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Orr council scrutinzes city operations at special meeting

David Colburn
Posted 3/20/24

ORR- Meeting in a special session on Monday, Orr City Council members made quick work of two business items before turning their attention to a lengthy discussion of a number of items that could …

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Orr council scrutinzes city operations at special meeting


ORR- Meeting in a special session on Monday, Orr City Council members made quick work of two business items before turning their attention to a lengthy discussion of a number of items that could improve city operations.
The first order of business was to authorize Bolig Engineering to solicit contractor bids for the crack seal project at the airport when the Federal Aviation Administration is ready to proceed. As the project will be done at no cost to the city, the council gave its approval.
Council member John Jirik took the opportunity to report on a visit he made to the airport, and had numerous positive things to say.
“First of all, I was absolutely astounded by the amount of things that have been bought because we have an airport,” he said. “If you look at the trucks and plows and everything else that’s out there, that’s a lot of money going into that.”
Jirik said he wasn’t sure what he was going to find, as he’s heard some complaints from citizens that there was junk all over the place, but that was not the case at all, he said.
“Please, please don’t think that the airport is out of control and a pigsty, because it’s not,” Jirik said. “It was fairly organized, and it was wonderful talking to the manager of the airport (Ethan Olson) and seeing where they’re going with it. Most of that stuff can be very easily stored elsewhere. There’s other sheds there that we can easily move stuff into, and we’ve got a truck we can get rid of. I don’t see this as being anything even close to an emergency. I feel very confident and Ethan really was listening, he understands where we’re coming from and what we need to do, and he’s willing to work with us to make sure we follow the rules.”
Mayor Robert Antikainen then moved on to the next item, securing a new auto fryer for the Orr Muni.
“The element in it is burned out,” Antikainen said. “I looked at it on Friday myself, and there’s grease inside that machine in places where there should not be grease.”
Manager Laura Manai said the fryer was purchased in 2007, and that it recently had started cutting out. She said she had found a possible replacement on eBay.
“It looks to be the exact same one that we have there now,” she said, noting that the seller would take $2,500 to sell it outright instead of going through the bidding process. Manai said the bidding would close in six days and they could wait to see if they could get it at a lower price.
“It’s somewhere in the cities so I’d have to pick it up,” she said.
Leaning that the muni has $7,r000 remaining in its budget to cover equipment, the coucil authorized Manai to proceed with the purchase.
Operational issues
Jirik had apparently asked to have the item “review of multiple policies and procedures for clarification and updating” placed on the agenda, as he came prepared with a list of issues for the council to discuss.
“One of the first things I noticed was our mayor, as I was with him for about a week or two, was taking all of these emails from everybody complaining and yelling and screaming and hollering and whatever else it was on there,” Jirik said. “I suggested then right away don’t take that ever again. We don’t need that in our lives. If someone is complaining about anything to you, my suggestion would be to have them go to city hall and put it in writing. That way we can just deal with it. There’s no way any one of you should ever deal with any of that.”
A suggestion was made to create a fillable form on the website for complaints, but Jirik argued against that option.
“I wouldn’t suggest that because some people will just sit around and write complaints all day long,” he said. “If there’s something serious enough they can come to city hall or at least call Angela and ask ‘Can I get one?’ (complaint form).”
Council member Bruce Black pointed out that clerk Angela Lindgren could end up being the one to catch some heat.
“With them coming in, if they have an axe to grind, they’re gonna grind it with our clerk,” Black said.
“Which would be my second question,” Jirik responded. “If it’s a community member that wants to do that, do what you need to do. You can ask they politely to leave, and if they don’t, call the cops. That’s what we do at school. It’s done. It’s over. If it’s one of the employees, that’s a different ball game. That needs to immediately get taken to committee and then an immediate write up with what can happen.”
Manai, formerly assistant clerk, said that she hadn’t encountered intimidating people when she worked in the office.
Jirik’s next question related to scheduling for employees at the liquor store, in maintenance and at the airport. Manai described how she schedules employees at the liquor store, and then Jirik explained why he was asking the question.
“My concern is more oversight, not that you’re doing anything wrong,” he said. “You’re the oversight of the two employees, right, so you would be able to check on their schedule. As far as oversight of managers (for maintenance and liquor store), your schedule, do you send it anywhere? What I would do is have your schedule so that it gets filed here, and that would be the same for Paul (Koch) because he’s oversight of that. What hours you are working, just so we have that. That’s just standard operating procedure. That’s for everyone’s protection.”
Jirik then broadened the scheduling discussion to consider situations in which a department is without someone to address an issue because multiple people have taken time off at the same time.
“I don’t know if this is true or not but I’ve heard we even have some on-call stuff going on during work hours, mostly, for example, someone’s taking time off a half a day and then the other person’s gone the whole day, but who’s making that schedule?” Jirik said.
Lindgren said the issue has come up because of comp time earned by the city’s two maintenance workers, which by contract has to be used as soon as possible. It becomes a possible problem when Koch gives someone a Friday off, which coincides with Koch’s regular four-hour work days on Fridays, as he works four hours on Saturdays and Sundays doing necessary department activities.
“And then there’s nobody here, and it’s happened a couple of times where I’ve had to contact them and I don’t know who to contact,” Lindgren said. “I just need to know what I’m supposed to do in that instance.”
“I don’t know,” Jirik responded. “That’s why I’m asking. As the managers, what would we expect as city council to make it work? What has to be covered? Is there an on-call? Can we ask that they don’t take their days at the same time unless it’s absolutely necessary? A lot of places do that.”
Council members were in agreement that Koch’s weekend hours were necessary to take care of things like checking the pump house and garbage, so being off Friday afternoons is reasonable.
“But when you’re taking those four hours, that’s not the best day to have the other person gone,” Jirik said.
“It’s in our personnel policy that every department is supposed to be staffed from the time that you start till the time that you end,” Lindgren said. “I know Paul keeps track of all the hours in and out. He knows exactly when they were here, and it’s all documented. They’re both 7:30 to 4:00, Monday through Friday.”
“When there’s a change in the schedule those changes need to go somewhere where we can kind of see it,” Jirik said.
Council member Melissa Wright emphasized that she believes it’s good communication to start learning more about what’s happening, saying that there’s been a significant lack of communication.
Wright said that if there was a Word document of the city’s policy manual, tools such as redlining could be used to track changes the council discusses.
“That’s something we could bring back to the group to review to see what it is we’re updating and where we’re changing, to review that language to approve it.”
Jirik said there are many things that come up on a routine basis that should be addressed in policy.
“Some of this stuff is just stuff I’ve heard constantly from all of us, like how does this work,” he said. “I hear what’s going on with personnel where sometimes someone from one department is mad at someone in another deparment and they’re yelling at each other – how do you deal with that? Would you know where to go?”
“What I think we really need is an orientation packet, one that’s specific for us,” Wright said. “I can recall coming in feeling very lost and unorganized. I’ve heard of people not sure who they report to if they have an issue, or what the purchasing protocol is for different stuff. They learned, but I think just having a nice packet for when someone new comes on (would be good) so they don’t have to wait.”
The council continued discussing other ways to improve city operations, including a concern Lindgren raised about sending out disconnect notices for past due water bills. Lindgren said that creating the notices is time-consuming, particularly because they’re typically not enforced.
“We never shut them off, and we never hear from them,” she said.
She said some people with past due accounts have contacted her to make payment arrangements, while others seem to ignore notices altogether.
Black proposed a course of action to Lindgren.
“You make a policy for what you want to do and we’ll look at it at the next meeting,” he said.
Monday’s meeting lasted for more than an hour, with the overwhelming amout of time spent on discussing and trying to find possible solutions for issues.