Little Falls approves new code of conduct at meetings

Staff Writer

After consulting with attorneys and letting Council members contemplate the proposal, the Little Falls City Council has a new code of conduct the public is expected to follow at its meetings.

The changes come after the state law the old policy was based on was deemed unconstitutional by the Minnesota Supreme Court in a lawsuit filed against the city by Robin Hensel.

City Administrator Jon Radermacher said the court’s decision was based on the broadness of the law, rather than the city’s application of it.

Some of the changes introduced in the new policy include:

  • Not allowing individuals to stand during the meetings unless addressing the Council or leaving. Members of the public are also not allowed to go beyond the stanchion barrier separating the Council area from the public gallery;
  • Signs larger than 8 1/2-inches by 11-inches, items blocking the view of other members of the public and signs attached to poles, sticks or other implements are prohibited;
  • All photography or videotaping must be done from an individual’s seat or the rear of Council Chambers (or other meeting place when at a different city meeting) unless a presentation is being made;
  • Actions such as yelling, foot stomping or other actions disrupting the meeting aren’t allowed; and
  • When an agenda item is announced during the regular meeting, people who want to comment on it are asked to raise their hands and the Council president will count how many individuals wish to comment, at which point the Council may choose to accept public comment.

If someone breaks these rules, the Council president or presiding officer may issue a warning and if the actions continue, have the person ejected for the remainder of the session.

Radermacher said this policy is to allow meetings to go forward.

“This is just to keep order so we can conduct a meeting and do the public good,” Radermacher said.

Councilman Frank Gosiak said these policies are implemented to allow people to express themselves while also allowing others to witness the meeting without obstruction.

Resident Theresa Skorseth said the new policy is unconstitutional and violates the city’s sign ordinance.

“If you want to limit signs on the interior of this building, you must amend the sign ordinance,” Skorseth said.

She said this new policy doesn’t follow direction from the Minnesota Supreme Court to allow people to exercise their First Amendment rights as fully as possible.

Councilman Jerry Knafla asked city staff if there was a basis for that argument.

City Attorney Toni Wetzel said just because the ordinance doesn’t have restrictions on interior signs doesn’t mean someone can put a sign on the interior of a public building without permission, citing a requirement in the sign ordinance requiring permission to post signs on public property.

Robin Hensel argued in an email to city officials and others that the portion of the ordinance not allowing signs on public property without permission only references those affixed to public property.

Resident Jodi Scott-Olson said problematic areas of the new policy are sections allowing officials to use their discretion in protocol as it gives them the opportunity to violate civil rights and censor individuals.

In addition to the amendment for its meetings, the Council also approved an almost identical version for other city meetings, adjusting language to cover different bodies and locations.

 

Little Falls City Council Briefs

 

In other business Monday, the Little Falls City Council:

  • Approved an application from Dean Schmidt and the Little Falls Lions Club to have a fireworks display at Lions Park, Oct. 19;
  • Accepted a quote from Bob LeMieur Rolloffs Refuse and Recycling of $3,830 for leaf and brush collection, Saturday, Oct. 28;
  • Approved submitting a grant application to fund up-to-date firefighter protective gear from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The total cost of the equipment is estimated at $105,000 and the FEMA grant would cover $99,750;
  • Approved submitting a grant request to the Minnesota Department of Health for a project to reuse water from the city’s lime lagoons to irrigate the property the lagoons are on, rather than pump it into the Mississippi River. The cost of the project is estimated at $4,000 and the state would cover $2,000;
  • Approved an easement on the Zion Lutheran Church property for a pond to collect run-off water. The church requested the city approve the easement to ensure the area remains a pond;
  • Denied a request to place stop signs on Ninth Street Southwest at Lilac Lane and Eighth Avenue because it did not meet the city’s criteria for places needing a stop sign; and
  • Approved allowing the Economic Development Authority (EDA) to include annual $50,000 payments for 10 years to Wabash National Corporation in its levy. Finance Director Lori Kasella said this would not increase taxes collected by the EDA.

The next meeting of the Little Falls Council is Monday, Oct. 16, at 7:30 p.m. at City Hall. A work session and public forum will precede the meeting.