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Council hears report on charter clause on nepotism

NEW ULM — The New Ulm City Council heard a presentation on problems with a section of New Ulm’s City Charter that restricts the family of any city employee to serve as Mayor or member of the City Council during a work session, Tuesday.

League of Women Voters (LWV) President Ruth Ann Webster gave a presentation on the topic. Webster said the council was well aware of the problems in the code.

Second Ward City Councilor Lisa Fischer was forced to resign from the council because her son worked for the city. A month later, after Council President Andrea Boettger was elected, her husband was also forced to leave a part-time position with park and recreation. The council also chose not to interview Kathleen Backer for the position of mayor for similar reasons.

Webster said the LWV had discussed the issue in-depth during the summer and developed three proposals to solve the issue. The three options were to eliminate the rule; redefine immediate family or make the rule only apply to part-time workers.

Webster said eliminating the rule was the most effective way of solving the problem.

“It is an outdated rule,” Webster said. “Immediate family does not mean to people what it meant to immigrants in 1887.”

The provision preventing a council member or mayor from having family work for the city was part of the first charter in 1887. It was left out of the charter in 1932 but was brought back in 1973. The provision was not well-known among city officials. Before Fischer’s resignation in 2020, none of the council were aware the provision existed.

Webster believed the law is also unfair to eliminate people because of family relations and creates problems for people already working in the city.

She said it is a law that can only be enforced against city employees. Webster gave the example of a person getting elected mayor, who has a child in the police department. The city cannot force an elected official to resign, meaning they would be forced to fire the police officer.

Mayor Terry Sveine asked if Webster knew why the law was created and if there was a problem with nepotism in the past.

Councilor Eric Warmka asked if other cities had a similar nepotism clause.

Webster said each city had a nepotism provision in personnel policy, but none that applied to a city council. She said the LWV found no city with this provision.

A state statute exists that prevents a councilor from having a job with the city, but does not have an immediate family clause.

Webster said they consulted a historian but could not find out why the law was created in 1887.

Councilor Les Schultz said the city has authorized the Charter Commission to meet before the end of the year. This issue will be part of the commission’s discussion.

Council President Andrea Boettger thanked the LWV for taking on this topic and providing the city with background on the issue.

“This will give the Charter Commission a lot of good, strong information to go on when they make their decision,” She said.

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The council once again tabled a request from the Sister Cities commission to place signage identifying New Ulm’s sister cities on the population signs coming into town.

To place these signs, the city would need to remove existing community recognition signs, including Tree City USA, Governor Fit City and Bicycle Friendly City. The city is currently seeking alternative options for placing these signs.

Mayor Terry Sveine said one option was a “service club” sign. It was suggested the sign could be located 7th North and German near the Hans Joohs kiosk.

Sveine has submitted letters to the main service organization for feedback. The city is waiting for a response from all the service organizations.

City Manager Chris Dalton said the council receive or table this update until the other organizations had responded.

Councilor Les Schultz said he supported the plan, but it was a matter of how they moved forward with the plan. He made the motion to table until the city received more information.

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The council approved the second consideration for 2022 fee schedules. The schedule includes city user fees for the park and rec., library fees and building permits.

The tobacco license was increased from $150 to $250. The snow removal and mowing assessments were also increased to $300 in addition to the contract fee.

City Manager Chris Dalton suggested reducing the snow removal fee because the administrative costs were not as high as the mowing fee.

City Councilor David Christian said he wanted to keep the fees the same because he wanted the city to get out of the business of clearing residential sidewalks. He believed the higher fee would get the attention of repeat offenders.

Councilor Larry Mack agreed, saying it was the same individuals every year who failed to maintain sidewalks and lawns.

This fee schedule will also set the user costs for the recreation center.

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The council adopted the 2022 Capital Improvement Program (CIP). The program includes recommended improvements to the reconstruction of deficient roadways and alleys.

The CIP will reconstruct 1.4 miles of failed roadway, add 1.6 miles of new roadway segments and reconstruct three failed alley segments.

The estimated improvements listed within the 2022 CIP are $10,796,032 with an estimated bonding of $2,859,372.

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The council received a recommendation from the Safety Commission to not order a sidewalk installation on 9th S. Street and Washington Street to the East terminus.

The Safety Commission considered the request from the City Council to examine the need for ordering in the sidewalk on 9th South Street between Washington Street and the East Terminus at their November 4, 2021 meeting. The Commission determined the lack of sidewalk at this location was not a safety concern due to the simple lot division of Lot 14, Block 115 South and that this area would have minimal pedestrian traffic and vehicular conflicts within this 1/2 block segment.

Councilor Eric Warmka made a motion to accept the recommendation with a second from Mack. The motion passed with a single no vote from Councilor Schultz.

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The council agreed to accept an Emerald Ash Borer Preparedness grant. City staff applied for a grant in August from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources for up to $100,000 to remove ash trees in city boulevards. The DNR awarded the grant to New Ulm. The grant requires a local or in-kind matching contribution of $39,650.

The grant can only be used to remove/replace ash trees on public land. Property owners will be notified an Ash is planned for removal. Owners would have the option to notify the City that they are treating the tree for Emerald Ash Borer or plan on removing the tree themselves.

Each tree removed, must be replaced with a new tree. All tree removal or replanting must be completed by June 30, 2023.

Schultz made the motion to accept the grant and authorizing a request for bids to remove and replace the trees. Warmka seconded the motion. It was unanimously passed.

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