NG council member walks out of meeting in protest

October 22, 2007

By Ivan Raconteur
Staff Writer

Events took an unusual turn in New Germany Tuesday night when City Council Member Marc Trujillo walked out of the city council meeting in protest to a council decision regarding a public hearing.

Prior to Trujillo’s departure, the council had been discussing a liquor license application for the new owners of Rack ‘Em Up, who plan to close on the property later this month.

City Clerk Joan Guthmiller told the council that the background check has come back from the sheriff’s department, but the bar would have to close for about a week between the time of the closing at the end of October and the Tuesday, Nov. 7 council meeting because the city ordinance requires a public hearing before a liquor license can be approved.

Council members Steve VanLith and Shirley Jaeger voiced strong opposition to this, saying they have never required a public hearing for a liquor license in the past.

Trujillo said the city cannot simply choose to ignore its own ordinance. Council Member Chip Purcell agreed that the ordinance should be enforced, but wondered if the city could hold the hearing after the license was issued so that the bar could remain open.

Guthmiller suggested that the applicant could move back the closing date on the property to avoid having to close until the public hearing can be scheduled. The public hearing would need to be published for a 10-day period.

Guthmiller said she talked to City Attorney Dave Hubert, and was advised that if the city chose to waive the hearing requirement, it would do so at its own risk.

Jaeger said all three of the city’s bars have changed hands in the past few years, and the council has never required a public hearing. Both she and VanLith said they were not aware that their ordinance required a public hearing.

It should be noted that VanLith and Jaeger were the only current council members who were on the council when the current liquor license ordinance was approved. It was approved late in 2003, and became effective when it was published in January 2004.

The council asked to see a copy of the ordinance, and Guthmiller provided a copy of the section that addresses the public hearing requirement and read it to the council.

The ordinance specifies the procedure that the city must follow, and it does not include a provision for the council to waive a public hearing.

Trujillo said the fact that the council failed to enforce the ordinance in the past is not an issue, because now that the council is aware of the requirement, it must follow the ordinance.

“If we didn’t even know about it, who else is going to know about it? Who is going to complain?” Jaeger asked.

Trujillo indicated that he would know about it, and he would complain.

During the discussion, Jaeger and VanLith indicated they were trying to prevent the business owner from having to close for a week until the liquor license could be approved. They both suggested that the required public hearing would simply be a formality. They said everyone in town knows the applicant and no one would object to the license being issued anyway.

Trujillo made it clear that he saw this as an issue of the council choosing not to enforce its own ordinance.

He likened this situation to asking the city to waive a requirement for a building permit.

“If you are going to start waiving ordinances, then if I remodel my house, you should waive the requirement for me to get a building permit. I am a trustworthy guy,” Trujillo quipped.

VanLith made a motion to waive the public hearing, and Jaeger seconded it. Trujillo said if this was the decision the council was going to make, he was going to walk out in protest. He collected his paperwork and left the building.

The motion to waive the public hearing was passed on a vote of 3-1, with VanLith, Jaeger, and Purcell in favor, and Mayor Pete Pederson against. Trujillo effectively abstained by walking out before the motion was called.

Feasibility study for sewer and water improvements

Prior to the controversy over the license application, City Engineer Sheila DeWolf presented information about proposed water, sewer, and street improvements.

DeWolf outlined trunk sanitary sewer extensions that would serve Black Forest Estates and Trophy Lake Estates, water main extensions to serve both developments plus a water main loop along Carver County Road 33, and upgrades to 62nd Street.

The total cost of the project would be $2,794,614.

The project would be financed through a Chapter 429 improvement bond.

Some funding would come from special assessments to Black Forest Estates and Trophy Lake Estates.

Funding would also come from availability charges and deferred assessments to properties along 62nd Street when those properties are annexed into the city and hook up to city services.

The trunk sanitary sewer would be apportioned with $106,227 assessed to Black Forest Estates and $591,733 to Trophy Lake Estates.

Trophy Lake Estates would also be assessed $303,188 for sanitary sewer within the development.

The plan also includes $1,444 for 11 sanitary sewer stubs along 62nd Street for future access by adjacent properties. DeWolf said it would be easier and less expensive to include these stubs during the initial sewer construction because the lines will be 25 to 30 feet deep.

Apportionment for water main extensions would include $46,620 for Black Forest, $795,063 for Trophy Lake Estates, and $76,079 for the County Road 33 loop. The plan also includes $27,517 for an Adams Avenue water main extension.

Trophy Lake Estates would be responsible for the $689,883 cost of upgrading 62nd Street.

The council accepted the feasibility report.

What’s next?

The next step in the project would include:

• contact bond counsel regarding financing;

• consider authorizing topographic study;

• schedule a public hearing in November;

• authorize plans and specifications (November 2007);

• receive plans and specifications (March/April 2008);

• authorize advertisement for bids (March/April 2008);

• advertise for bids (March/April 2008);

• bid project (May 2008);

• award project (May 2008);

• construction period (June 2008 to August 2009); and

• conduct final assessment hearing (fall 2009).

Odds and ends

In other business, the council:

• heard from DeWolf and Water and Sewer Superintendent Bob Roepke that work is progressing on the new well.

• heard from Pederson that only two members showed up for the last planning commission meeting, so no business was conducted due to a lack of a quorum.