Let’s All Agree on Everything and Finish in Twenty Minutes: Duluth City Council Notes, 7/1/13

2 Jul

It was a windy day in Duluth today, and the Duluth City Council decided to breeze through its meeting in a mere 21 minutes. The Council chamber was on the empty side, though Troop 9 from Glen Avon, looking every bit like the platonic ideal of a group of Boy Scouts, showed up to lead the Pledge of Allegiance. Council President Boyle came to chat with them a bit before the meeting started, while Councilor Hartman snuck in a slice of pizza and some grapes. After their colorful wardrobes last week, most of the Councilors were in black.

Councilor Larson opened the official business by touching on some park safety issues, mostly still dating back to last year’s flood; Chief Administrative Officer David Montgomery made it clear that another so-called concern, the lack of fencing along a heavily vegetated stretch of railroad track, was not really a concern. Councilor Hartman apologized for not noticing several Councilors’ lit buttons during the Committee of the Whole meeting, and Councilor Krug celebrated the success of the much-anticipated social with the School Board.

After again tabling the Pastoret Terrace housing project, the Council heard from a citizen whose name was not made entirely clear. He spoke on the AFSCME contract that was on the table, and said that while he was fine with the contract (which, mercifully, did not involve much wrangling between the city and the union this year), he hoped the city would look into the “abusive” use of overtime by city workers. Councilor Fosle and Mr. Montgomery assured the speaker that the city is well aware of some past issues involving Public Works employees, and has taken some steps to rein in excessive overtime. Mr. Montgomery noted that some overtime was inevitable, however, what with water main breaks at two in the morning and occasional police action. The union contract passed along with the rest of the consent agenda, 9-0, as did several easements, reclassifications, and a permit for an exhaust fan. The mayor’s administration pulled the plumbing ordinance first introduced last week, likely after the plumbers’ union made its objections clear. That took care of all of the business on the agenda.

In the closing comments, Councilor Krug raised a pair of concerns. First, she complained about the lack of a street plan in the current iteration of the 2014 budget, a worry echoed by Councilor Julsrud. At the very least, she argued, the city needs some sort of “enhanced pothole program” to repair the inevitable damage to Duluth streets after the snowmelt. Her second concern was a weekend letter to the editor in the Duluth News-Tribune criticizing the level of public safety along the Lakewalk. Given Duluth’s reliance on tourism money, she suggested the Council bring Chief of Police Gordon Ramsay before their next Committee of the Whole meeting to learn if crime statistics substantiate the letter’s claim. Councilor Gardner thought this was a good idea, and also suggested a city attorney join the party so as to discuss the implications of the new synthetic drug ordinances, which Mayor Don Ness will sign in the next two weeks. Councilor Fosle opined that the perceptions about crime were related to a series of recent violent crimes in the city; Mr. Montgomery agreed, but said the violent crimes were all among people who knew each other, and thus not of the random sort that might deter people from walking on the Lakewalk. Regardless, it sounded like the Council is up for a serious discussion on crime in Duluth at the next Committee of the Whole meeting, which may be well worth attending.

For tonight, however, the Council was happy to wrap things up in record time. The Boy Scout troop’s leader assured his charges they could come back again if they felt shortchanged. It didn’t sound like they were too sad about missing out on endless council bickering, but, then, there are some of us who are entertained by that sort of thing. I’ll be back with more in another two weeks.

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