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Manhattan Beach Council highlights

Web posted August 8, 2017
By Bill Monroe, Northland Press Correspondent

Transparency has been a reoccurring theme at recent Manhattan Beach City Council meetings. Members of the public have said there needs to be more transparency while Mayor Paul Allen and the Council have responded that the Council is already very transparent in how it conducts its business. The subject came up again when the Council met in regular session on Tuesday, August 1. Mayor Allen, Council members Janis Allen, Marlene Yurek, Barb Hanson Wannebo and City Clerk and Treasurer Amy Wannebo were present.

Citizen Larry Wannebo had previously asked the Council to put on its agenda taking final action on the question of whether the names of people speaking at open forums and the topics they addressed should be included in Council minutes. That item was placed on the August agenda. The Council does not allow discussion during open forums. During an open forum prior to the Council discussing the issue, Wannebo distributed several written questions to Council members and asked them to respond when they took up the subject on the agenda. The questions included:

“What is wrong with including a speaker’s name and topic in the minutes?

“Why not accept the recommendation from our city attorney? That’s what our taxpayers are paying for… good legal advice… Why ignore him?

“Why do you not want to make it easier for Manhattan Beach citizens to know what’s going on?

“Why don’t you trust the public to be part of its city government?”

During discussion of the issue, City Clerk Wannebo shared examples of the open forum policies and  procedures of other cities that addressed the concerns voiced by Council members at previous meetings. She recommended listing in the minutes the names of the persons speaking and the topics addressed.

“Why even have that in there if it’s just the topic,” asked Mayor Allen.

“Why can’t we list just the topic and not the name,” asked Council member Janis Allen.

“Some of these people just want to get their name in the paper,” she said.

“We are not required to hold open forums at all,” the Mayor said.

“And not every city does it,” Council member Janis Allen said. “I’m against it.”

“We haven’t done this in the past. Why should we do this now,” the Mayor asked.

Clerk Wannebo made a motion to provide a sign-in sheet for anyone wishing to comment during an open forum, listing the rules for open forum and to include the names of persons speaking during open forum and the topics addressed in the Council minutes. The motion died for the lack of a second.

Council member Janis Allen made a motion to exclude the names of people speaking at open forums and the comments addressed in Council minutes. The motion passed with Clerk Wannebo voting no.

Citizen Camille Gridley had requested that the subject of posting monthly financial reports and attachments to the monthly Council minutes on the City’s website be addressed as an agenda item. In an open forum prior to the Council discussing this issue she said, “I request that the monthly financial reports be posted (on the website) as well as the yearly audit. This request is made in pursuit of transparency. It is the Council’s responsibility to make all records available to residents affected by its actions. This means that all property owners, whether they vote here or elsewhere, need to know what the City Council is doing since this affects their property values.”

When the Council discussed the issue, Mayor Allen said “We are constantly being blasted that we’re not doing this and we’re not doing that. Will putting our financials out there invite problems? I can’t see how we can be any more transparent. Not many cities do this.”

Clerk Wannebo said she checked with the League of Minnesota Cities and found that it is a common practice for cities to post monthly financial reports on their websites since they are a matter of public record.

“I guess we’re just uncommon,” the Mayor said.

“I can’t see us putting out the amount we have on hand in the bank,” said Council member Yurek. Council member Janis Allen made a motion to post on the City website all minutes, claims and receipts. Her motion, which did not include financial reports, passed. Beginning this year, the annual audit report is posted on the website.

Citizen Complaint Policy
The Council reviewed several draft copies of citizen complaint policies and possible zoning violation forms. One set was chosen to be sent first to the city attorney and then to the Planning and Zoning Commission for review and comment.

The draft policy 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.

Employees or Independent Contractors?
When Justin Clasen and Company, the City’s auditing firm, presented the annual audit report earlier this year, one of the recommendations was that the City Council members, now treated as independent contractors, should be treated as employees to comply with IRS guidelines. 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.

Manhattan Beach Fireworks Complaint
At the July Council meeting, Council member Yurek said she was concerned about a fire hazard at Manhattan Beach Lodge due to fireworks being set off at the Lodge dock. The Council voted to have the city attorney contact the county attorney to report the concern as the county provides law enforcement to the Manhattan Beach area. Mayor Allen reported that the city attorney learned no charges will be filed. The Council voted to address the issue of fireworks control on or before June of 2018.

Other Business
In other business, the Council:
• Voted to have Wannebo Excavating dump two inches of gravel on Satchell Road at a cost of $2,500 and cut brush on the Goldenstien Road right of way for $350;

• Discussed the 2018 budget and tabled engaging Justin Clasen and Company’s payroll services until the question of whether Council members are employees or independent contractors is resolved.

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