Three new faces joined the Menahga City Council at Tuesday’s meeting.

Mayor Liz Olson and council members Durwin Tomperi and Dan Warmbold took their oaths of office.

“I think it’s going to be, I’m hoping, a very good time – that we’re going to be able to move our city forward,” Olson said in an opening statement. “I was encouraged to run mainly because of the financial piece by many of the residents. I want to make sure that, whatever we end up voting on tonight or any other time, that we do make sure that we do have the funds.”

Tomperi was named vice-mayor.

Council meeting times

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Olson recommended that the full council gather for a work session once a month with all department heads for discussion. Action items would be brought to the regular council meeting. Currently, the city has eight subcommittees with two council members on each committee.

Menahga Fire Chief Dave Kicker expressed reservations about work sessions, saying they had been “a waste of time” in the past. He said department heads often feel more comfortable meeting with two council members rather than facing the entire council.

Olson said she hoped to streamline city business while keeping it transparent. The council agreed that they could change direction if work sessions prove unuseful.

The council’s next regular meeting is 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 9, where there will be a public hearing about changing the meeting to the second Monday of each month. The hearing is necessary because the council’s meeting time was written into a city ordinance.

City hall reopening

The council passed a resolution to reopen city hall, while continuing to monitor the spread of COVID-19.

“I think city hall should be open to the general public because I’ve had people come up and talk to me about it,” Warmbold said, adding he’s heard reports that residents are calling and not getting an answer.

City administrator Curt Kreklau said two people can safely physically distance in the front office.

He noted there has been a “by appointment only” policy during the pandemic, which was as simple as knocking on city hall’s door. “At least in person, we’ve done, I think, very well, given the circumstances of meeting with people. That hasn’t really changed much. The intent was, when you have a lot of traffic at the front office just to drop off a water bill, we felt that should probably be filtered a little,” he said.

Tomperi said he called the Wadena County Public Health Department, which advised him that if the city has a COVID-19 preparedness plan in place and protocols are followed, like face masks and physical distancing, it should be safe to reopen. The city does have a pandemic plan.

“This is the community’s building. They need to have access freely, in my opinion,” Tomperi said.

Kreklau said he had no objections.

Nursing facility news

Greenwood Connections Administrator Laura Ahlf said the COVID unit was dismantled at the city-owned facility in mid-December. No more COVID-positive admissions have been accepted since that time.

Nursing staff and residents received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Jan. 7. Assisted living residents were scheduled to be inoculated on Jan. 14.

Ahlf said two staff members tested positive for COVID-19 last month.

Ahlf’s written report stated there was an independent, informal dispute resolution process (IIDR) regarding an “immediate jeopardy” (IJ) citation that the facility received in February 2018. She said an administrative law judge ruled that “a citation was not appropriate and that the facility should not have received a harm tag. After the administrative law judge’s determination, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) gets to make the final decision on whether to remove the citation or keep it. The MDH commissioner determined that the facility did cause harm, but the facility should have received a G tag rather than an IJ.”

According to MDH, harm can occur in any citation with a scope and severity level of “G” through “L.”

The council did not discuss the finding.

CARES Act final report

Kreklau presented the city’s final report to Minnesota Management and Budget about CARES Act funding.

Of the original $101,031, he said the city spent $77,519, “so we ended up giving back some to the county.”

Olson asked why all of the funds weren’t used, and Kreklau replied, “Part of the reason it didn’t get spent is because we didn’t need all of it.”

The spending broke down as follows:

  • $538 to develop CARES Act council resolution

  • $5,964 in paid sick leave to employees

  • $9,092 to improve networking hardware for remote meetings and work

  • $11,724 to purchase personal protective equipment

  • $2,032 for equipment and supplies to sanitize city campground and beach areas

  • $21,000 in COVID relief grants to five small businesses

  • $27,167 for additional equipment, signage, sanitizer for the 2020 elections, plus bulk sanitation supplies for city hall, the police department and the municipal liquor store and the purchase of a public works vehicle.

Legal counsel

The council approved Ramstad, Skoyles & Winters PA, Attorneys at Law as the city’s criminal legal counsel and Pemberton Law as the city’s civil legal counsel.

They also passed a resolution stating the city administrator and mayor have authority to contact legal counsel, then provide a monthly report to the full council “regarding matters for which counsel was consulted.” Council members may seek legal counsel only after “obtaining written permission from the administrator, mayor or majority approval from the council.” If permission has not been granted, the council member is to pay the legal fee.

Using a three-year average, Kreklau estimated $15,000 in civil legal counsel fees for 2021. “We had kind of an outlier last year,” he said of the higher legal fees accrued by the previous council.

In other action, the council did as follows:

  • Appointed Community First Bank of Menahga and Sebeka, TruStar Federal Credit Union, Ehlers Investments and the League of Minnesota Cities’ 4M Fund as the city’s official depositories.

  • Formed a fire contract subcommittee with Kicker, Tomperi and Warmbold. They will meet Jan. 18 in preparation for a joint meeting with Blueberry, Huntersville and Shell River township officials, tentatively scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 26.

  • Designated the mayor, vice-mayor, administrator and deputy clerk as authorized check signers. To improve segregation of duties, it was suggested to have one council member and one staff member sign each check. The council decided to bring it to the next work session as a possible policy change.

  • Requested an inventory list, by city department, for the next work session.

  • Approved the 2021 city fee schedule, with no changes, but added it to the work session for further review and discussion.

  • Authorized requests for proposals for city auditor (2020-22), city engineer and financial advisor.

  • Learned that Vickie Paurus was chosen to fill a vacant seat on the Greenwood Connections Board.

  • Named the Review Messenger the official newspaper.