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Town Board meets in person despite public notice snafu

Jodi Summit
Posted 6/9/21

GREENWOOD TWP- The Greenwood Town Board met in person on Tuesday, after quite a bit of confusion created when the clerk published the agenda and placed a notice in their official newspaper, The Tower …

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Town Board meets in person despite public notice snafu

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GREENWOOD TWP- The Greenwood Town Board met in person on Tuesday, after quite a bit of confusion created when the clerk published the agenda and placed a notice in their official newspaper, The Tower News, that the meeting was being conducted via teleconference.
The board held its first in-person meeting in May without incident and required that masks be worn. A teleconference option was still made available for any visitors who didn’t wish to attend the meeting in person. Since then, the state has removed requirements for indoor mask wearing. The board took no action at the May meeting to change back to teleconference-only. So, several supervisors, as well as members of the public, were confused.
Two supervisors, Barb Lofquist and Sue Drobac, had both contacted Chair Mike Ralston, who confirmed the meeting was to be held in-person, with the teleconference available for the public if desired.
But on Tuesday morning, Clerk Debby Spicer sent out an email stating that she had received several calls with some “stating that the meeting ad was wrong.”
She went on to affirm that “the meeting tonight is virtual telephone conference.” She said an agenda item at the meeting did include discussion of in-person/virtual board meetings.
“Last month’s meeting was announced as a trial hybrid meeting by Mike Ralston,” she wrote, “with the intention to discuss it for possible further implementation.”
She went on to confirm that “the notice in the paper was not a mistake” and that “as clerk, I do not have the authority to make decisions.”
But less than 20 minutes later, Spicer sent out another email.
“I apologize for the confusion,” she wrote. “I have just been informed by Supervisor Ralston that there was a miscommunication, and that the meeting will be both virtual and in-person, the same as last month.”
At the meeting Tuesday evening, Ralston also apologized for the confusion. He noted the agenda item was to see if the board wanted to continue with the hybrid model, which does come with a cost of $100 per meeting.
Lofquist noted that some of the public are still reluctant to attend in-person meetings, so the conference call option was still a good idea. There were 14 in the audience at Tuesday’s meeting, a little smaller than the usual crowd.
Drobac noted that the board isn’t conducting virtual meetings because all the board members are attending in person, and the phone-in option is available as a service to the public. At the start of the meeting, it was noted that six people had taken advantage of the phone-in option.
The board will continue the hybrid model at least through the end of July, which will include the township’s continued annual meeting set for Thursday, July 22 at 6:30 p.m., and then revisit the issue for August.
More confusion
Tuesday’s meeting included many other topics that revolved around confusions and miscommunications.
Drobac asked why the treasurer’s report did not include the updated disbursements list.
“The problem is the disbursements register is the same as from last month’s meeting,” she said. “We don’t have this month’s [May’s] list.”
Spicer said she had only received that paperwork from Treasurer Belinda Fazio on Tuesday morning and hadn’t had time to enter the information into her system.
Drobac noted that the board need to approve both the claims (the bills) and the disbursements (the actual checks), and since these did not match, the board couldn’t approve paying the claims at this time.
Fazio told the board since she had been training on the new payroll system this past week, she was late with the regular paperwork.
While Drobac is often seen as clashing with the clerk and treasurer, she once again pointed out that the board, which cut the salaries for those two positions this year, was not giving them enough hours to get their jobs completed.
“What I am trying to say is there is not enough time to get the job done in 12 hours a week,” Drobac said.
Ralston noted that both positions are paid a salary, and that the board just ordered that the office be open 12 hours a week.
“But if there is work that needs to be done, they can take more time,” he said.
“So do I get paid extra?” asked Spicer.
“No,” replied Ralston. “It is a salary.” The clerk’s salary is currently set at $16,700 a year, and the treasurer’s at $11,000 a year.
Ralston noted that if the clerk or treasurer is in the office during times not part of regular office hours, they can ignore emails or phone calls if they want.
Drobac noted that the board did need to have an up-to-date disbursements list for the meeting.
The board called a special meeting for Monday, June 14 at 9 a.m. to approve the disbursements. The township’s bills need to be paid by the 15th of the month.
Drobac asked the clerk to log her hours, so the board could reconsider the time the job requires. Spicer said she was told the position is based on the statutory duties.
“Answering emails is not,” Spicer said.
“You need to be a friendly, open face for our township,” Drobac, who was formerly the township clerk, said.
Spicer noted the township website also has some rather out-of-date information.
“It is very time-consuming,” she said.
Broadband
The board will be holding a special meeting on Tuesday, June 15 at 6:30 p.m. to discuss broadband issues, grants, and to meet with at least one possible provider, CTC. Whitney Ridlon from the IRRRB will also be at the meeting to discuss the grant application and other possible grant opportunities.
At last month’s meeting, the board discussed applying for a new grant opportunity. The board scrambled, with help from CTC and the IRRRB, and did get an application into Senators Tina Smith and Amy Klobuchar’s offices. This was done without any input from the township’s broadband committee, which has also been working on the issue.
John Bassing, from the broadband committee, noted that the township is not likely to receive significant funding from the grant program set up by Sen. Smith’s office.
“I’ve been contacted by Sen. Tina Smith’s office and was told they are looking at funding smaller amounts, like $200,000 - $300,000,” said Bassing, “not millions.”
“We need to work together as a team,” said Joanne Bassing, also on the broadband committee.
“I totally agree,” said Ralston. “You don’t get anything if you don’t ask.”
Lofquist, who chairs the township’s broadband committee, wondered why the CTC visit, initially discussed for the June 8 meeting, had been switched. After hearing of the visit, the broadband committee scheduled their own meeting prior to the township meeting and invited the CTC representative to come an hour early to meet with them. They then were told by CTC that the meeting had been set for June 15.
Ralston told the board he decided he didn’t want to “stack” the CTC visit onto a regular meeting, so set it for the following week.
Lofquist said they wished he had communicated this to the broadband committee.
“I am not going to apologize,” Ralston said. “I completed this and got it done. I don’t need to have letters to the editor saying I don’t support broadband.”
Other business
In other business, the board:
• Will bring the request by the board to raise EMR/First Responder pensions from $1,500 to $2,000 per year of service. These pensions are separate from the fire department pension which is overseen by PERA and funded by the township.
• Again refused a request for a $100 donation to the Lakeview Cemetery, but will revisit the issue next month when they will review additional information. Pam Lundstrom brought information to the board noting that 191 Greenwood residents are buried at the cemetery. “This is not Tower’s cemetery,” she said. “It’s a joint cemetery.” She told the board that both Tower and Breitung contribute $3,000 annually to the cemetery. The township has made donations to the cemetery as late as 2019.
• A fundraiser rummage sale is being organized by Lundstrom on Saturday, June 26 at the Greenwood Town Hall. Contact Pam Lundstrom at 753-3006 to reserve a table for $10. Fees collected will go to the cemetery, along with other donations.
• Rejected a motion by Drobac, on a 2-3 vote, to reduce supervisors’ and fire department officers’ salaries by 40 percent to match the cuts made earlier to the clerk and treasurer salaries. “I think this is going against the fire department again,” said Carmen DeLuca. Ralston said he would support cutting supervisors’ pay, but not fire department officers’. But DeLuca also objected to that, noting the amount of time he put in as the maintenance supervisor.
A motion to cut only supervisors’ salaries was never brought to the floor.
• Passed a resolution to accept federal ARPA funds (pandemic relief funding).
• Referred the issue of setting time limits for use of the tennis courts to the recreation committee. Pickleball players are hosting open games Tuesday through Friday starting at 9 a.m., which ties up the court for possible tennis use. Tennis players have been playing on Monday mornings.
• Had a request from fire department safety officer Rick Worringer to inform residents of the importance of keeping their driveways safe for emergency vehicles by removing brush and widening tight corners. He also said that many docks do not have fire numbers posted on them, which is important when the fire department boats are responding to either a fire or medical emergency.
“This is a serious issue,” he said. “There are driveways we cannot get down.”
• Passed a motion, 3-2, to have only a single board member, the maintenance supervisor, attend fire department business meetings, and not have them open to the public. Lofquist had asked to have a rotating board member attend so others could participate. Chief Dave Fazio noted that other board members could be invited to the meeting if they had something that they needed to discuss. At the last fire department business meeting, three board members had attended, and the meeting was posted as a public/open meeting. The fire department members then decided to leave the building and meet at the chief’s home instead.
“At their meetings they discuss information that is not made to be public,” Ralston said. “It is not an open public meeting.”
• Reiterated township policy that no alcohol is permitted at the pavilion and recreation area. A supervisor said that an organizer of bocce ball had suggested people bring alcohol in “decoy containers” to skirt the rule. The township will post the policy down at the pavilion area.
• Heard that the township did not receive a grant to repave Birch Point Extension. Lofquist said the township should look into simply repairing the worst spots, and said she felt the entire road did not need to be repaired due to the cost to the limited number of property owners.

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