Council Meeting Recap – March 3, 2015

The Crystal City Council held two work sessions, an EDA Meeting, and a council meeting on March 3, 2015.

The EDA meeting was quick, with only one agenda item, the approval of the sale of one lot owned by the EDA for the asking price.

At the first work session we discussed making charitable contributions to local food shelves.  By city ordinance, 10% of the net profits of any charitable gambling operation in in Crystal must be contributed to a fund administered by the city.  The city council will then make a decision on how to distribute any money in that fund.  There is about $1,500 in the fund this year.  In past years the council has designated those funds be split between NEAR and PRISM food shelves.  We decided to continue that tradition, so each organization will get a check for $750 from that fund.

At the council meeting, we considered the second reading of two ordinances, both of which were initially discussed at the February 17 meeting.  The first amends the zoning ordinance to allow impound lots as a conditional use in the Industrial (I-1) zone.  The second amends the ordinance regulating second hand goods dealers to clarify that a store selling refurbished appliances doesn’t count as a second hand goods dealer.   Both passed unanimously, as they did at the last meeting.

The next item was a resolution outlining how the city will finance the new Public Works facility.  The project was approved under the last council (before I joined) but despite extensive, often heated discussions about how to finance the project, the group ultimately never came to a clear consensus on the matter.

That meant when I joined the council I had to quickly get up to speed on the project.  I had followed the issue as an interested citizen, so I wasn’t starting from square one.  My initial thought was that we should bond (borrow) for a portion of the project, but after an in-depth review of the financing options (pay cash, bond for some portion, or bond for all of it) the cash option is the only one that made fiscal sense.

Bonding for any portion of the building would mean a tax increase.  Bonding for the entire building would mean a huge tax increase.  The concern with the all cash option was that we would leave the city vulnerable by spending down all of our available cash and potentially cause liquidity issues down the road.

Based on the numbers that I saw from our finance department, I did not feel that was a concern.  The major building fund had $10 million in it to contribute to this project.  The utilities fund is contributing $1 million, and the EDA is contributing $650,000.  The “gap” that we needed to cover ended up being about $1 million.

We will fund that gap with a short term loan from other city funds.  While that may sound a bit hokey (it did to me, hence my initial hesitation on the all cash plan), it makes more sense when you understand that the city doesn’t have a bunch of bank accounts.  There’s one big account, and we keep money segregated into different funds “on paper” only.  Ultimately, the money all comes from the citizens of Crystal.  It’s common to transfer money from one fund to another if the balances get out of whack (one fund too high, another too low) or if needs change (as they often do).  When you add up the money that is in all of the funds, I feel that there is enough liquidity to get us through even a major emergency scenario.  If I didn’t feel that way, I wouldn’t have supported the all cash option.

Ultimately, I expect a little less than half of the gap will be closed at the end of 2015 by funds that have already been levied on the citizens (not a new tax).  That leaves a sizable but manageable amount to replenish in 2016.  It’s feasible that the short term loans could be fully replenished by the end of 2016, and by choosing an all cash option we avoided several hundred thousand dollars in finance charges.

The resolution approving the all cash financing plan passed 6-1, with council member Laura Libby voting in the dissent.  She preferred a financing plan that would have bonded (borrowed) for the entire cost of the project.

The next part of the meeting was near and dear to my heart, the adoption of new council rules.  Although this sounds like the most boring topic on Earth, to me it’s actually really important.

I believe that a legislative body like the council needs a clear set of rules to operate under.  If everyone understands the rules (and follows them!) it will go a long way toward diffusing conflict before it happens, and will allow the body to continue to operate even during times when there is significant disagreement between members.

Council member Casey Peak and I worked together to draft a set of rules, which were then discussed with the council at a work session.  We adopted some suggested changes from our attorney, the staff, and the full council, and the end result was the product which passed last night.

We had some goals going into the process, and I think we accomplished them:

  • To establish a set of rules governing the internal operations of the council
  • To clarify processes and expectations, decreasing conflict
  • To protect the rights of both the minority and majority, and ensure every member is heard
  • To put in place good government practices that will last beyond the existing council
  • Balance formality with flexibility
  • Develop the minimum amount of rules necessary to accomplish the goals above, in the clearest language possible

While one council cannot (and shouldn’t be able to) bind a future council to anything, I do hope that future councils continue our example of keeping in place a fair and clear set of rules that allows all members to be heard.

In order for the rules to take place, we needed to both formally adopt the rules, and then amend the ordinance that governs council procedures to accommodate the new rules.  The rules were adopted unanimously, and the first reading of the ordinance passed unanimously as well.  The ordinance will be up for a second reading at the next meeting.

After the council meeting we went into a work session that dealt with the process for interviewing applicants to advisory commissions or committees.

The council has a full review of the commission process on our plan for later this year, but we need to interview applicants for the Blue Line LRT advisory committee very soon, so now was a good time to look at our interview process and make changes.  We’ll use the new process for these interviews, and we’ll tweak it if necessary during our full review of commissions.

We had an extensive and very thoughtful discussion on the process, which I won’t attempt to recreate here, since I’m already over 1,100 words.  :)

The process we adopted is:

  • All applicants will be interviewed.
  • Interviews will be conducted by the full council (plus the commission chair, if there is one), at a work session.  Applicants will be interviewed sequentially, not as a group.
  • After all of the interviews are complete, each council member will rank the applicants, the scores will be aggregated, and the highest ranked applicant will be appointed.
  • There will be an option to hold the position open and seek additional applicants, if a majority of the council agrees it is necessary.

I will say that we looked at practices used in other cities and are more or less adopting a fairly common process though each city has slight variations.

We have a work session tomorrow (Thursday March 5) focused on council goals and priorities, and another one next week (Thursday March 12) where we will hear from the Parks Commission, which has a very lovely, beautiful and talented chair, who also happens to be my wife.  (I put that in there not only because it’s true, but to see if she actually reads my recaps.)

The next council meeting is March 17.

You can watch the video of the council meeting here and find the agendas and meeting notes here.  Audio recording of work sessions can be found here. Check the city calendar for updated meeting dates, locations and times.

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