CROSSLAKE -- In a special meeting Thursday, the Crosslake City Council argued whether planning and zoning complaints should be handled by staff members or the council.
In seeking the changes, council member Dean Eggena said repeatedly his goal was to protect staff from exposure to legal liability. Eggena, who requested the special meeting, said staff were being asked to make decisions the council should make. His example was if a stop order was incorrectly given for a home construction and the homeowner wanted to recover costs incurred by the delay.
Eggena wanted complaints that warranted action to be brought to the council.
"I feel this is the most important part," Eggena said.
He said the council should know about a stop order before it happens. Kirk Adams, city attorney, said staff members are covered for their actions against personal liability when acting in the proper course of their work.
Staff members raised concerns that they would not be able to handle issues quickly. The council meets in regular session monthly. Tom Swenson, city administrator, said if people are clear-cutting trees without a permit waiting to act would result in the deed being done. Swenson said council member Terry Curtis recently questioned why a letter wasn't sent by staff directly to the demolition landfill, owned by Eggena, when the complaints arose.
"This is the frustration of staff," Swenson said, adding staff members were getting to a point where they did not know which way to turn. "Lately, it's like we are having a council meeting every three days. A lot of the stuff we should be getting done isn't getting done."
Handling complaints, many of which are minor, is part of staff member's job descriptions, Swenson said. In 25 years of experience with three cities, Swenson said staff members routinely handle complaints, seeking help from the attorney or council when appropriate.
Curtis said he was not looking to have council meetings so often, but he said planning and zoning issues are sensitive. Curtis suggested the elected official could be the "good guy" or "bad guy" in those situations instead of staff. Council member Dean Swanson said he felt complaints were handled well. He said the council's responsibility was to set the rules in the ordinances.
"I feel we are trying to micromanage the operation," Swanson said.
Curtis said the micromanagement issue can be thrown in for everything, but the council should be looking for ways to make city processes better. Curtis said in hearing complaints, such as those against businesses, he'd like people to be innocent until proven guilty with their names not out in the public before they've had a chance to fix the problem. Swenson said bringing all those complaints to the council involved greater exposure, not less.
Eggena suggested all complaints be taken in writing. If a complaint is taken by phone and is anonymous, the staff member should sign the form, Eggena said.
Mayor Jay Andolshek was absent for this part of the meeting's discussion. The council voted 3-1 with Swanson opposed to have all planning and zoning complaints in writing. After Andolshek joined the council meeting, the council voted 3-2, with Swanson and Andolshek opposed, that Ken Anderson, community development director, would handle routine issues, but would bring any interpretation of ordinances to the council before proceeding.
RENEE RICHARDSON can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5852.
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