At the Forest Lake City Council’s June 12 meeting, the council resolved, for now, an ongoing dispute about the composition of the city’s Airport Commission.
Since January, the commission has had two sitting council members on it: Ed Eigner, the council’s designated liaison to the commission, and Sam Husnik, who was simply a citizen member until he took a seat on the council following the fall 2016 election. Initially, city staff and the council did not believe that there was any sort of legal conflict with both men serving on the commission at the same time, but eventually, staff determined that having more than one council member on the commission was a violation of the city’s ordinance regarding the commission. In multiple conversations about this topic this year, a number of solutions have been proposed, ranging from changing the ordinance to allow more council members on the commission, changing the ordinance to have one voting and one liaison council member, and Husnik’s resignation from the commission.
On June 12, the council rehashed different arguments for and against different solutions, with Councilman Michael Freer proposing that the simplest solution to stay in compliance is for Husnik to resign, while Husnik continued to champion his one non-voting liaison option. Some members also brought up old points of contention between the commission and council, highlighting the bodies’ opposing views on whether to allow two airport users to use the airport taxiway for takeoffs and landings during the runway’s paving last year.
Ultimately, the council voted 3-1 (Eigner was absent) to change the ordinance so that up to two council members could be on the commission at a time; Freer voted against. City Administrator Aaron Parrish told the council that should it desire a different solution in the future, next January may be an opportune time to reconsider, as Husnik’s current term on the commission would expire.
“You will have, at the end of the year, kind of a blank slate,” he said.
The council also briefly discussed, and then tabled, the topic of which two council members should be appointed to a stakeholder group – also to include Police Chief Rick Peterson, Parrish and two police officers – to discuss conflict resolution and mediation between the city and the Forest Lake Police Department. This group was established as part of the labor contract struck between the city and local police unions at the end of the council’s contract law enforcement process in May.
Mayor Ben Winnick brought forward to the council appointments of himself and Freer to the group. Husnik and Councilwoman Mara Bain said that rather than Freer and Winnick, who both voted in favor of disbanding the FLPD and bringing on the Washington County Sheriff’s Office to perform local police services, they would like one person who was for the sheriff’s office proposal and one person who was against it to be in the group. Bain also suggested that the council discuss the goals of the group, but Winnick said he believed the group would set its own goals once all the shareholders could meet.
Since the appointments appeared to be headed toward a 2-2 gridlock, the council tabled the item until the next meeting when all council members are present. The next regular council meeting is June 26.
During the council’s June 19 work session, the body discussed a number of issues that will face decision points in the coming months. Perhaps most significantly, the council gave a few preliminary thoughts on budget priorities for 2018 and were informed of the schedule for more formalized budget discussions later this year.
The full, formalized council discussion on the budget and levy for 2018 is slated to begin Wednesday, Aug. 2. Subsequent meetings are scheduled for Aug. 9, 16, and, if necessary, 23. In September, the council will set a preliminary levy, an amount it won’t exceed when a final decision is made. The final budget and levy will be approved in December.
The council also discussed speed limits on North Shore Trail, a topic last broached last fall by a number of concerned local residents who were afraid that speeding cars on the curvy roadway pose a danger to pedestrians and pets. City Engineer Ryan Goodman reported that speed studies conducted on the roadway, which loops north around the three lakes of Forest Lake, do not legally support lowering the speed limit. If the council wishes to lower the speed limit, he said, the most viable option would be to establish an urban district along most of the road, which could statutorily lower the speed limit to a uniform limit of 30 mph in the area. The less residentially dense segment of road, from Juniper Avenue to Scandia Trail, could get its speed limit lowered from 40 mph to 35.
The council was open to lowering the limit, as was requested by multiple neighborhood dwellers during the work session’s open forum, but staff and council members said that they would like more long-term solutions to reduce traffic on the road. They also stated that for the speeds to be effective, an increased police presence in the area will be needed.
“It’s got to be a sustained effort over a period of time,” Councilman Michael Freer said.
Another discussion topic was whether the council was open to Washington County taking over its yard waste collection operation near the old Forestland Nursery site, on the grounds of the old compost operation. The county has been considering expanding its yard waste collection operations, and the council was open to the county assuming those duties locally, as the current site costs the city $30,000 to $40,000 per year to operate. However, multiple members were concerned about a preliminary plan for the site’s layout, which would put the piles of collected waste very close to U.S. Highway 61 at a gateway to the city. The council asked staff to talk to the county about finding a different location for the site or to move the site back on the property to be less visible, perhaps behind a proposed city public works building.