Little Falls mayor’s donation veto stands on 4-3 vote

By Terry LehrkeNews Editor

A second vote, this time 4-3, was not enough to allow the city of Little Falls to donate for the Green Prairie Fish Lake beach.

The beach, once known as the “city beach,” was sold in 1992 to the township, which took over the maintenance of the property.

Two weeks before, the vote did pass, 5-3, for Council Member At Large Brian-Paul Crowder’s motion to donate $2,000 to help build restrooms at the beach.

Three days after that vote, Mayor Cathy VanRisseghem used her veto power to squash the donation.

In order to overturn the mayor’s veto, the city charter states six of the seven alderman (not the mayor), had to vote yes.

“Many residents in Little Falls use porta-potties in our local parks now,” said VanRisseghem, listing Le Bourget, the Farmers Market and North Pine Grove Park. Washington Playground does not have any bathroom facility, she said.

“Mr. Crowder felt people could use porta-potties and that should be fine,” she said.

VanRisseghem said instead of using city funds for playgrounds in the city, special interest groups, such as the Lions and Kiwanis, hold fundraisers to raise money, just as the West Side Improvement Association raises funds for upgrades to Le Bourget Park. She said volunteers donate time to clean a spot in the city because the city has had financial difficulties over the past several years.

Last year, members of the Green Prairie Township Board approached the Council about a donation, but did not give an amount. At that time, the Council voted not to give the donation, under advisement of the City Attorney Toni Wetzel.

VanRisseghem said the Council should have seen the resolution before it was up for a vote. The Council did not see a formal request, she said, just a verbal request from Crowder.

The township didn’t come to the Council to ask for funding this year.

When Crowder brought the subject up earlier this year, he was asked to find out about costs to have a contract drawn up for a donation, and to check with the county to see whether it donated toward the beach and to report his findings.

VanRisseghemn called Crowder’s motion to donate $2,000 “a bombshell.”

“Basically, we had no idea where the money would come from, no stipulation on where it would be spent or even if it would be spent at all,” she said.

Although the beach is advertised in the Little Falls Convention and Visitors Bureau guide, VanRisseghem said so are 39 other sites and locations in the county.

“I would hate to see that all those entities would come forward and want money from the city,” she said.

Crowder said the townships were organized and had raised half the money needed already.

He questioned the mayor’s stand that donating would set a precedence for other entities, since, he said it had already been set.

The city had periodically helped the township financially over the last two decades, he said. “So a precedent has already been set,” he said.

Families spend all day at the beach, whereas they may spend a half an hour at a park in town, where their homes may be close, Crowder said.

“Being that the city used to own the beach and the township was a good neighbor and took the financial burden off the city by taking the responsibility of taking care of the old city beach, $2,000 is a drop in the bucket for all the pleasure that the families have out at the old city beach,” Crowder said.

Council Member Frank Gosiak said he thought the township originally came and asked for $200.

“Where did this $2,000 come from?” said Gosiak. “That was something Mr. Crowder came up with.”

Gosiak said the Council discussed it and felt it didn’t pay to draft up an agreement because it would cost more in attorneys’ fees than the donation.

Crowder pointed out it was an $8,000 project as the reason for the $2,000 donation.

He had been led to believe it was the city’s attorney that had said only a resolution was needed, not an attorney that represented the township, Gosiak said.

Crowder made some phone calls and said he found the county didn’t fund the beach.

“You mentioned $2,000 is a drop in the bucket,” said VanRisseghem. “If you talk to Lions, Kiwanis, or other clubs, they work very hard to earn $2,000. The Youth Task Force, to raise money for the splash pad, skate park, works very hard to raise $2,000. It is not a drop in the bucket.”

Crowder pointed out that the recreational complex north of Little Falls, a project supported by the mayor, would cost $6 million to complete.

“Right now, many teenagers and families can use a clean bathroom at the former city beach for $2,000,” said Crowder.

Council Member Greg Zylka said he understood the mayor’s concerns, but noted City Administrator Dan Vogt said the Council could vote in favor of the donation, if it was deemed there was a public good or value for Little Falls residents.

“I believe the $200 came up in our original discussion, but I don’t think they requested it,” said Zylka. He thought the Council discussed that donating $200 may cost more than attorney’s fees. “I still think it’s a good thing for community residents,” he said.

Zylka said the city of Randall donates for the beach, without a large agreement written up.

Wetzel said that although the law says a city can donate money to other public bodies, it doesn’t mean that just because there is a public benefit that it’s satisfactory.

“You, as a city, need to articulate the public purpose as it pertains specifically to the city of Little Falls,” she said. “Just to say it’s in the public’s benefit to have clean restrooms at the beach isn’t enough. You have to link it to how does that specifically service a public purpose for the city of Little Falls.”

She said that while it could be passed by resolution, she advised an agreement with the township articulating the public purpose, how it directly related to the city of Little Falls and how the township was committed to using the funds.

“I’m your lawyer; I’m supposed to try to protect you,” she said.

If the city donated the money without a contract, the possibility of a lawsuit existed. “… We didn’t give the money to somebody else and they’re angry and say we did something improper,” said Wetzel.

“That’s the whole precedent-setting concern — you as a city can give money to one place and not the other,” she said.

Crowder said seven years ago, when the city donated toward the beach, the city didn’t go through the same process.

“I’m telling you what I’m recommending and why,” said Wetzel.

Council Member Loren Boyum, who voted yes two weeks ago, said based upon the response from the city attorney he voted no. Council Member Leeann Doucette agreed and also changed her vote to no. Others voting no were Council Member Jeremy Hanfler and Gosiak.

Council president Don Klinker, Zylka and Crowder voted yes.

Since 1993, the year after the city beach was sold to Green Prairie Township, the city has records of giving funds to for use at the beach just three times: $550 in 1995 for the docks; $300 in 2004 and $250 in 2007.

  • robin hensel

    Alderman Crowder was advocating FOR THE PUBLIC GOOD the bathrooms be improved. Little falls gives $3,000.00 EVERY YEAR for a group of 25 or so FOREIGNERS(LeBourger France residents Sister City participants) to show them a good time. PEOPLE WHO DONT EVEN LIVE HERE IN THE U.S.A.!!!! Somebody….ANYBODY…tell me what possible tangible PUBLIC BENEFIT to little falls residents could there to JUSTIFY giving away that money???? There is NO PUBLIC BENEFIT that could EVER be shown because the people benefiting dont even reside here. Plus the Little Falls Sister group has NEVER given back to the City of Little Falls. They charge $$$ for their events instead of offering any public benefit as the STATE AUDITORS OFFICE REQUIRES for public funds to be used. I object to violations OF THE LAW. Dont u??

  • robin hensel

    Oop….sorry….typo…meant lebourget france.

  • Cletus

    Portable bathroom units sounds like a feasible solution considering many if not most other outdoor facilities use that option. On the fundraising topic, why doesn’t the township (which is the governing body over the facility) run a fundraiser or two, say a beach volleyball tournament and/or a picnic event with a raffle? $2000 could be raised fairly easily. Why should the city be giving money to a property they no longer own?

    • tmac

      Agreed.

    • tmac

      I would think that the township could utilize the funds you mentioned as well.

      • tmac

        Oops-wrong spot, and I cannot get rid of it.

    • josh

      Agreed. it wouldn’t be hard to raise the funds for this if it really is such a big deal to the majority of the city and those who use the beach. If people want it they will find a way to raise the money.

  • Patrick J Bonniwell

    I’m sorry but who are you kidding here? Is this
    really how your trying to help your youth? Is this really how you try
    to give back to the city? A public bathroom is a lot to ask to better
    the experience I guess but then I remember my younger years, and
    remember the filth left stalls mid day on a nice 90-95 degree day. Have
    you been to the beach? Have you used the porta potties? Nothing like
    standing breathing in the aftermath on such a heat stricken day.If they
    are making a public restroom for 2,000 dollars and your passing that up?
    Do you have any idea how much labor goes into doing this stuff? Let
    alone the actual cost that goes into everything else? The time? The city
    doesn’t have enough workers that could put in the time to asses
    matters? This isn’t really what people are coming here for but by the
    looks of the developing military infrastructure our backyard is likely
    to welcome many more new faces to the town on a more permanent note.
    People who want to feel like they are in a town that cares about it’s
    citizens.

    Even without including the military “potential”
    population increase, your looking at increased out of town vehicles.
    It’s not even tourism, it’s people visiting family, people that would
    love to call this home but there isn’t anything that is worth staying
    for. Your population has increased roughly 2,000 in about 10-12 years If
    the scared keep pushing north to get away from the turmoil in the south
    it’s going to keep increasing especially with the low prices offered
    here. I see vehicles from Missouri all to often as well as other states.
    This is on a daily basis. I can tell you if your from Missouri, the
    last thing you want is to be stuck in a cold state. It just isn’t going
    to happen, if it does you would be darn sure that they aren’t driving
    around in the winter. They would shut down the roads in Kentucky for
    less then what causes a winter snow to gust across the roads. People
    aren’t prepared to drive in it and most can’t, yes, even with the huge
    trucks and all the power in the world. We learn to drive in it because
    were raised here. Have one of the french women drive a car during the
    winter. They would be hysterical more then likely, no offense sisters.

    I guess I should ask if there is some reason behind not being able to
    trust thy neighbor, is there a reason to suspect such dishonesty? The
    funds that were listed were as trivial as trash removal…did you see
    how crazy the beach got this year? On any given day you had nearly
    50-100 people, come and go of course, but that’s a safe estimate.

    As a city council you should be glad your able to contribute so much
    for the very people that elected you, shouldn’t you? Raising 2,000 as a
    council shouldn’t be difficult at all. Spending an hour promoting it or
    giving help? I spend roughly 500 dollars a year to run for causes that
    vary from veteran associations, healthy heart for cancer awareness and a
    couple fun runs with the family that usually have me running anywhere
    from 200-300 miles a year. You realize I am paying to dedicate my time
    to something that benefits others, who I’ll never know? You might not
    know all of your citizens as well as you would like. It’s not really our
    fault it’s gotten to the point where no one can say anything without it
    being judged.People are poor here, people are old and then the rest are
    to busy worrying about how to keep their own lives in balance with our
    oh so wonderful economy and honestly lack of good work to be found in
    Little Falls. You provide no opportunity to a majority of your citizens,
    you provide a town for the manufactures and workhorses of our nation,
    the people who put sweat and sometimes blood into their work to provide
    for their families, in a town that can barely donate 2,000 dollars to a
    good cause? You think people want to stay in this? Have you seen the
    homes that are going up for sale? Have you seen the foreclosures? At
    this rate, the only population you have are people that commute. Here’s a
    bit of advice to some it all up. Contribute to the city with more than
    the same fear that has obviously clouded this cities officials minds for
    years, it has and it’s apparent with the continued lawsuits on matters
    that really could have been resolved at the table without costing the
    city more money and more wasted time. It’s embarrassing to explain these
    simple understanding. Why not borrow some etiquette from cities that
    are prospering? Providing a bathroom to it’s residents and tourists.
    Not to much to ask if I were to consider how much is actually happening
    to this town, that is falling in with the few states not keeping an open
    mind, the states that everyone is watching right now to include
    Minnesota.

    I can’t respond like a person who doesn’t live
    here, but I’ve lived in enough places to understand and see things
    aren’t as they should be. Any one listening who has an ounce of public
    education can see this. Anyone who’s taken an oath for this country can
    see this and it’s unfortunate that the city has formed a wall of lawyers
    instead of having a public forum that is treat as such and not just a
    joke box. It’s getting tiresome.

    I took 5 minutes. http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/grants/recreation/outdoor_rec.html
    There is 350,376 dollars in this fund. Why aren’t we utilizing it? It
    took more time arguing about it versus taking the time to look into a
    better way.

    http://www.sehinc.com/resource/minnesota-funding-opportunities-through-march-31-2014

    I’ve posted this twice now. I’m curious to why it’s been passed over when the moderator to this site has clearly been on and responded to comments for this story within the last 4 hours.

  • tmac

    I would think that the township could utilize the funds you mentioned as well.They are the ones that should be.

  • robin hensel

    Surely you jest central mn. After more than two years of attendance at almost every city council and city committees I have observed less than commendable representation of the people of Little Falls. Do you ever attend any meetings? If not, why not and if you haven’t…what would qualify your questions? If you arr counting on the McRecord for your information, you are receiving clouded non-journalism….far less than stellar. I know what good government looks like and this citys elected officials and staff are not performing well at all. One needs only to attend meetings and request information from staff to know this.

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