Council will have a chance to vote again on whether to donate $2,000 for restrooms at the beach
By Terry Lehrke, News Editor
The approval of a donation from the city of Little Falls for the restrooms at the beach on Green Prairie Fish Lake was vetoed by Mayor Cathy VanRisseghem, Thursday.
Last year, when representatives from Green Prairie Township asked the city for a donation, the Council learned that the city should not donate money for anything not deemed as a public use for Little Falls residents, and if the Council chose to donate, the city attorney advised a contract be drawn up outlining the agreement.
This year, the request for a one-time $2,000 donation was brought before the Council by Council Member at Large Brian-Paul Crowder, who asked that the motion be made into a resolution.
Crowder, who had received permission from the Council at a previous work session to pursue what the city could and could not do, said he learned after speaking to the Green Prairie Township Board’s attorney, that a resolution for the one-time donation was required.
Council Member Greg Zylka seconded Crowder’s motion to make the one-time gift for the rest-room facilities at the beach
“I’ve tried to be consistent from the beginning when we discussed this,” Zylka said. The Little Falls Convention and Visitors Bureau promotes the beach in its literature, as well as spots in Royalton, he said.
“A lot of Little Falls residents use it (the beach),” he said. “I know they’re struggling to raise the money, and I’d like to see them have a nice restroom facility. I drive by there a lot and that place is packed during the summer and I think it would all benefit our community members.”
“I’d like to see a nice bathroom for our playground, too,” said VanRisseghem of the area donated to the city by the Minnesota Department of Transportation. The playground equipment was also donated by the Paul Twitchell family.
In February, the Council approved work by city crews to prepare the ground for the playground equipment. The approval came with conditions — that the cost was not to exceed $17,000 and that every dollar would be repaid with funds raised through private donations or grants.
“This is very generous of Mr. Crowder, considering he wouldn’t give any money for the playground or splash pad,” said VanRisseghem, noting any funds used for the playground had to be paid back.
The resolution passed on a 5-3 vote, with Council Members Frank Gosiak and Jeremy Hanfler joining VanRisseghem in a no vote.
Hanfler asked where the $2,000 would come from.
In determining where the funds should come from, Gosiak objected to funds being taken from Parks Fund, since the money was needed for many projects in the city.
The final 5-3 vote was to take the money from the city’s general fund. Again, Gosiak, Hanfler and VanRisseghem voted no to take the money from the general fund.
In VanRisseghem’s veto, she listed seven objections to the approval of the donation, including the fact that Green Prairie Township is not a city entity and does not pay taxes to the city of Little Falls; the city attorney recommended to the Council that it should not fund a non-city entity; no agreement had been drafted explaining the benefit to Little Falls taxpayers; what the funding was going to be used for and that no deadline had been set on when the funds should be used.
VanRisseghem’s letter of veto said the Council could be setting a precedent for other entities requesting funds from the city; objected to the resolution not being drafted prior to the Council’s meeting and placed in the packet for members to review, nor was there a document from the Green Prairie Township or Crowder requesting the funds and what they would be used for; no budget was presented, no design for the potential project, nor a start or completion date for the project; the funds were given without any accountability to the taxpayers of Little Falls and that the city had many projects that could use funding.
Crowder said Thursday he wasn’t surprised by the veto.
“That’s another reason why the city should open the charter; there’s too much control by the mayor in our town,” he said. “The mayor appoints all committee members and stacks committees with family and friends.”
Crowder said he had not been appointed to one committee, which he called a disservice to the taxpayers of Little Falls. “They’re paying for my services and they’re not be used,” he said.
The mayor is also the head of the Little Falls Police Department, Crowder said when listing the control given to the mayor by the charter. That, he said, is something many residents don’t know.
As far as getting the funding for the beach, Crowder said after bringing it up several times, he’d done everything that was asked of him before the vote was taken.
A new bathroom at the beach is “for the health, safety and well-being of all who use that beach, and there’s a huge usage from the city of Little Falls,” he said.
Crowder also pointed to the history of the city with the beach at Green Prairie Fish Lake, since it was once city-owned and people who grew up in Little Falls remember how much fun it was to go to the city beach.
It is also the closest beach to the city. Crowder said all he wanted was for kids and families to have a safe, clean environment. “Why shouldn’t they have clean facilities,” he said. “It shows we’re a good neighbor.”
Crowder said a lot of people were going to be disappointed in the mayor’s abuse of her veto power.
The Council is “opening a can of worms,” VanRisseghem said. “If he (Crowder) has such a passion for the beach, why doesn’t he just write a check,” she said.
“There’s no design for the building, no budget, no idea how much this is going to cost; none of that groundwork has even been laid,” she said.
“If we have to give money to every entity that our residents use — why would we want to start that kind of precedent?” asked the mayor. Especially she said, since the city has turned down donations for the Morrison County Fairgrounds and the Boys and Girls Club.
“We have been limping along for years now, being told there is no city money; and now they’re giving money away to non-city entities,” she said.
“I’ve been told I might lose some votes over this, but I’m not there for the votes. I need to be doing what’s right for the people — that’s why we signed up for this job,” she said.
The city charter, which states the Council shall be made up of a mayor and seven aldermen, gives the mayor the right to veto a vote by the Council, with a list of objections given to the city administrator to present at the Council’s next meeting.
At its next meeting, Monday, March 17, at 7:30 p.m., the Council will again vote on the issue.
The city charter, section 2.05 states the donation of the $2,000 must pass with aye votes from six of the aldermen.
VanRisseghem also used her veto power in 2011, when she vetoed approval of the keeping of four chickens in a yard within city limits.
Prior to the 2011 veto, the last mayor to overturn a decision was Pat Spence, who was mayor from 1982 – 1991.