ELY – The city council here, following the lead from Mayor Chuck Novak, again refused to consider a proposed resolution from a citizen asking city leaders to take a stand against …
ELY – The city council here, following the lead from Mayor Chuck Novak, again refused to consider a proposed resolution from a citizen asking city leaders to take a stand against boycotting businesses that oppose sulfide mining near the Boundary Waters.
The council’s action, or inaction, on Wednesday night, came before a standing room only crowd dominated by mining supporters. It was the second meeting in a row during which the council declined to express opposition to Mayor Novak’s call for a boycott against Fortune Bay Resort Casino over the decision by the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe to support legislation that would effectively block development of the proposed Twin Metals mine near Ely. The MCT is comprised of six of the major Ojibwe (also known as Chippewa) Bands in northern Minnesota, including the Bois Forte Band, which owns and operates Fortune Bay.
Wilderness advocate Becky Rom addressed the council during the open forum portion of their Feb. 18 meeting and asked the council to make a public statement that it does not support the boycott of any business.
The issue arose last month as a result of Novak’s Twitter comments supporting Sen. Tom Bakk’s decision to cancel a fundraising event at Fortune Bay over the issue.
At the end of the Feb. 18 meeting, Novak told Rom that the council does not take action on anything presented in the “open forum” portion of the council agenda. He said the council would “ponder what was said” and adjourned the meeting.
Mining supporters filled the council chambers to overflowing Wednesday night, with dozens more in the hallway, apparently in support of Novak’s business boycott stance, and stood ready to react to Rom’s renewed request. They seemed to outnumber environmental advocates by a wide margin
Novak attempted to take the wind out of Rom’s sails by offering his own resolution during the “mayor’s report” portion of the agenda, that reaffirmed the council’s previous actions supporting the Twin Metals and PolyMet sulfide mining projects. The Ely City Council has approved as many as nine such sulfide-mining support resolutions dating back to at least 2008.
As Rom rose to speak, council member Jerome Debeltz attempted to have her silenced because the Ely business owner and property taxpayer lives in nearby Morse Township.
Novak also tried to keep Rom from speaking by indicating that her request to appear was just to present the resolution. “We have your request to pass the resolution,” he said. “That’s all this issue is about.”
Rom persisted. “We asked for and received 15 minutes to speak and we would like to explain why we are requesting the resolution,” she said.
Ely resident Carol Orban formally made the request to the council to consider the resolution. “The city of Ely does not support a boycott of the Bois Forte Band’s Fortune Bay Casino or any other business,” she said.
“We have that resolution before us,” Novak said. “Like I said before, we do not take action from requests to appear. I believe there is interest in looking at this, but we want to make sure there are no caveats or catch-22s, so this will be moved forward and brought up at a later meeting,” he said. “We will consult with our counsel (city attorney).
Council member Paul Kess attempted to confirm that the intention of the council was to address the proposed resolution at the next council meeting.
“Possibly,” Novak replied.
Orban asked why the council could approve a resolution re-affirming their support for sulfide mining, and not even consider Rom’s resolution. “You already passed one resolution tonight and you had no issues with its possible legality, whereas this one you do?” she asked.
“The one that was in the packet was distributed last Friday,” Novak said. “Council had a chance to review it.”
Orban pointed out that the anti-boycott resolution was also distributed last week.
Novak retreated to “Robert’s Rules of Order” and city ordinances, in asserting that the council only votes on resolutions presented in writing. “This is not a formal resolution and it was not prepared properly,” he said. “There was no communication with the clerk’s office. By Robert’s Rules, we cannot vote on this resolution.”
A motion to support the process Novak spelled out was unanimously approved. Novak attempted to continue with the meeting agenda but was presented with more questions from Rom on why she was not granted her 15 minutes to speak on the issue. “You may get up to 15 minutes to speak. There is no guarantee,” he said.
Rom continued her objections, pointing out that other speakers were allowed to speak about an unrelated Chamber of Commerce matter. “That seems discriminatory,” she said.
A majority of the council chambers audience erupted in boos, yells and unintelligible comments directed at Rom and other environmental advocates in the room. Novak gaveled the room to order.
When asked to give her opinion on the council’s procedure to allow people time to speak, City Attorney Kelly Klun responded, “There is a request to appear on the agenda. This is an equal opportunity event. Each party should be allowed to speak and the council may or may not take action. Granting time allowed to speak has always been at the discretion of the council. I won’t weigh in on whether equal time has been given.”
Ely business owner Peta Barrett, whose name was on the request to appear, asked why her group was not instructed by the clerk’s office about a particular resolution format in order to speak about the issue. “No one advised us about a particular form or particular number in order to have this discussed tonight. I’m looking for clarification,” she said.
Novak said he did not have an answer to her question. “I don’t know how much discussion you had with the staff. Every day is a learning lesson for us,” he said.
Rom persisted. “We are here tonight. We are prepared to speak to this issue. We think this is a vital concern for this city. We respectfully ask for our equal opportunity, especially given that we followed the rules that we were given by the city,” she said.
Novak responded, “Council has spoken. We will take this up at the next council meeting (March 17). We are moving on in the agenda.”
Loud boos were heard in the council chambers and in the hallway. Somebody was heard to call the mayor a “chicken” as most of the audience left the room.
Look for more coverage of the business boycott issue following the March 17 council gathering.