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City looks at charter changes, seeking input

The Detroit Lakes City Council met last week for a special meeting to discuss some Home Rule Charter changes.

The next meeting for public input will be Monday, July 31, at 5 p.m. in city hall. The council will also vote that evening for a second reading. All eight aldermen will have to vote in favor for the charter to pass. If passed, the charter will be put to a public vote in the November election.

Mayor Larry Buboltz said. "It's been a lot of fine-tuning."

Beside the more major changes in the charter, several changes were made to update it as well. The "he" references were changed to gender neutral, and city administrator was changed to city manager.

Some of the bigger changes aldermen brought forward included term limits, number of people on council and committees and compensation for serving.

Alderman Bruce Imholte said he would like to discuss the number of people on the city council.

"It's a cost issue and maybe a management issue," he said.

Armed with examples from various other Minnesota cities, many larger in size than Detroit Lakes, the average number of members on the council was six to seven, including a voting mayor. Detroit Lakes has nine aldermen and the mayor, who doesn't vote.

Imholte also said he felt the mayor should be able to vote because he is elected by the people.

Alderman Leonard Heltemes said he wasn't in favor of making the council too small because in talking with a county commissioner, it can "polarize" the vote.

Alderman Matt Brenk said with as many committees as each alderman serves on, with fewer people, it would be more committees, and make it more difficult to make the meetings. Alderman G.L. Tucker agreed, saying that, with working a full-time job, it's difficult at times to make every meeting as it is.

Tucker also said he feels the mayor should be able to vote.

"It gives the public an opportunity to hear how the mayor feels," he said.

Alderman Ron Zeman said he doesn't want wards to get so big the voters wouldn't have contact with the people they elected.

Alderman James Hannon agreed a larger number is better because it brings "more opinion and discussion" to the table.

The council decided not to change the number of members on the city council.

Hannon said he wanted term limits set on committees at three consecutive three-year terms, equaling nine years. A person would then have to wait a term, three years, before he or she could be reappointed to the committee. The charter is listed as a one-year waiting period.

He said the limits are already in the administrative code, which will have to be rewritten and updated if the charter passes, but he would like them listed in the charter. The exception to the nine-year terms would be the council.

"I think there needs to be a gap there," Zeman agreed with the three years off.

Heltemes said it might be a good idea because it would get the city away from the prospect of being accused of doing special favors for certain people in the city.

Buboltz said it's difficult to find people to serve on committees and feels the one year is a "reasonable separation."

Hannon said he feels the policy has been "abused too much in the past" and being in the charter would make it more of a rule and followed more closely.

"Let's just get to it, he's talking about Doc," Buboltz said, referring to Duane Wething who has served on the airport commission for many years.

City Administrator Rich Grabow said the administrative code has never been broken with Wething serving. The city and the county have taken turns appointing Wething.

After making a motion, the limits and time-off period was defeated, with Heltemes, Hannon and Zeman voting in favor.

Like the term limits issue, several items were referred back to the administrative code rather than being listed in the charter.

One issue that did pass was a change in the public utilities commission.

The code says there can be three to five members on the board. While there are four council members that attend the meetings, none are voting members of the board. Also, the PUC members are the only committee members compensated for their time.

Zeman suggested six members on the board with three of them being from the council and that compensation should at least be limited to pay and not include health insurance.

"Having more input is a positive thing," Imholte agreed.

Utilities Supervisor Curt Punt said he felt the PUC should not have three council members serving on it because it should stay as non-political as possible.

"I think you're going to be sorry with seven (members)," Punt said. That would be too many people not keeping up with the business, he added.

Zeman amended his motion to read that five to seven people should serve and two should be from the city council.

The motion for five to seven members with two being from the council passed, with Alderman Walt Tollefson voting opposed.

As for the compensation, Zeman said it's not fair to pay one committee and not others.

Alderman Jim Anderson opposed that, saying the PUC members are the "money-makers" for the city.

Members of the PUC receive $225 a month and health insurance.

Imholte said it was fine with him if the insurance option was dropped, but that the members should be paid more, then.

City council aldermen are paid $400 a month to serve, and that number was proposed for the PUC members as well.

A motion passed to drop the insurance and raise the compensation.

"This is a slippery slope," Punt said as he warned it's getting too political.

July 31 is the next meeting for public input and a second and final reading of the charter changes.