By Ivan Raconteur
MONTROSE, MN The City of Montrose is no stranger to controversy, but the mayor and a council member opened last Monday’s council meeting with an appeal to residents to conduct themselves with civility.
Mayor Andy Kauffman, who began his first term as mayor in January, opened the meeting by reading a prepared statement.
“When I was elected mayor, I had hopes that this would be a fresh start for Montrose,” Kauffman said.
He added that he still believes this, but said he is “disappointed with the words and actions of certain members of the community whose personal agendas are seemingly more important to them than the health of our community or the wishes of their fellow citizens as expressed through the electoral process.”
Kauffman said he, the council, and members of the city staff have been called “crooked and corrupt,” among other things, by certain residents.
“These attacks are unwarranted, without merit, and will not be tolerated in city council meetings,” Kauffman said. “That is not to say that we are above criticism or question we welcome the chance to answer questions or have productive dialog. However, we will not abide the current witch hunt atmosphere of name-calling, half-truths, and outright misinformation.”
(The full text of Kauffman’s statement can be found on the Viewpoints page of this issue).
Kauffman mentioned some of the issues that the city has faced recently, and made it clear that rules of order and civility will be enforced at city council meetings.
Following Kauffman’s statement, Council Member Scott Jensen, who began his first term in January, also read a prepared statement.
“I want to keep our government small and serving the people. The only way we can keep the taxes in this city low is to use our resources wisely,” Jensen said.
He mentioned the volume of data requests the city receives. He said there may be specific requests that make sense, but some residents have requested the same data again.
“This is wasteful on the part of those citizens,” Jensen said. “To date, I believe the amount this city has spent on data requests exceeds $60,000.”
“I know of financial concerns raised as being a two cents per hour raise that was found to be an issue, and several suggestions that would save the city in the range of $100 per year,” Jensen continued. “One has to question the time, effort, and resources that were put into these suggestions, and the payback on each taxpayer’s investment.”
Jensen also addressed the hostile work environment for city staff that has been created by some residents.
Concluding his statement, Jensen said, “We are trying to move this city forward to a brighter, better place. We can either contribute to the future or try to nitpick the past and try to hold on to baggage we should have left long ago. I encourage all the citizens to join committees, make wise decisions on requesting city resources, and contribute to making our town a drawing point for the area.”
Attorney addresses complaint policy
City Attorney Kyle Hartnett addressed the city’s complaint policy.
“Last fall the city adopted a complaint policy to deal with complaints about city staff,” Hartnett said. “At that time, the city had been receiving numerous complaints, none of which resulted in any action being taken against the employees. The complaints were heard by the personnel committee and the findings were presented to the city council.”
Hartnett said the purpose of the policy was to streamline the process. Complaints about the city administrator were to be routed through Hartnett for review.
“Since the beginning of this year, I have received approximately a dozen complaints from Evan Siljander,” Hartnett said. “Most of the complaints deal with the city administrator. Some of them concern issues that have already been dealt with by the personnel committee. In addition, some of the complaints concern actions of city council members.”
“While I could review all these complaints consistent with the city’s complaint policy, it is my opinion that this would not be a prudent use of the city’s resources.” Hartnett continued. “I cannot, in good conscience, charge the city for the time it would take to review these complaints, which in my opinion, after my brief review, are without merit.”
Hartnett said the policy was adopted with the idea that the city would receive “a couple of complaints a year, not a dozen per calendar quarter.”
Hartnett recommended that the council revise the policy to more efficiently deal with the complaints that the city is receiving.
The council tabled discussion of the policy until it can be reviewed by the personnel committee and will take up the subject as a workshop topic.
Safe Routes to School trail update
City Engineer Brad DeWolf provided an update on the Safe Routes to School project.
DeWolf said MnDOT had no issues with the portion of the trail that will run along Highway 12.
There were, however concerns about building a trail in the existing right-of-way of Highway 25.
DeWolf said the city should be able to get up to $1 million in funding through MnDOT’s local initiative program to upgrade the road.
DeWolf said he would have more information about this, and how it might affect the time line for the project, after he hears from MnDOT.
Fire department receives grants
Fire Chief Mike Marketon said the city has received a $66,000 FEMA grant for the purchase of new air packs to meet current standards. The city portion of the cost is $3,500.
Marketon said the department has successfully obtained $135,072 in grant money in recent months.
“That is real money coming to the City of Montrose,” Marketon said, adding that the grants have been used to replace equipment the department needs, and as a result, the grants have reduced the burden on Montrose taxpayers.
Marketon also expressed frustration, indicating he is tired of “getting slammed” by certain residents.
Comments were made during the meeting about Marketon recently winning the relief association raffle.
“The fire department did not put the raffle on, the relief association did. I bought five or six tickets, and I didn’t think I was breaking any laws,” Marketon said.
Hartnett supported Marketon’s position.
“No state law or code of ethics has been violated,” Hartnett said. “The Fire Relief Association is a separate entity of which you are not a member,” Hartnett said, adding that he thinks Marketon should be commended for supporting the organization.
“When I think of the amount of money and time I have donated to the City of Montrose, I would have been money ahead to go out and buy that four-wheeler,” Marketon commented, resulting in a round of applause from the audience.
Meadow Brook Cottages change approved
The council approved a change to the planned unit development for Meadow Brook Cottages.
City Planner Bob Kirmis said the original plan was approved by the council in 2006, and consists of 48 senior housing units on a 10-acre site located north of the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe rail line and east of Clementa Avenue.
The plan included 16 single-unit villas, one eight-unit townhouse, and 24 assisted living units in a single building.
The applicant requested a change to construct a nine-bedroom advanced care facility in the space originally planned for the eight-unit townhouse.
The council approved the request.
Public works department receives commendation
Public Works Director Sean Diercks announced that Montrose has received a certificate of commendation for outstanding operation, maintenance, and management of the Montrose wastewater treatment system.
This is especially noteworthy in Montrose.
Diercks said that within six weeks of being hired by the city and taking over the department, he “uncovered gross negligence of operations,” at the wastewater facility, including an operator with an expired license and “several violations” at the plant.
Diercks said the employee was terminated, and the last 18 to 20 months have shown significant improvement at the plant.
Odds and ends
In other business, the council:
• set the annual clean-up day for city residents Saturday, May 2 from 8 a.m. to noon in the city hall parking lot.
• adopted an identity theft policy.
• changed the June city council meeting date to Monday, June 15.
• switched committee assignments. Petersen stepped down from the personnel committee and took a position on the Highway 12 commission, and Jensen moved from the Highway 12 commission to the personnel committee.
• acknowledged the Montrose Fire Department for the recent rescue of a man from a grain bin at Untiedt’s Vegetable Farm, and for securing grant money.
• acknowledged the public works department for the operation of the treatment plant.
• acknowledged Montrose Family Chiropractic for the recent health fair.
• acknowledged the Highway 12 commission for its efforts.