On Sept. 11, 2001, the city council held a special meeting regarding memos and letters from myself to department heads requesting public information. Prior to this meeting, the mayor and city administrator asked department heads to log the time city staff spent honoring my requests. On the face of it, this is not an unreasonable request. However, my question is, "Does the logging of time to honor a request for public information uniformly apply to everyone who makes such a request? Or is it selective?" Sometimes time is logged and sometimes it is not.
Does city staff log time to type official business letters for elected officials or is it a part of their job description? I feel it should be part of their job description. I have not asked city staff to type my memos and letters of official city business. I either pay someone or have friends donate their time to type for me because I don't type myself. Perhaps I request more public information than other elected officials, but that is in the best interest of the citizens I represent.
An example of my effort to gather additional information on an issue is the one regarding the Eliseuson annexation. Requesting information from staff uncovered errors and problems associated with that annexation.
Along these same lines is the question of verbatim council minutes. There are times when I need verbatim minutes on certain issues discussed at council meetings in order to be accurate about my facts. I do not believe we need to have the entire council meeting minutes verbatim. But it is absolutely necessary to provide verbatim minutes for certain portions of council meetings that pertain to specific issues discussed. Sometimes minutes prepared by the city administrator are sketchy and contain his own interpretation of events and discussions at council meetings.
I want to quote from a letter the city attorney wrote to me and copied the city administrator -- "Alderman have the right to exercise their judgment concerning how they can best execute their duties and responsibilities." The city council, as a group, may express a preference concerning how alderman execute their duties, but it cannot prohibit its members from exercising their best judgment about how to handle city business and resolve problems." Therefore, if I have determined that I need additional information to "best execute" my duties as an alderman, then why must I pay for it and why is staff time logged with respect to my requests? Since April 2003, I have been invoiced by the city administrator $103.26 for verbatim council minutes, which I have paid. However, I know of an individual who serves on the planning commission who asked the city planner to provide verbatim minutes on the River Vista Development Project. This request was done at no charge to the individual. Which I wholeheartedly agree with. This begs the question, "Why are some people invoiced and others are not?"
In sections 29 and 32 of the Brainerd City Charter it states the elected officials are responsible for the management of the city, not administrators, not department heads, and certainly not city staff. Elected officials have this awesome responsibility. According to the Charter then, city staff works for elected officials and the citizens who pay them.
Mr. Fitzpatrick, "Can the city administrator and city council require me to pay for public information and verbatim council minutes?"
I would like to inform the three new council members and the public that in my 2 1/2 years on this council I have not cost taxpayers extra money. In fact because of my actions we have saved taxpayers over $4 million. The city administrator and city council was going to demolish and rebuild Gregory Park fountain for $200,000. I got involved and the fountain was restored for less than $20,000. The city administrator and city council planned to remodel city hall and build a public safety building for $8 million. The bond was voted down. I got involved and working with department heads we were able to provide for space needs for our city for $4 million. We did not spend $1 million to remodel city hall and we did not tear down the present fire station.
All in all I have done a very good job for the citizens of Brainerd. Working as a unit, I believe this council can move the city forward. We need to address some important budget issues and keep ourselves well informed on all issues that impact our city.
Thank you for your time and attention to my prepared statement.
(Olson is an at-large member of the Brainerd city council. This is a prepared statement he read at Monday's council meeting.)
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