The Menahga City Council debated whether or not to pay a $1,000 invoice from Ramstad, Skoyles & Winters of Detroit Lakes. They discussed the matter at Thursday’s special meeting.
“We’re going to pay $1,000 and he hasn’t been to one meeting?” asked council member Art Huebner. “In fact, he’s refused.”
City Administrator Curt Kreklau said attorney Tom Winters “has had other commitments.”
“But he can call you at 2:30 p.m. and tell you isn’t coming?” Huebner asked.
“That’s happened,” Kreklau said.
Mayor Joan Liimatta reminded the council they could approve a new city attorney at their regular January meeting. Kreklau said he has requested quotes from other law firms.
Liimatta recommended paying the bill, but Huebner disagreed. “I’d like to see us not pay this until he gets caught up on what we’ve asked him for. He’s had how much stuff there since August?” he said.
“There are two distinct pending investigations that we’ve been waiting on,” Kreklau replied.
“One of them is a no-brainer,” Huebner said.
Council member Robyn Keranen asked if Winters had provided any updates on those investigations.
Kreklau said he spoke to Winters on Wednesday. “He may have the exit interview investigation by Tuesday. The other investigation into complaints, he was going to check with whomever he farmed them out to. Those complaints were made back in August.”
Keranen suggested telling the law firm to quicken its work pace.
Liimatta said, “I feel the city has been disrespected by his lack of quick attention.”
Huebner said legal counsel “is supposed to represent you zealously. And that has not been done, by any means, here. So I agree 100 percent, and I’m rather perturbed about it.”
Council member Karol Andreasen asked what reason Winters has given for not complying with the city’s request.
“I’ve not approached it that way,” Kreklau said. “I would expect zealous representation and a sense of urgency, too. I know things happen. I know professionals have to prioritize, but when it’s on multiple things that we need to resolve for the city, I don’t need a reason. There isn’t a reason.”
Liimatta recommended paying the bill and including a letter stating their dissatisfaction.
Council member Karol Andreasen proposed paying half of the bill.
Kreklau said there would be another opportunity to withhold payment, but added, “If you make it about money, you’ve changed the tone of the interaction, probably permanently. I think the council is well advised to not get a reputation for playing with money.”
Council member Tim Ellingson recommended paying this bill, but giving fair warning that the next bill may be delayed.
On a 4-1 vote, with Andreasen opposed, the council decided to pay in full and attach a letter.
“Gotta stand up for yourself,” Andreasen said.
Citizen complaint process
Liimatta requested a review of the city’s citizen complaint policy.
“I had a citizen call me who said she’s had an issue with her neighbor’s pets and that she’s come in and filed a complaint, but nothing’s ever been done. What is the follow up on a complaint?” she asked.
Kreklau explained he typically gives the citizen a timeframe in which the complaint will be addressed. “I’ll say, ‘If you don’t see any change, get back to me and I’ll renew the complaint,’” he said, adding, with a pet complaint, a police officer shows the neighbor the city ordinance. At that point, the neighbor is already in violation, he noted.
Kreklau said complaint forms are available at city hall and on the city’s website.
Police officer Keith Waaraniemi pointed out that the current ordinance only applies to dogs, not cats. “We can go and talk to the owner of the cats, but it’s unenforceable.” He recommended adopting an animal nuisance ordinance with the help of the city attorney.
Liimatta agreed it was worth addressing, as the citizen did call about a cat issue.
Calling the special meeting “totally unnecessary,” Huebner made a motion that the council not get paid for it. “There wasn’t anything covered tonight that we couldn’t cover at a regular meeting.”
Liimatta pointed out that the council did not hold a December work session.
Huebner said he would prefer committee meetings rather than full-council work sessions. “If there’s a trust issue, it could be tape recorded, the whole meeting,” he said.
The motion failed, 2-3, with Liimatta, Andreasen and Ellingson opposed.