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Park Rapids City Council considers capping public comment

The council's July 26 workshop also featured an update from the Heartland Lakes Economic Development Commission.

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Mary Thompson, at right, executive director with the Heartland Lakes Development Commission, updates the Park Rapids City Council on July 26, 2022 about the status of the city's revolving loan fund.
Robin Fish / Park Rapids Enterprise
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The Park Rapids City Council spent much of a 30-minute workshop Tuesday discussing whether to set a time limit for public comment during council meetings.

City Administrator Angel Weasner said the council currently had no time limit for citizens’ input. Council members voiced concern about residents’ remarks considerably lengthening discussion of certain issues at recent meetings.

They also noted their regular meeting agenda includes a segment for citizens’ comments, with the restriction that only items not on the agenda are to be discussed. Council members agreed this is because items on the agenda are discussed separately, and planning permits have a public hearing before the planning commission.

They also agreed that applicants may speak and answer questions about their request because they are already on the agenda.

Regarding other occasions when the council has opened the floor to public comment, Council member Tom Conway questioned whether the council was following its own rules.

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Weasner noted that citizens can pull items off the consent agenda, which gives the council an opportunity to let them comment on the items before voting on them.

Conway said he could see value in allowing this, because at times he doesn’t realize there is any controversy about an issue on the agenda.

Council member Erika Randall agreed that the council can learn important things from citizen comment, but it has to be controlled. Randall and Conway noted there are other avenues for citizen input, such as correspondence and planning commission hearings.

“There’s times when I’ve changed my opinion because of something that was said,” said Conway.

However, council member Liz Stone warned against a slippery slope toward making decisions based on opinions rather than facts. “That’s why I think we need to tidy it up,” she said, “and then adhere to our own rules, which are already established.”

Conway proposed limiting comment on any topic to two minutes per individual and three individuals, or six minutes total.

City Clerk Beret Ramstad Skoyles agreed to reword the citizens’ sign-in sheet to identify the topic they want to speak about. Council members suggested calling for comments, if any, in the order people sign in.

Economic development

In further discussion, the council received a report from Mary Thompson, executive director with the Heartland Lakes Development Commission (HLDC), about the agency’s activities.

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Thompson reported:

  • The city’s revolving loan fund recently closed a loan, and three more loan applications are in process and may close this fall. “If all three would come in for the maximum request, that would pretty much wipe out what’s there” in the fund, she said. “So, that’s on my radar, to look at potential other options to recapitalize the revolving loan fund.”
  • The HLDC purchased 20 acres to the east of Walmart, and has applied for USDA pre-development funding and a state appropriation to build infrastructure for a workforce housing development. 
  • The Hangar, a professional coworking space in the city-owned building where the HLDC has its offices, has been well utilized, primarily by business people who don’t have the internet access they need to work at their summer residence, and by residents who have too much company to work at home. It “really does help provide some independence, some collaboration, and some additional networking,” Thompson said.
  • The HLDC received two rounds of Main Street Revitalization funding for 30% grants, up to a total of $450,000, creating the potential for a $1.5 million investment in improving businesses’ facilities throughout the city and county.
  • The HLDC received $46,600 to provide scholarships up to $2,000 and startup grants of up to $3,000 to people pursuing careers in childcare.

Time ran out before council members could discuss other items on their workshop agenda, including establishing license agreement parameters or a committee and an update on the city’s sales tax bonding request.

MORE RELATED COVERAGE:
The city also received a commemorative photo honoring its support of this year's 2nd Street Stage concert series.

Robin Fish is a staff reporter at the Park Rapids Enterprise. Contact him at rfish@parkrapidsenterprise.com or 218-252-3053.
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