county.

Councilor Swearingen reported that she has passed along the minutes of the YMCA Advisory Council to be included in the record for the City.
*Councilor Moody interjected with the question about where the negotiations are at between the City and the County. The answer to that question is that the Council needs to do its strategic planning retreat to figure out what priorities are and what are all of the contracts and agreements that the City wants to discuss with the County. At that point the City will bring up those things at a meeting with the County.

I mentioned meetings that I had with the Grand Marais Area Tourism Association where the group began its annual budgeting process and worked through how much will be invested in particular events. I also attended the Library Board meeting where the Library has been investigating doing some construction in the cataloguing area behind the counter to create another office and to streamline the operation in that area. This project will be funded from the Library's designated fund account. I also mentioned that because of the cold, there are concerns for the wellbeing of some members of our community and I can encourage you all to check on your neighbors or older/vulnerable citizens in our area to make sure that they are able to care for themselves in this weather. A huge kudos to Cook County Emergency Management and Cook County Public Health and Human Services for all of their help... Please be safe out there!

Administrator Roth reported that the decisions to close city offices or departments lies with the department heads and they will consider their employees' needs and the community's needs before making a decision.
He also reported that the time and date for the Council's strategic planning retreat will happen on Feb. 19th from 12-4pm. The goal is to prioritize the Council's goals for the next year or two and to educate the Council about past planning that has been done.

*There were a few comments that I would like to take a second to explain a few things that were referred to in the meeting so everyone knows what's going on...
Councilors Moody and Swearingen both made a reference to whether there was any update on the golf course. What they were referring to is the golf course superintendent, a position that the City has been advertising for very thoroughly. The City received 8 applications and has been completing interviews to try and find the best candidate to continue/improve operations at the Gunflint Hills Golf Course. There will be more information to report as it develops.

**Councilor Schulte asked if the City was running its generator. He was speaking about the City's backup generator at the top of the hill, which has been running almost all day to help meet the additional need for electricity due to the extreme cold. The last thing that the community needs is a brown out of some kind because the current on the main line isn't up to the demand, so all of the power plants in the area are running to make sure that electricity remains stable.

I think that just about covers it. As always, please let me know if you have any questions!