The Miller City Council met Monday, Oct. 1, and a contentious couple of hours followed.
Lisa Anson appeared before the council regarding the toilet papering that took place during homecoming week.
She began by stating she wanted it on the record that she is not asking for kids to quit toilet papering. But she also had three questions for the City: “One, what are my rights as a citizen and a taxpayer? Two, what do you plan to do differently next year? Three, if there are no suggestions, what ordinances are there to deal with this?”
Anson said she was tired of cleaning her yard after the toilet papering, and she also feared a student might get hurt.
Alderman Tony Rangel said he, finance officer Laura Smith and police chief Shannon Speck met with school administration before homecoming week to discuss the situation, but no members of the student body were included in the meeting, as he thought they would be.
Barb Johnson, a member of the audience, commended the City and the police for how homecoming was handled, and noted they helped keep the kids occupied, there was no drinking, and they were home by 10:30. She conceded some people consider toilet papering and the ensuing cleanup a nuisance.
Deputy Wayne Ames said another resident is pursuing filing charges, and if rights are violated, persons can seek legal action. He said a pre-homecoming meeting next year should include representatives of the school, the City, the police and the student body. He stated some other communities have bigger issues to deal with during homecoming, but rights should be respected.
Mayor Ron Blachford stated, “If we have a meeting next year, we have to have students attend.”
Much discussion was held regarding the Public Safety Committee’s recommendation that the City advertise for a full-time police officer, to fill the position vacated by Doug Davis, and to hire Davis as a part-time officer.
Police chief Shannon Speck said he would like to keep the staff at four, in order to provide round-the-clock protection.
Alderman Jim Odegaard said he had talked to several constituents, and people said they would like to try to see the police department operate without providing 24/7 protection.
Alderman Lorin Johnson said people he had talked to said there are several law enforcement personnel in Miller, and wondered if the different entities could work together more closely, and eliminate the need of a fourth officer.
Johnson stated he was expressing the opinions of the people he talked to, who said their taxes are paying for County and City law coverage…couldn’t the police department operate with three officers, with on-call time, and work more closely with other agencies who could respond when necessary?
Johnson specified he wasn’t talking about “back-up,” as much as sharing responsibilities when calls come in.
He also asked if the police go to Ree Heights, St. Lawrence or Wessington, and if yes, do these communities reimburse the City of Miller for coverage. Speck said the department responds if backup is needed, but did accede the department does check St. Lawrence on a regular basis. Johnson said people he talked to feel the City should be reimbursed for protection provided outside the Miller City limits.
Johnson stressed, “This is not Lorin speaking, I’m speaking on behalf of those I talked to.”
He also questioned the cost involved of training/certifying a new officer. He commented, “In the years I’ve been on the Council, I believe five have gone through training, and only one of those is still here.”
At one point, Johnson asked, “So there’s absolutely no way we could work together? No way, no shape, no how?”
Speck stated he wanted “backup,” but still argued that was different than trying to schedule coverage between different law enforcement areas.
He acknowledged he wants backup help in some situations. “Believe me, if you’ve got a badge, and red and blue lights are flashing, I don’t care where you’re from, as long as I have backup,” Speck said.
Mayor Blachford said, “The question is, do you want 24-hour law enforcement? The Public Safety Committee recommended to advertise to hire someone.”
Alderman Joe Zeller made the motion to hire a fourth officer. On a roll-call vote, the motion carried with ayes from Rangel, Winsell, Mary Johnson and Zeller, and nays from Lorin Johnson and Odegaard.
Rangel commented he did not make his decision for any personal reasons, and his vote in favor of a fourth officer, is “gonna make people mad,” but he felt it was in the best interest of the community.
On a roll-call vote, the Council also approved hiring Davis on a part-time basis, with Lorin Johnson and Rangel casting nay votes.
The Council discussed the mayor’s proposed spending cuts, which are as follows: no pay or committee pay for special Council meetings; have retainer with the State’s Attorney and pay by the hour; cut back on overtime, have committees initial time, and overtime paid only after 40 actual working hours; freeze on buying equipment and increasing staff;
committees research project for necessity and funding, and file report with Council; cut all spending with goal of having end-of-year positive balance; lights off/heat down; utilities—pay for materials if damaging streets by digging, etc.; mayor will initial vouchers before writing checks, Council will vote on bills while department heads are present at meeting; City vehicles not taken home unless employee is being paid to be on-call.
Council members approved the recommended guidelines for getting the budget under control.
One other recommendation, to hold one rather than two council meeting per month, will be considered after an ordinance is prepared to that effect.
In other agenda items, the council approved providing hot dogs, beverages and condiments for school Halloween parties, as they have done in previous years.
Brian Jones, representing the Miller Area Health Board, spoke about the “Move Miller Move” campaign, to involve the community in exercise and healthy lifestyles. The council agreed to proclaim October and November as “Move Miller Move” months.
Jones asked about maintenance of the two bike paths, which he said are in poor repair. He said the Department of Transportation told him the City is responsible for maintaining the paths. He said a grant for trail maintenance may be available, and he is willing to look into the matter.
Mike Beaner told the council he has sold three lots in the Prairie Vista development, and wanted to know if he needed City approval for additional development. He was told to follow the same procedure as before.
A liquor license transfer was approved transferring the Sommer’s Bar & Lounge from DeWayne Herman to new owner, Ben Zell.
A building permit was approved for Paulette Gates, new house with garage.
Because the City had requested approval to bore a line under the railroad tracks for the electric project, an agreement was approved with DM&E Railroad Corporation, doing business as Canadian Pacific. The agreement contained requirements to be met by the City in order to install the underground casings, each containing electric wire.
Pay requests for electric project work were approved, for $267,234.52 to Strata, and $5,906.93 to Thompson Electric.
Surplus City property was approved. Items will be included in the County auction to be held October 26.
Discussion was held about the 2010-11 City audit, which has been accepted by the State (see legal section). In each case, the Mayor answered the findings. The Department of Legislative Audit recommended that the City Council take a more active role in the City’s financial operations.
Rodney Gortmaker was present to express concern about noise and traffic at the Armory parking lot, and also activity that takes place during evening hours at the American Legion parking area.
Council members were reminded of the National Guard Armory closing ceremony to be held at noon on October 14. The City will be awarded a plaque.