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Manhattan Beach Council discusses agenda procedures, recordings

Web posted October 10, 2017
By Bill Monroe, Northland Press Correspondent

The Manhattan Beach City Council asked City Attorney Andrew Kalis to draft a policy outlining a process for the public to get items on Council meeting agenda when it met in regular session Tuesday, October 3. Mayor Paul Allen, Council members Janis Allen, Marlene Yurek, Barb Hanson Wannebo and City Clerk and Treasurer Amy Wannebo were present.

The subject of creating the agenda came up several times during the meeting. Early in the meeting, Mayor Allen said he felt there was a discrepancy in the printed agenda. City bylaws direct the Mayor and the City Clerk to prepare the agenda. Sometimes members of the public ask the Clerk to put an item on the agenda that the Mayor doesn’t think should be on the agenda. For example, several citizens wanted to discuss the City’s tax levy at the October meeting. At its September meeting, the Council set a preliminary levy that may be lowered but cannot be increased before it is certified at the end of the year. Clerk Wannebo put the item on the agenda. The Mayor told the Council the subject had been discussed in September and he saw no reason to discuss it again. Kalis told the Council that in cases where the Clerk and the Mayor are in disagreement, the Council can decide whether the item should be included on the agenda. Council member Yurek made a motion to exclude the subject from the agenda and the motion was approved with Clerk Wannebo voting no.

Later during Open Forum, citizen Larry Wannebo spoke to the issue of the tax levy and produced a letter from Crow Wing County Administrator Timothy Houle that he said contradicted comments made by Mayor Allen during discussions of the levy in September and that was why he wanted the subject placed on the agenda.

Later in the meeting an item called “Communications” was listed on the agenda. It referenced several e-mails received from citizens. The Mayor said he disputed this item being on the agenda unless the communications pertained to items elsewhere on the agenda. City bylaws list agenda topics and “Petitions, requests and communications” is on that list. Kalis advised the Council that it could vote to waive the reading of the communications at the meeting but that they must be included in the minutes of the meeting. Council member Janis Allen voted to waive the reading of the e-mails and the motion carried.

Kalis suggested that a policy be developed to enable members of the public to submit topics to be included on the agenda to the City in time for the Clerk to include the submission materials to all Council members prior to the Council meetings. The Council asked him to prepare a draft of a policy to be reviewed at the November Council meeting.

Recordings of Meetings
At the September meeting, the Council approved the purchase of a recording device to record the proceedings of City Council meetings. Clerk Wannebo presented a draft of a policy on the use of the recorder. Mayor Allen said he had several questions on this topic. Should the recordings be placed on the City website? Is it possible to place them on the existing website? Would it be possible to place them on an upgraded website? And does the City have the capability to make copies of the recordings for the public?

The Council tabled the matter until the November meeting when the City’s website vendor will be available to discuss updating the City website.

During an agenda item discussion on the subject, citizen Larry Wannebo asked the Council why it would not want recordings of Council minutes on the City website. Council member Janis Allen said that Council members have
been instructed that they may not respond to comments made during Open Forum sessions and that sometimes those comments are derogatory and false. Reports of those sessions in the press make the Council look bad unfairly, she said. Kalis advised the Council that the Mayor should state before any Open Forum that the comments of the speakers are their opinions alone. If any speaker gets abusive in tone, Kalis said, the Mayor as presiding officer has the right to admonish or even remove him or her from the building.

Complaint Forms
The Council approved two new citizen complaint forms. A general citizen complaint form states that when a citizen has a complaint about anything related to the activities of the city, it should be filed and signed in writing. Telephone and anonymous complaints would not be accepted. Staff would investigate the complaint and appropriate action would be taken and documented on a Concern Log. Any action taken would be considered final but could be appealed to the City Council. A zoning complaint form allows citizens to report alleged zoning violations to the City’s Planning and Zoning Commission.

Employee vs. Contractor
The Council again discussed whether Council members should be treated as employees or independent contractors. During the City’s annual audit its auditing firm noted that council members should be treated as employees and not independent contractors as has been the case for years. At the August Council meeting Mayor Allen said he had reviewed an IRS document on the subject and could find nothing in the document to support the audit company’s recommendation. The Council voted to table the subject pending further research into the matter.

At the September Council meeting, Clerk Wannebo read e-mails from the auditing firm and the League of Minnesota Cities stating that elected officials must be treated as employees and not independent contractors. Council member Hanson Wannebo asked why the State Auditor had never questioned this practice over the years and moved that the matter be tabled another month until the State Auditor could be consulted and information could be gathered about possible workers’ compensation insurance costs as well as IRS revenue rulings cited in the e-mail from the City’s auditor.

Chris Clasen from the City’s auditing firm of Justin, Clasen and Company, was at the meeting and said the IRS was clear that the City’s Council members and employees should be treated as employees and not independent contractors. The Council voted to make the change and to take out a workman’s compensation insurance policy.

Other Business
In other business the Council:
• Established a Building Fund with a balance of $8,004;

• Establishing a Road and Bridge Fund with a balance of $10,712.62;

• Approved a $100 donation to the Initiative Foundation and

• Asked Clerk Wannebo to get quotes on the purchase of a new office printer.

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