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July 18, 2019

7/11/2019 1:36:00 PM
Board sends ARMER agreement back to North Branch's court

The North Branch City Council announced after a closed session meeting July 25 with city attorney Vince Stevens, that North Branch will move forward on seeking a restraining order against the county.  The action is presumably to halt county action which is in “default” (putting a mid-July deadline) of a contract regulating North Branch’s access to a statewide first responder radio network.  

IF the city were to get what was described after the city council session as an “indefinite extension” from the county’s July 15 deadline mandating North Branch sign the agreement, the restraining order stalemate could be re-visited.

This summary of what happened behind closed doors was announced by the North Branch City Administrator when the council reconvened in open session July 25.  (There also was a second closed session to consult with Stevens over a “personnel” question.  The outcome was Council member Kathy Blomquist resigned from Water & Light and Council member Kelly Neider was appointed.)

Council member Blomquist and Mayor Jim Swenson have been asked by the Press and declined  to discuss the radio agreement or Water & Light issues.

North Branch Mayor Swenson and Council member Blomquist attended the July 3 Chisago County Board meeting a week after the city council met.
The County Board had the ARMER issues with North Branch on a closed session agenda and voted 4-1 to “proceed as directed in closed session.”   
Commissioner Mike Robinson was the only no vote, with no explanation.  

There also was no public mention of what was “directed.”

Also July 3, the County Board approved a resolution 5-0 that clearly states the county will end the North Branch ARMER agreement on December 31(the original contract, not the interim one that North Branch refuses to sign.)  

The commissioners also agreed that should there be no signed contract, North Branch will also return the 25 radios it recently acquired from the county.

Commissioner George McMahon remarked that North Branch officials at some point will need to explain to constituents “why they are doing what they are doing.”

This action basically puts North Branch on the same track as everyone else, as all other ARMER participants have signed the interim contract that expires at year’s end.  

North Branch City Council schedule has a meeting on the calendar for Tuesday, July 9.  The ARMER item (restraining order) is listed on its agenda as yet another “possible closed meeting” and action is “possible.”

The Allied Radio Matrix for Emergency Response is a system that nearly every county in Minnesota upgraded to in an effort to correct  inter-agency communications problems discovered in the wake of the I-35 bridge collapse.  Federal funding was also available for homeland security measures such as radio enhancements after 9-11.

The commissioners’ action July 3 clearly invokes the contract cancellation notice requirement.  The new ARMER agreement has been in the draft process for over a year, yet North Branch says legal notice was never provided and the county is in default.

The original five year contract approached its 2018 sunset date and a new contract was distributed, rejected by a few cities and departments, and revised and it became an interim agreement.  All participants signed except North Branch city council.

There is now a negotiating committee led by  Commissioners McMahon and Rick Greene which is meeting with a host of county radio users crafting a permanent agreement,  to be effective for 2020.

One issue that North Branch has publicly reviewed is proper legal “notice” calling for 180 days’ cancellation. North Branch argues it wasn’t notified and the city stance is that the old five-year agreement remains in effect.  By notifying North Branch last week of the December 31 signing deadline this 180 day notice technicality is addressed.

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