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October 28, 2020

9/3/2020 2:43:00 PM
With no agenda adopted North Branch Council stalls out first hour of meeting

The eggshells everybody in North Branch City Hall has been tip-toeing on top of finally began to shatter last week.  The mayor of North Branch has been very clear he wants Council member Kathy Blomquist gone, and he has begun to actively make that option very attractive.  

Mayor Jim Swenson stated last week Blomquist should resign and in a formal complaint he filed, he alleges she is violating rules by “personal gain” “over-stepping authority” and “asking questions.” A hearing needs to be scheduled and this item was on the agenda last week.  
Council member Kelly Neider signed the complaint along with the mayor.

Council member Blomquist has participated in council meetings via the Internet all throughout  the governor’s declaration of a pandemic peacetime emergency, which allows special elected official’s remote attendance conditions.

Her votes in meetings are being recorded.  She asks questions and is an active part of discussions, but she is sensitive to contracting covid-19 and she has a vulnerable family member at home to be protected, so she hasn’t been attending city council meetings in person.  (North Branch doesn’t rigidly enforce face mask provisions or distancing guidelines. There are regularly several people in meetings.)

Mayor Jim Swenson could make a determination as the city “presiding officer” that meeting in person is “not practical or prudent,” because of the pandemic, that the Governor has already declared.  This would address the remote attendance issues.  

But Mayor Swenson said he will never do that.  He said “too many people want this (remote participation) to stop.”  Presumably then, it would be necessary to appoint a new member to fill Blomquist’s term if forced to quit, and the 3-2 North Branch council votes would turn the other way.

Two council colleagues are not among those many people allegedly demanding Blomquist appear in person.  

Council members Brian Voss and Joel McPherson wanted the agenda amended to eliminate discussion about the complaint the mayor leveled against Blomquist, and calling for a hearing.  The Voss motion to revise the agenda and move the item setting a complaint hearing date to another meeting failed 2-2.

Council member Blomquist did not remote-attend last week’s session because the mayor told her she wasn’t lawfully able to do so.

Voss motioned again to take the complaint hearing item off the agenda. He thought Blomquist should at least be allowed into the meeting, to contribute to the setting of a date, for something having to do with her.  This failed 2-2.   

Without an approved agenda the meeting was stalled.

Voss remarked, “...it is my humble suggestion that we leave personal politics out of this and do the peoples’ business” and address the rest of the business on the agenda.  

He tried to add an agenda item allowing for a determination of the local health emergency by the mayor,  and that failed 2-2.

The Mayor, who ironically at the last council meeting railed at length about councilmembers’ haphazard use of legal counsel time -- called a five minute recess so he could consult privately with the city attorney.

The agenda continued, when yet another motion on approving the agenda with the hearing date  discussion left in tact, was approved 3-1.  McPherson was still opposed.

The hearing date, however, was not established. When the mayor later made his motion to call a special meeting to hold the complaint hearing,  it died 2-2.

In other business:
~ the permit action for Terry’s Disposal was tabled to November.  

Garbage hauler Terry Flor has until November now, to address stockpiling of disallowed materials and rubbish. (See Marketplace page story.)

~ The school district got a Conditional Use Permit to use leased space at the outlet mall.

~ Council accepted a grant that will require the city paying about $5,500 in shipping costs for a new play structure for the park off 399th Street and west of Fawn Ave. at the new “Meadows” neighborhood.  The grant pays for equipment worth about $67,000.

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