By Ivan Raconteur
MAYER, MN Mayer City Council listened to another round of residents’ complaints aimed at the city and City Administrator Luayn Murphy during a workshop meeting Tuesday evening.
The discussion became tense at times, and covered some well-worn ground. When the smoke cleared, Mayor Chris Capaul and each member of the city council took a firm stand in support of Murphy.
The discussion was prompted by a petition submitted by resident Milfred Dalchow, asking the council to fire Murphy.
Dalchow, who served as a council member and mayor for a total of more than 20 years, has been a frequent critic of Murphy and the city council in recent years.
The first complaint that was discussed during Tuesday’s meeting involved Ridgeway Road, a gravel drive that serves as Dalchow’s driveway.
This has been a source of contention between Dalchow and the city since the 2007 street improvement project.
Dalchow alleged that when the work was going on, he told Murphy the project was staked wrong, but she wouldn’t listen to him.
City engineer Dave Martini provided some background on the issue.
He explained that although there is a street sign, the city has never accepted the road as a city street and it is not built to city street standards.
“I made the decision that we should treat it as a private driveway,” Martini said.
Curb was installed to match the width of the existing gravel drive, which Dalchow said was too narrow and caused his trailer to scrape when exiting his property.
Martini said the council has revisited the issue several times, and last year, the city widened the driveway at Dalchow’s request.
“I’ll take responsibility for the decision, right, wrong, or otherwise,” Martini said.
Dalchow then said that a landscape contractor was considering moving to the city, but after talking to Murphy, changed his mind.
Capaul observed that the individual was not present at the meeting to tell the council this, and Dalchow acknowledged that this was so.
Dalchow said Capaul had made a comment to the effect that he was only in charge during council meetings.
Capaul asked Dalchow to keep the facts straight, and said he made the comment when Dalchow came to his place of business and asked him to fire Murphy, not earlier.
In response to a complaint about the snowplowing in the city, Capaul said the council has tried to keep taxes low.
Dalchow responded that building “a $90,000 shack in the ball park” did not fit his idea of keeping taxes low.
“Me and (Austin) Maetzold made this town. We did development 15 - 20 houses at a time,” Dalchow commented.
He called the operation of the city into question.
Capaul asked Dalchow how many people were in town when he was mayor. Dalchow replied “400.” Capaul then asked how many people are in town now, to which he replied, “1,900.”
Capaul suggested this means there could be about five times as much business in front of the current council as there had been when Dalchow was mayor.
Dalchow then asked Capaul to read a letter he had submitted that had been written by another resident.
The resident who wrote the letter, Arlene Steinborn, made reference to a meeting conducted at the Mayer Community Center by MnDOT during the Highway 7 construction project in 2008.
Steinborn alleged that Murphy came into the meeting, threw up her hands, and said the meeting was over, even though there were residents who were waiting to have their questions answered.
Former City Council Member Myron Taylor, who did not seek re-election after his term ended Dec. 31, said he was on the council for eight years and never missed a meeting during that period. He said he was at the meeting in question, and the incident described by Steinborn did not take place.
“If these people came to every meeting like I did, they would fully understand what is going on,” Taylor commented.
Dalchow then brought up a problem the city had with a private septic system in the city during the 2007 street improvement project. He took the city to task for its handling of the situation.
Dalchow said the septic system had been illegal for 35 years.
Capaul asked Dalchow why he didn’t take care of it when he was on the council.
Dalchow replied that it wasn’t his job.
Council Member Bruce Osborn said when Dalchow was on the council, as a decision maker, it would have been his responsibility to work with the appropriate parties to get the problem with the septic system corrected, which would include notifying the county.
Dalchow said the county has nothing to do with it.
Osborn said Carver County is in charge of septic systems.
“No it isn’t. The city takes care of their own,” Dalchow replied.
Capaul read another letter from a resident alleging that Murphy argued with her about the size of her garbage containers.
Dalchow made reference to Murphy’s salary being $96,000.
Murphy clarified that her salary is $73,402, and this is public information. The $96,000 that was reported in the paper represents the line items budgeted for her department, not just her salary.
Council Member Erick Boder said the council has listened to the concerns expressed by Dalchow and the other residents, and noted that the mayor and council positions will be up for election in two years.
“It’s all ruined now,” Dalchow replied. “There’s nobody going to straighten out this town now.”
Taylor said he has seen the petition that Dalchow submitted, and although there were about 42 names on the list, there were not 42 different hands that wrote those names.
Boder said the council either needs to support Murphy, or, if it believes there is a problem, address the problem.
Boder said he believes Murphy has the best interests of the city in mind. He said that there are many things she does for the city of which residents may not be aware.
“She’s doing the best she can,” Boder said.
Taylor said he was on the council when Murphy was hired and he is well aware of her qualifications. He said Murphy has always acted in a professional manner, and he supports her 100 percent.
Capaul said he has observed Murphy’s performance during his years on the council and as mayor.
He noted that she is the face of the city that people see.
“I am in full support of Luayn,” Capaul said.
Council Member Tice Stieve-McPadden said she, too, is in full support of Murphy.
“We go through a two- or three-page checklist every year when we do her review, and whenever there has been an issue, she has been professional and corrected it,” Stieve-McPadden said.
Stieve-McPadden added that she wants this to be done. She said she does not want to have to keep hearing the same complaints and dealing with the same issues the council has already addressed.
She said the council tries to save the city money. One way the city has done this is to eliminate the city planner and other staff positions.
She said Murphy has not received a pay raise for the past few years, but has taken on extra duties.
“I support Luayn,” Osborn said, noting he has been on the council three years.
He, too, expressed an interest in focusing on the future, rather than the past.
“We’re going to work to make it better,” Osborn said. “We’re going to move forward.”
Council Member Daniel Lueth said those who know him know that he is quite fiscally-conservative.
“I am quite impressed with what the city has done, and I attribute a lot of that to Luayn,” Lueth said.
He added that the city has done a good job keeping taxes down.
He acknowledged that some people in town may have a perception that Murphy’s customer service skills may not always be the best, but he pointed out that “People don’t come up to city hall to say ‘I’m having a good day.’”
He said people often come to city hall because there is an issue of some kind, and sometimes, Murphy has to take a firm stand.
Capaul concluded the discussion. “We’re done,” he said. There are council positions up in two years, and the mayor position is up in two years,” suggesting that if anyone is unhappy with the current council, that will be their opportunity to make a change.