City plans to switch engineering firms

Council workshop also addresses proposed animal dispatch policy

Clint Riese
News Editor

For a night on which no official votes were counted, there was sure a lot of action at the City Council workshop held last Thursday.

The group came to apparent consensus on two lingering issues. First, they interviewed three engineering firms and found agreement on which to hire. Second, they seemed to map out the end of the road for a proposed animal dispatch policy, though the issue will officially live on until next Monday’s regular council meeting.

New Engineering Direction

The city appears ready to part ways with longtime engineering firm Stantec, formerly known as Bonestroo.

This fall the council voted to send out a request for proposals for city engineering services. Seven firms responded, and a selection committee consisting of council members Jim Dufour and Jackie McNamara, Community Development Director Doug Borglund and engineering technician Mark Peterson selected three finalists. They were: Stantec, of St. Paul, with proposed city engineer Leo Mann; WSB & Associates, of St. Paul, with Paul Hornby; and Bolton Menk, of Maplewood, with Ryan Goodman.

The difference between the firms was minimal in the eyes of most city staff members.

“From a general element, they all have very qualified individuals that bring a lot of talent to the table, so it’s difficult for me to pick out,” Borglund said.

Peterson endorsed the expertise of WSB, while Public Works Director Mike Tate felt comfortable with Bolton Menk.

Finance Director Ellie Paulseth noted that Bolton Menk had committed to holding itself to its estimated costs – a quality she appreciated with Stantec but warned that many firms do not possess.

City Administrator Aaron Parrish also spoke out for Bolton Menk when push came to shove, citing his familiarity with Goodman, who oversaw the city’s roundabout project for Bonestroo before a short stint as city engineer here.

“At the end of the day, your main interface [with the firm] is the city engineer,” Parrish said. “You’re not hiring them specifically, you need all the stuff behind them, but the front end of that’s got to work, and I thought it worked well with Ryan.”

Dufour, McNamara and council member Mike Freer each cited their comfort with Goodman as reasons to hire Bolton Menk.

Bolton Menk also offered the most affordable compensation package of the three. It proposed a $30,000 annual maximum and guaranteed the rate for five years.

The city will work out an agreement with that firm, with the goal of having the switch made by Jan. 1.

Policy Alive, For Now

The council then took up the recommendation – or lack thereof – from the committee formed to review how animals are dispatched within city limits.

The council in July formed the committee and charged it with bringing for consideration a policy governing how police officers should carry out the killing of animals when need be, such as when they are already wounded or present risk to humans. That request stemmed from a January incident in which two deer were shot by a Forest Lake Police officer on the North Shore Trail property of Jeff Carpenter.

City Attorney Dale Hebert, speaking last Thursday on behalf of the animal dispatch committee, reported that no policy was up for review since the group determined the need did not exist.

“It was our conclusion, and my opinion, that based on this official immunity [legal concern], based on the fact that there had only been one incident, based on the idea that you can’t envision all of the circumstances that can occur with every situation, that you have to allow your officers to exercise their discretion,” Hebert summarized.

The lack of a policy did not sit well with some on the council. Freer saw it as direct neglect of a council order.

“I think we have to be careful because I don’t want to set a precedent in any way, shape or form…That is my bigger concern than what the actual outcome [of the policy] is.”

The council ultimately asked Hebert to bring forth at next Monday’s meeting a draft of a policy, meaning it could be reviewed and discussed but not enforced.

The matter will likely end then and there, as any support for such a policy making it into the city ordinance appears to have waned.

Susan Young, who provided the swing vote that led to the committee’s creation, said that closer study revealed to her the legal dangers of a policy that includes language demanding certain action from an officer. Hebert sent the council a memorandum the week before that outlined how the Minneapolis Police Department exposed itself to legal action through a policy that overrode the official immunity tool which shields from liability officers acting in matters of professional judgement.

“I hadn’t thought about the ‘shall/must’ [language] and the effects that would have, and quite frankly that concerns me,” she said.

Even Freer seems consigned to the proposal’s fate, though he pledged to motion on Monday to table the matter until January so the new council can take a crack at it.

“I would still like to see a policy,” he said. “I understand the ‘shall/must,’ I understand that it would be very difficult, and Dave, I think you know that I trust you. Just because a policy is drafted doesn’t mean it’s going to be enacted…We did ask for a policy.”

Carpenter, the property owner who requested such a policy, did not attend the workshop.