ELY – An annual gathering of legislators hosted by the Ely Community Economic Development Joint Powers Board was in peril of cancellation this year when one member recently voted against …
ELY – An annual gathering of legislators hosted by the Ely Community Economic Development Joint Powers Board was in peril of cancellation this year when one member recently voted against hosting the event because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Officials from the cities of Ely and Winton, townships of Morse and Fall Lake, along with a representative from the ISD 696 school board make up the local joint powers board to promote economic development efforts in the region.
The group holds a legislative session every December to discuss issues with federal, state and county elected officials or their representatives. The luncheon meeting has been held in early December for many years and provided a forum for the discussion of issues important to the Ely area. The public was also invited to discuss a variety of issues with lawmakers.
With public health concerns over the continuing coronavirus pandemic, the board took the summer off from gathering. They tried to meet last month to plan their annual event, but with just three of five representatives present at that meeting, no formal action could be taken. The group’s by-laws require unanimous approval for any decisions.
The Joint Powers Board met again last month in Ely City Hall to work through the details of the upcoming event. Officials from Winton, Mayor Kathy Brandau, and Fall Lake, Supervisor Mary Tome, participated via conference telephone call.
The Joint Powers Board recording secretary, Tom Coombe, reported that initial contacts indicated that State Sen. Tom Bakk and State Rep. Rob Ecklund could attend the gathering at the Grand Ely Lodge on Monday, Dec. 7. Representatives of Minnesota’s two senators, Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith, Rep. Pete Stauber, State Sen. Tom Bakk, State Rep. Rob Ecklund and St. Louis County Commissioner Paul McDonald typically attend the event. If the Nov. 3 election changes the regional political roster, any new lawmakers will also be invited.
Public health concerns due to the coronavirus could change the format of the meeting.
The Grand Ely Lodge can accommodate a limited gathering and will provide a meal under the prevailing public health guidelines, according to Coombe.
Ely Mayor Chuck Novak suggested, in keeping within the COVID-19 social distancing guidelines, that Joint Powers Board members could meet first with lawmakers, then invite members of the public to voice their concerns with the politicians. “We can go through the lunch meeting limited to those of us who will fit in the room that is available, then they can entertain anyone else to come and speak to (the lawmakers) while they are here,” he said. “The public would be welcome after we have our business meeting.”
Fall Lake Supervisor Mary Tome voiced her opposition to holding the meeting over her concerns with COVID-19.
Mayor Brandau, who recently attended regional political rallies supporting President Trump, dubbed “super spreader” coronavirus events, also voiced concerns with the Joint Powers Board hosting the event.
“I don’t know, I wonder if we will really get any politicians to attend,” she said.
Tome asked for clarification on what issues need to be discussed.
“We have broadband, funding for all the (recreational) trails going in around here, continued funding for schools, continued funding for transportation projects such as roads, and wastewater treatment plants around here are getting inundated with MPCA rules that are costing us millions of dollars,” Novak said. “These are all serious issues and we can talk directly with our legislators.”
Ely school board member and Joint Powers Board chair Tom Omerza noted, “The Grand Ely Lodge will know what public health protocols we need with the number of people, social distancing, serving food, and using face masks.”
Brandau suggested having a virtual meeting. The Grand Ely Lodge does have wireless capabilities for Zoom and other virtual meeting platforms.
Omerza suggested conducting the meeting in person as well with a virtual presence for those who may be uncomfortable due to COVID-19, and Novak made a motion to have the meeting in both formats, in-person and virtual.
Tome voted against the motion. At that point, the legislative gathering was on the cusp of cancellation because of the lack of unanimous consent.
“I just don’t think it’s necessary,” she said.
When reminded that she could participate via Zoom or telephone conference, Tome changed her vote to affirmative and with that, the Ely Community Economic Development Joint Powers legislative meeting remains on the calendar for Monday, Dec. 7, beginning at noon.