The 2013 city council started off the new year with big changes in how the city functions. Members are shown clockwise, starting in the lower left corner, newly-elected council member Rachel Olerud, councilmember Lorilyn Dehning, returning veteran Nancy Nelson (appointed mayor pro tem), Mayor Bruce Poole (newly elected), councilmember Robert Vogel (not seen) and outgoing city administrator Theresa Coleman.
The 2013 city council started off the new year with big changes in how the city functions. Members are shown clockwise, starting in the lower left corner, newly-elected council member Rachel Olerud, councilmember Lorilyn Dehning, returning veteran Nancy Nelson (appointed mayor pro tem), Mayor Bruce Poole (newly elected), councilmember Robert Vogel (not seen) and outgoing city administrator Theresa Coleman.

All four split votes that the 2013 Spring Grove City Council took on Jan. 8 passed by a 3-2 margin. In each case, new members supported a series of sweeping changes while continuing council members voted "nay."

After hearing a report on Main Street plans from Tim Hruska of the engineering firm WHKS, council member Nancy Nelson made a motion to "adopt the marked-up drawings provided to Tim Hruska on Dec. 19, 2012. These drawings removed 30 trees and 15 planting beds (a total of 1,500 sq. ft.) and all irrigation systems."

Nelson disagreed with Hruska's suggestion to bid the items and then pick and choose which to keep via change orders, stating that attaching addendums to the plans rather than bidding is preferable.

Mayor Bruce Poole asked if it might be a good idea to leave a few places where water hoses can be hooked up to care for plants, but Nelson's motion did not specify leaving any irrigation in the project plans.

Nelson said that drought-tolerant plants (such as high-desert species) may be able to cope with much less watering.

Hruska confirmed that specific plant materials are not in the plans.

"When we were looking at these drawings, we found out they had 31 planting beds, and these planting beds were about five feet wide and 11 feet long or bigger," Poole said.

"So, to do maintenance, you'd have to order almost 2,000 cubic feet of mulch each year... every year, you'll have to re-mulch and clean them and put in the beds, so it was a terrible amount of maintenance.

"So we cut it in half and took out some trees. There are still almost 40 trees that will be planted, and we re-arranged them in areas."

The motion passed with yes votes from council members Nelson and Rachel Olerud as well as Mayor Poole. Councilmembers Robert Vogel and Lorilyn Dehning voted nay.

City administrator eliminated

Another split vote was taken to eliminate the authority of the city administrator to supervise the Police Department and the Fire Department.

The motion further stated that the police and fire departments "shall be supervised by the city council members assigned." Once again, it passed 3-2.

Vogel asked if the move constituted setting up "official meddlers" to run city departments.

Dehning asked if the move was legal and wondered out loud if it may violate union contracts.

Nelson stated that the move was needed "to correct perceived problems."

A third vote entailed eliminating the position of city administrator. Nelson made the motion with some clarification, stating, "The motion is to eliminate the position of City Administrator/Clerk/ Treasurer and to terminate the employment of Theresa Coleman with that. This is a reduction in force/cost cutting measure." The motion was seconded by Olerud.

"When would this take effect?" Vogel asked.

"I would add that it take effect at the conclusion of this meeting," Nelson replied.

Former mayor Saundra Solum asked if the city didn't legally need to have a clerk/treasurer. When asked who would perform those duties, Nelson said, "We will get to that."

"The three of you are going to split that position?" Vogel asked.

"If we need to," Poole stated.

After the 3-2 vote, Solum said "There seems to be a lot of preconceived things tonight. I know you guys weren't officially in office until yesterday, but I would really discourage you in the future not to pre-plan things and pre-decide how you're going to vote. You should come to the meeting and discuss it in public."

"We will review the administrative work and decide who's going to do what at the next meeting," Poole said.

The question of who would fill in as clerk in the meantime brought an identical split vote. Nelson made a motion to appoint current accounting clerk Erin Konkel as the city's acting clerk/treasurer.

Vogel and Dehning questioned the statutory requirements relating to the move, but Nelson said that one way to meet the statute would be to abolish the accounting title and have Konkel serve simply as clerk/treasurer.

"Or we could just have a king," Vogel noted.

Former mayor Don Vesterse said, "My biggest concern is if you're going to do away with your administrator, are you going to zero in for a city clerk or are you going to zero in to your office to take care of the city?"

Council appointments made

Earlier in the meeting, the council voted to appoint members to liaison with/oversee several city departments. The extent of the supervision that the council would perform remained a point of contention.

Vogel said that micro managing is a bad idea, but as long as the appointments were just "a way for staff to communicate with the council," he didn't have a problem with it.

Assignments included: the clerk/treasurer by the council/mayor, accounting by Dehning, fire and police by Nelson, public works by Poole, EDA will begin with Poole on one seat and Vogel on the other, the Corner Store and Fest Building will be the purview of Dehning and Olerud, Planning Commission will remain with Vogel and Dehning as members, and the pool, Summer Rec and parks will be Dehning and Olerud.

Overseeing of the city's website, TV access and newsletter will be taken up at a future meeting.

Members voted to install Nelson as deputy mayor/mayor pro-tem.

Auditing dates to be moved?

By consensus, Dehning was asked to contact the city's accounting firm of Hacker Nelson to see if the city's audit can be completed before July, even if that means changing audit providers.

Nelson expressed the opinion that the city got "put on the back burner" several years ago so the company could finish work for private clients first.

"Not getting that report before July presents a problem because we can't make corrections for six or seven months," Nelson stated, adding that the council would like to have the audit by March 1 if possible.

Dehning said that the company cannot complete the audit by March 1 because "they've got to look (back) 60 days into January and February to make sure that they've included everything for the end of the year, so the soonest you're going to get it is around the end of April."

Union issue to be settled

One of the few unanimous votes during the meeting came regarding ending the legal services of the law firm Abrams & Schmidt, who has represented the city on union matters over the last two years.

In addition, the council agreed by consensus to have City Attorney Joe Hammell settle the union arbitration with Chief of Police Paul Folz that dates back about six months, according to Nelson, which was previously handled by that firm.

Upcoming meetings announced

The council decided to hold a review of the 2013 budget on Wednesday, Jan. 16 at 7 p.m. See the notice elsewhere in this week's paper regarding the new location.

Another motion that passed all members was changing the next three meetings to Wednesdays.

Nelson said one reason for doing so would be to place the agenda in the Spring Grove Herald prior to the sessions. Those meetings will be held on Jan. 23, Feb. 6 and Feb. 20.

The council voted to hold a public hearing on Wednesday, Jan. 23 at 6:30 p.m. to review a snow removal/street sweeping ordinance for Main Street, which includes prohibiting parking between the hours of 2 and 6 a.m. to allow the work to get done.

Other matters before the council

By consensus, the council agreed to have public finance authority Michael Bubany come and speak to council members about the costs of the Main Street project at a future meeting. Poole said he wanted to see a line item accounting of the costs involved.

Mayor Poole appointed Tammy Stadtler to the Spring Grove EDA (Economic Development Authority). She will be filling the vacancy created when Poole moved from his regular spot to the mayoral slot formerly held by Solum who is automatically off the board.

Items not addressed

The council did not act on or discuss any of the items included in the meeting packet prepared by outgoing administrator Coleman. Those items included:

• Discussion of bids submitted by Tim Ladsten for hail damage repair to several city buildings;

• Voting on the annual statutory tort insurance liability limits; and

• Adopting Resolution 13-01 Designating Official Depository, Resolution 13-02 Designating an Official Newspaper and Resolution 13-03 Authorizing Transfer of Funds.