It took two failed motions for council member Bob Olson to learn he would be paying the same in assessments as everyone else for sidewalk replacement.
At its Nov. 17 meeting, the city council learned the cost for the north Brainerd sidewalk improvement projects had exceeded estimates, and by a 4-2 vote the council approved the city paying for the $22,000 difference in the increased estimate versus the assessments. Council members Gary Scheeler and Jim Dehen voted against the motion.
In a letter to the city council dated Nov. 21, council member Bob Olson, who was assessed as a north Brainerd homeowner and on Nov. 17 voted to approve the lesser assessment, requested he not receive the reduction in his assessment.
"I as an elected official who represents all of the citizens can not accept a reduction on my assessment as I feel it will penalize the wrong people and those that should be held accountable are not being held accountable," Olson wrote, noting the $22,000 would be paid from city funds.
On Monday, Scheeler made a motion not to accept Olson's request to be excluded from paying a reduced amount on his sidewalk assessment. The motion failed by a 4-2 vote, with council members Scheeler and Dehen voting for the motion and council members Olson, Mary Koep, Kelly Bevans and Anne Nelson Fisher voting against. Council member Lucy Nesheim, who is on vacation, was absent from Monday's meeting
A second motion, made by Olson, that Olson's assessments not be reduced but charged at the original assessment price -- a reversal from Scheeler's motion -- also failed but by a 4-3 vote, with Dehen, Scheeler and Fisher voting against and Koep, Olson and Bevans for in favor.
With Nesheim absent, Mayor James Wallin had to cast the deciding vote.
Dehen said he couldn't support setting Olson's assessment at the original cost because the city erred in figuring project estimates originally, and correcting it for one resident doesn't make it right.
Fisher said she was at odds as to how to handle the situation.
"I just, I feel I certainly may have made a mistake two weeks ago when we first discussed the entire neighborhoods," said Fisher before voting on the second motion. "Once again I don't know how to resolve this."
Council member Mary Koep noted that City Attorney Tom Fitzpatrick told the Safety and Public Works Committee that as long as the assessments weren't certified changes could still be made.
"I'm never averse to taking more money if he wants to pay for it," said Koep.
Responding to accusations Scheeler made in an Open Forum letter printed in The Dispatch Sunday and in a memo to Fitzpatrick, Olson later in Monday's meeting asked Koep, because she'd attended a League of Minnesota Cities meeting that discussed it, and Fitzpatrick to explain to the council what constitutes a conflict of interest.
Scheeler accused Olson of violating conflict of interest laws when he voted on the assessments, including his own, Nov. 17.
On Tuesday, Olson said he had talked to Fitzpatrick about Scheeler's accusations, and said Fitzpatrick told him it was unclear whether this constituted a conflict of interest.
"There was no statute violated," said Olson Tuesday.
At Monday's meeting, Dehen asked that Koep and Fitzpatrick include their findings in an informational memo to the council, and if there were still questions among council members the issue would be placed on the agenda.
At a special city council meeting Tuesday, the city council unanimously passed a resolution awarding the sale of $1,075,000 in bonds to United Bankers' Bank. The bond funds will be used to pay for the sidewalk improvements.
When Dehen asked if there was any discussion on the resolution to award the bonds, Olson began to say he had a check made out to the city for the difference between his original assessment and approved reduced assessment.
Dehen stopped Olson, saying his discussion had nothing to do with the resolution being considered. Olson argued it did.
Wallin then jumped in, saying individual council members need to have respect for the council president. Olson responded he didn't need any comment from Wallin.
"Get that through your head," said Olson, at which point Dehen slammed his gavel.
"We're not going to do this," said Dehen. "You gave me a 6-0 vote last night (on the rules of procedure and council decorum.)"
Olson later offered his check, which was accepted, to the city and asked that it be applied to the bonds.
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