City Council cancels Coffees for rest of 2012Published 11:04am Tuesday, July 3, 2012
The Austin City Council has cut out its monthly Saturday morning ritual.
In a narrow 4-3 vote at a Monday night meeting, the council canceled all upcoming Coffee with the Council meetings for 2012. The vote was tied at 3-3 when Mayor Tom Stiehm, whose vote replaced absent Council Member Roger Boughton’s, finalized the decision.
Council Member Brian McAlister, who initially questioned the usefulness of Coffees and expressed concerns about candidates using them for self-promotion, said Coffees were meant to increase public discourse.
“I don’t feel anything like that happened at the four meetings we’ve had so far,” McAlister said. Council Member Steve King echoed the sentiment.
“It seems to be not fruitful at this point to go on with them,” King said.
Stiehm said he was worried about trying to have a moderator at Coffees. When new council members took office, it would be unclear who would be responsible for keeping order.
He also said there was no way to prevent candidates from promoting themselves in such a setting, which creates an opportunity for some candidates to get more public exposure than others.
“Every time a candidate opens their mouth, they’re campaigning,” Stiehm said.
Marian Clennon, one of the three council members who opposed canceling Coffees, said the meetings were important to the relationship the public has with the council.
“It should be an open forum,” Clennon said. “People want to talk to their elected officials.”
At this point, Coffee meetings have been promoted through August, said Council Member at Large Janet Anderson. To cross them off the agenda could confuse those who planned to come.
“People have said that they like that forum, that format,” she said. She acknowledged the problem previous Coffees had with residents discussing irrelevant issues at length, but recommended a set of rules to remedy that.
Council Member Judy Enright read several potential rules meant to keep order at future meetings. Chief among them was a “round table” approach where each resident could only bring up one concern before it was the next person’s turn. Once everyone had a chance to speak, then residents would be allowed to bring up a second issue.
Clennon agreed, saying she had seen the League of Minnesota Cities make “table tents” so the rules were available in writing near each person.
Coffees are not permitted to resume until after Jan. 1, 2013.
During the meeting, the City Council also:
—carried over $100,000 from the previous budget and approved a Limited Use Permit with the Minnesota Department of Transportation to construct a pedestrian trail between Younkers and Target. The eight-foot-wide trail would cross Highway 218.
—accepted Murphy Creek property from the Austin Housing and Redevelopment Authority. The HRA decided at its June 21 meeting it could not make use of the land and voted to give it to the city.
—approved a Mutual Aid Agreement with Freeborn County. The agreement lays out legal issues and a schedule for reimbursement in the event one party needed the help of the other’s fire or emergency medical services. Austin Fire Chief Mickey Healey said reimbursement would cover services extending more than five hours.
—authorized city staff to work with the Humane Society to develop a joint animal pound and Humane Society facility. The facility will be built as two separate structures that share a parking lot. The new buildings would occupy a plot of land at the end of Oakland Avenue E, east of Highway 218 and beside the Austin Municipal Airport.
—granted the Planning and Zoning Department the ability to contract for the removal of junk and illegally stored vehicles from six Austin properties: 1001 Sixth Ave. NE, 1011 Eighth Ave. NE, 1005 Ninth St. NW, 305 First Ave. SW, 305 First St. SW and 411 S Main St.
—approved a Gambling Premises Permit for The New Smitty’s Tavern.
—approved petitions for four distinct sidewalk improvements at the expense of each requesting property owner.
—approved the engineering services of Bolton & Menk Inc. for the replacement of a traffic light at Oakland Avenue W and First Street.
Note: The City Council did not hold a work session Monday night.