2/3/2023 12:52:00 PM Closed session leads to hiring investigator
by DENISE MARTIN
Immediately following a special closed door session, the North Branch City Council voted in open session to authorize retaining an independent investigator to look into an unidentified staff-related issue, and authorized the mayor and Council member Robert Canada to work on hiring an “organization” consultant.
The special closed meeting was held just prior to the regular council session Tuesday last week. It was announced as a performance review of the city administrator. Law allows the subject to open the meeting, but this was not requested.
The closed performance review session had been announced for the week before — but Minnesota Open Meeting Law requires a 72-hour notice and this had not been met, so the closed session moved from January 19 to January 24.
There were no deadlines attached to the investigation nor was there discussion about bringing on the consultant.
Meanwhile, council also heard there will be discussion at a February 21 work session on the process of evaluating employee performance. Of note was aligning the process better with the city administrator’s contract.
Policies for contacting North Branch’s legal counsel and for communicating with department heads also had another review.
Under former Mayor Jim Swenson certain members of council were roundly chastised for too frequently bothering the city attorney and this policy was refined. It was discussed again last week at length. Current members were walked through the policies and officeholders were reminded to honor regular work hours of staff and let things that aren’t “emergencies” wait until normal business hours.
Another discussion item is related to new Mayor Kevin Scheiber becoming aware that the Water and Light utility commission terms had become somewhat “muddled” as he put it, under the previous mayor’s approach— which was to do nothing when the seats expired.
Scheiber wants to clarify who serves on Water and Light and when. (Story in Press January 26.)
Four of the five utility commissioners’ seats expired in 2022. Scheiber said he’d asked that an affirmative action (vote) be put on the agenda, to get terms back on their formal schedule. Scheiber also made a motion to disallow city council members from serving on Water and Light.
Two are allowed on the utility commission in the current ordinance. Peter Schaps, who is on the both the council and utility commission will need to vacate his seat with the others expired, after Scheiber’s motion to eliminate the council seats passed.
Applications for the Water and Light Commission are welcomed from the public.
Deadline to submit an application is Friday, February 10. The goal is to have appointees identified in February.
Mayor Scheiber commented that he was promoting this to encourage citizen involvement and get fresh voices on the utility commission. He also had motioned to eliminate the city council membership to create separation between the two entities, he added.
Schaps and Neider voted no on eliminating the two council members on the Water and Light but they supported the action calling for applications.
In other matters: Council welcomed new Police Officer Adam Hanson, from Beltrami County Sheriff’s Office.
The purchase contract cancellation with the power agency SMMPA was approved 3-2. This had been tabled from the last city council session.
The power purchase commitment is being shifted to Great River Energy, which is affiliated with ECE. East Central Energy is in the process of closing on the purchase of North Branch’s electric distribution assets absorbing the city utility’s 2,000-plus commercial and residential customers.
The closing is slated for February 3.
Council member Schaps tried to delay the power purchase contract vote for 90 days. The Water and Light commissioners had not supported the action at their meeting the week before the city council session. (Story Press Jan 26). Three of the five commissioners expressed needing more information.
Schaps asked to have a utility attorney go over the terms, stating he had asked for a specialized legal opinion in meetings of the “transition team” but to no avail.
The other council members pointed out there was no concern expressed at utility commission meetings. Schaps responded that the Water and Light Commission oversight had been basically shifted to the city by way of the transition process.
Mayor Scheiber said he’d gone back through meeting videos and minutes and felt all the information was made available.
Council member Kelly Neider agreed on delaying the vote saying “last minute” concerns have surfaced.
The SMMPA purchase contract vote, however went ahead 3-2 with Neider and Schaps voting no.