What the River Falls Journal Says About Our Work

August 2nd, 2010

On the last day in RF, Debbie Griffin, a reporter for the River Falls Journal filed this story -
http://www4.wittenberg.edu/academics/econ/icma/rf_journal.pdf
As you can see, we are proud of the work accomplished, and the city was quite pleased with the outcome.

Tune in next year for news of our program!

Some Final Words from Chris Browning…

July 23rd, 2010

Thursday July 22nd – I can’t believe that today is our last day at work as we head back to Springfield early tomorrow morning. Our time up here flew by as it feels like yesterday we just moved our belongings into the South Fork Suites and getting situated in the office. As the program comes to an end after the picnic later today, I have a few comments about the program itself. Through the LGIMP, I was able to be immersed in local government rather than just a “center” or “research facility”; therefore, I was on the “front-lines” of the decisions made by local government on a daily basis. The program also improved my time management as we had to juggle work with class. As a result, I had to work from 8 to 5 at City Hall and then have class twice a week for an hour and a half as well as the homework which went along with the class. The excursions were awesome as I never thought I would ever get to make it to Mt. Rushmore or Custer State Park. I also gained valuable experience working independently with little to no supervision on some very important projects which will be used to make tough decisions down the road. My projects—the “Bird City” project, Library Staffing Analysis, and research on award programs for local governments—will make a direct impact on the city and lay the groundwork for future interns to do a project similar to “Bird City”. After this program, I definitely feel a strong desire to get a M.P.A./M.P.P. along with a J.D. I would like to thank the City of River Falls, Dr. Ankrom, Dr. Baker, and my parents who made this experience possible. Thanks to everyone who has been following the blog and it saddens me to say that this will be my last entry. “Stay Classy River Falls!”

Chris

Wednesday July 14, 2010

July 14th, 2010

The council meeting last night went really well. We all presented our main projects for the eight week program and took a few questions from the mayor and council. The meeting was probably the fastest council meeting since we arrived in River Falls. Apparently chickens are more interesting than our projects because the only non city staff members present was Dr. Ankrom and his wife. I feel like my presentation went well and the council members seemed to like the handbook I created for them.
We just spent about 35 minutes in the basement of City Hall because of a tornado watch and warning. Nothing happened in River Falls but apparently there was some nasty stuff just south of the city that prompted the watches and warnings. It was a very calm and relaxed atmosphere with the rest of city staff.
In my time here I have completed the Councilmember Handbook, a review of the Parks & Recreation guide, and conducted some research for a future project for Scot.
Only a week left.
-Agent 00T (aka Matt)

Education is relevant, MAN!

July 14th, 2010

As someone who came of age in the 70s, I remember people questioning the “relevance” of conventional education. It was mostly posturing!

Last night at the council meeting, I, the professor, got the perfect setup for tonight’s class. The city is considering how to finance streetlights. Many communities would just absorb the cost of the lights into the general budget. When that happens, there is no connection betwen benefits received and the cost to a citizen. Last night’s council discussion illustrated how River Falls has worked hard to implement a user fee connected to the benefits received principle. There was also discussion of ability to pay, fairness and efficiency. It was a great illustration of an attempt by a small community to wrestle with a classic problem in public finance.

Street lights are a public good – public goods are difficult to price because non-payers can’t be easily excluded and the additional cost to provide the service to one more person is close to zero.

They did not find a perfect solution – how easy can it be to truly measure benefits received and connect it to an individualized fee? But give the RF council credit for not just burying a service cost in some dark corner of the budget. Most communities would do it that way.

Professor Ankrom

A Fine Looking Group!

July 14th, 2010

After the July 13 meeting

At the Council Meeting – Tuesday. July 13

July 14th, 2010

I was able to pass my resolution commemorating International Migratory Bird Day. However, it did not receive unanimous approval. Councilman Caflisch had a few concerns about the resolution and could not support it. His main concern was the recommendation to limit compost piles as part of the tips to improve the bird habitat in backyards. However, not having a compost pile will only increase the bird habitat and is not mandated in the resolution; therefore, if you want more bird in your backyard you should not have a compost pile as it will reduce the number of predators in your backyard. Another concern which was shared by other councilmen was the natural lawn mandate which was in the resolution and not the exhibit. There is a city ordinance in place which allows for “wild or natural lawns”, but approval is needed. They were confused with the application as all we had to do was to prove that we do not restrict those lawns and not promote it. Therefore, if they had read the application more carefully and analyzed the ordinances in place, I feel that there would not have been any dissent regarding the approval of IMBD resolution which completes the application for membership for “Bird City” Wisconsin.
It may sound surprising, but this was the hottest topic on the agenda last night as the other items discussed were not heavily debated as there were only 2 citizens in attendance. Scot had the first reading of the new street light tax, but it was more informative as the councilmen had not examined the new tax and presented Scot with questions about the tax itself to help them understand it to help them field questions from their constituents. The other item discussed, the rental unit fee amendment, had the only citizen speak; the new fee is $10 per unit rather than $25 per building. This is new fee is very fair as larger building with multiple rental units pay a higher tax than building with one or two units. Overall, the City Council meeting was “back to normal” as the previous meeting has the hot issues of the chicken ordinance and the cell phone tower dilemma.
For the rest of my time here, I will be profiling the inaugural “River Falls Bird of the Year” and sending in the application. Also, I will be researching additional programs of excellence for local governments to see if River Falls can bring home any additional awards. This internship has flown by, but I feel that I have significant accomplishments while I have been in River Falls.

-chris

Halfway Point: Project Updates and Student Assessments

June 25th, 2010

River Falls, WI City Hall

As we reach the halfway point in the Local Government Management Internship Program, the interns are making good progress on their projects, and they took their midterm exam in class last night.  In this post, they provide some updates on their work, as well as some midpoint assessments of the program and experiences they’ve had.

—June 23: We recovered from the SD trip and got through the busiest day of the week yesterday with work, class, and the council meeting. The council meeting last night was incredible. There was a ton of public turnout for the chicken ordinance and the special zoning permit for a T-mobile cell tower. Like one of the councilmembers said it was truly democracy in action. Both the T-mobile tower and the chicken ordinance were defeated (6-1 Chickens, Unanimous Cell Tower). The council meeting made for some great discussion between all of the interns, and we also had the Planning Director, Buddy Lucero, ask us for our thoughts and views from our observations this morning.

I have made great progress on both of my projects. The Councilmember Handbook is almost done for a second review by Scot. I am waiting on a response from the city attorney for the legal issues chapter. I made all the additions and changes Scot requested and I hope to wrap up the project as soon as I hear back from Mr. Thiel.

My other project, the parks & recreation review has gone just as well. I have some extensive research on other cities similar to River Falls, to do a comparative analysis of the River Falls Parks & Recreation guide. I have started to write my suggestions based on the research I have completed and will go over those with Buddy to see where he wants to go with the project.

Hard to believe we are already half way through the program. I have definitely learned quite a bit so far and am really enjoying the experience… posted by Matt Overturf.

—We are now at the end of our fourth week in River Falls which means we are halfway through the internship.  So far, I have completed the first draft of the purchasing policy revisions, and am waiting to hear back from my supervisor to see if I need to make any necessary changes before I begin to prepare a presentation of the revisions for the council in July.  When revising the purchasing policy, I needed to change some of the guidelines that specified, for example, the minimum purchase price that requires a purchase order and a maximum purchase price that if one exceeds, he/she needs the approval of the council in order to make the purchase.  There were also many changes in the State of Wisconsin’s statutes, so I needed to make sure that the info in the purchasing policy was in accordance with the new laws that were passed, and make any necessary changes so that any preexisting laws incorporated in the purchasing policy that did not comply with the changes were revised.  Lastly, the language and organization of the purchasing policy was confusing and unclear throughout the document so I decided to edit the text and restructure the table of contents so that it was more detailed, and clear.  

The other project that I am working on includes producing a television show about the interns of local government and the program itself.  I have started to outline the structure of the interviews but have not gone very far into the project yet because I would like to complete the purchasing policy beforehand.  I will also be writing an article on snow removal in River Falls that will be submitted for the city newsletter in October and will be working on that simultaneously…. posted by Meredith Kirby.

—So it’s been nearly a month already since we landed in River Falls. My first project was figuring out if it would be feasible to start a fundraising system for the parks and recreation department by using a text message donation system. Next, I would have to figure out how the city would go about implementing the system and getting it to work. One idea is to put signs around the most used park areas such as frisbee golf, skate park, tennis courts, trails, ice rinks in the winter, and kayak entry points which say something like “Help us keep our parks beautiful. If you would like to donate $5 to the Parks and Recreation Department of River Falls please text DONATE to 11223” or something to that effect. So anyway, organizing all that was pretty fun, and now I have to wait for Scot’s approval to see if he wants me to continue researching that or start implementing it. I still haven’t gotten back with Scot yet about my original research. He has probably been very busy with catching up after having the baby.

The main project I’m working on is a library staffing analysis to determine how the River Falls Library stacks up with other similar-sized city libraries. As of the last two weeks I have been meeting all of the library staff and trying to get a feel for how everything operates. All of the people at the library are very nice and helpful including Nancy Miller and Kim Kiiskinen two of the main librarians that I’ve been working with. Also, Chris Browning is helping me a lot on this project, especially with the survey that we are currently working on to get a sense of how the citizens of River Falls view the library. Chris is more familiar with coding the data and compiling the results from the survey and other data we have gathered from River Falls and other similar size community libraries. On that note, we have gathered data for just about anything you could think of from the past six years and comparative data from about ten other libraries for the year 2008. We created the survey with the help of the library so we could help get the feedback which would be most useful to us and them. The survey is reasonably brief; only the front and back of one page, so it is not a burden to complete. With the help of Kim, we have also made the survey available online for convenience to some patrons who would rather complete it that way. The link is on the front of the River Falls library website and the paper surveys are available at the circulation and reference desks. So far nearly all of the response from patrons has been positive, particularly about how they feel about library employees.

 So far I have also conducted an extensive interview with Nancy Miller, the head of the library and I have spoken with Kim Kiiskinen a number of times concerning many different things. Currently, as of this week Chris and I are set up at the library to observe the flow of patrons and daily tasks of the workers. We even plan on working alongside them so that we can get a better feeling of how the work gets done. We are under some pressure to finish up this task soon so we can get it on Scot’s desk before the end of next week so we can present it to City Council at the next meeting. Hopefully everything goes well and we can complete the project by the deadline…posted by Zack Miller

—The project I am working on right now is reformatting and rearranging the budget so it is easier to change from year to year.  I am also working on creating a more graphically appealing budget presentation and creating this document so River Falls can apply for the Government Finance Officers Association Distinguished Budget Presentation Award.  Right now I have reorganized the largest section of the General Fund called General Government, become very familiar with the criteria for the award, and started the budget presentation document.  I still need to put the rest of the budget into the new Excel document which I think will take about a week.  Then I will spend the rest of the time working on the budget presentation document…posted by Lacey Davidson.

–Wednesday June 23rd- As I had expected, the city council meeting was very intense. Compared to the attendance at the last meeting, the room was jam packed; it was filled with citizens fighting for their side on the issue of chickens within city limits and the cell phone tower in Mound Park. The Chicken Ordinance had both opponents and proponents which made the public hearing very interesting. The proponents of chickens cited multiple benefits for having chickens; these included the issue of sustainability, organic eggs, educational benefits for children and the fact that they make great pets. Interestingly, a citizen wanted to add chickens to the leash law as “her children want to walk their chickens”; this garnered some laughter, but was ultimately a serious proposal. The opponents on the issue raised the concern of a “slippery slope”. They felt that if chickens were going to be allowed, people would want goats, cows and pigs within city limits and that there would be a precedent to allow it. After a repetitive debate on behalf of the supporters, the councilmen were able to state their opinions. Though Councilman Hughes was the only supporter, the others gave valid reasons for their opposition. Councilman Caflisch gave the most entertaining and valid complaint as he quoted a statement given by the mayor on the awful smell of a chicken coop. As a result, the ordinance failed and chickens are not allowed within the city limits of River Falls.
        The other issue of high salience was the resolution to approve the placement of a T-Mobile cell phone tower in Mound Park. Unlike the previous issue, the only proponent of the tower was the representative from T-Mobile (he was never even able to publicly speak at the meeting, however). Many citizens in the vicinity of the park spoke in pure outrage; they cited the damage to the aesthetic beauty of the park, potential for radiation emitted from the tower (debatable), the placement in a “conservation” area, and the use of public lands for private enterprise. In an interesting move, Buddy Lucero, the planning director for the city, expressed his disapproval of the tower despite the planning commission voting unanimously for approval of the tower in Mound Park. In a unique maneuver, the opponents of the tower applauded each speaker following their speeches. After the public hearing ended, Councilman Morrisette was pleased that the issue was decided by the council rather than the planning commission as they are the elected body and should represent the best interests of the citizens. As a result, the T-Mobile cell phone tower in Mound Park was unanimously shot down and the citizens in the audience were ecstatic; I even heard one say they were going to Junior’s to celebrate (their liquor license had been renewed at the meeting). The council then went into closed session and the meeting adjourned for us. We have a big day today as we have our midterm exam later tonight, so I must study in order to do well on the exam.
 
Thursday June 24th- This week has been a very long one so far with the work, the council meeting, class and the mid-term exam. However, it is Dr. Baker’s last couple days with us up here before Dr. Ankrom arrives. Therefore, it is time to update my progress on the projects in order to be evaluated by Dr. Baker and let Dr. Ankrom know what I have been working on. My main project over the past month has been the “Bird City” Wisconsin application. I am pleased to let everyone know that I met with Buddy Lucero to address the concerns Scot had about the proposal; after the meeting, I have been able to make the necessary changes as recommended by Scot. Therefore, “Bird City” Wisconsin will be ready to present to City Council at the July 13th meeting. My other project that I have been working on is the library staffing analysis along with Zach. This is a really difficult project as there are competing views on the amount of money being spent at the library. Our analysis is focusing on hands-on observation coupled with statistical data generated through a survey as well as data through the state’s library website. The data from the state is then going to be compared to libraries in other Wisconsin communities which have a similar service population. Currently, we have began to get survey results back, observed the library for a few days, and analyzed the data on the library and others of similar size. We have made significant progress, but we still have a long way to go before we can have an accurate response to the staffing issue. We have emailed Scot about any other analysis which he would like us to perform, but he has not emailed us back yet. Therefore, I have nearly completed the “Bird City” (presentation and send the application in) and around half-way through the library staffing analysis…posted by Chris Browning.

The main project that I have been working on is assembling a personnel handbook for seasonal employees for the city of River Falls.  Currently the city does not have a seasonal hand book on file and due to the growing number of seasonal employees they wish to create one.  As a current seasonal employee with the Village of Woodridge in Illinois, I am aware of the usefulness and growing necessity for seasonal workers to be made aware of personnel policies that apply to them.    The first step I took with this project was acquiring a copy of the city’s personnel policies handbook for full-time employees.  After looking it over I talked with human resources and was informed that sections 1, 7, 8, 10 would need to be included as they apply to all city employees.  City administrator Scot Simpson would also like to include an overview of the City of River Falls itself. 

            From there I began contacting other cities in the area that are of comparable size and economic standing to River Falls.  I asked the administration if they currently had seasonal personnel handbooks on file and if I could use their handbooks as references and guides.  The cities I contacted were Woodridge, IL, Hudson, WI, Chanhassen, MN, Eau Claire ,WI, Northfield, MN, and Downers Grove, IL.  Thus far I have heard back from all but Northfield and Downers Grove and have received handbooks from Woodridge, Hudson and Eau Clare. 

            I have read over all hand books that I have received so far and have noted their commonalities and differences.  It is clear that seasonal handbooks are much shorter than full-time handbooks and contain personnel policies that pertain only to part-time workers.  I have begun drafting a copy for River Falls that includes policies applicable to seasonal from the above mentioned sections.  I plan to include all of section 1 as it serves as an effective general introduction to personnel policies throughout the city.  The remaining sections contain subsections that do not pertain to part-time employees and I have omitted these.  Beyond the required sections there several others that deal with applicable policies such as worker safety, harassment, and respectful work environment that I plan to include some of all of. 

     One section that other seasonal handbooks address is cell phone use rules.  River Falls has a lengthy section in its full-time handbook.  However, I am sure these policies change for seasonal maintenance employees.  I plan to contact the Public Works department to see if they allow/require seasonal workers to carry personal cell phones in order to contact them in the field. This also raises another issue that requires investigation.  Driving while talking/texting laws have been changing around the country recently and I am currently unfamiliar with Wisconsin’s laws on this issue.  I feel this will be a valuable inclusion in full-time and seasonal handbooks in order to ensure all employees are aware of current laws as local employees are subject to state authority while on the job. 

     The overview of the city will be addressed last as I still need further clarification from Scot on what exactly he wishes it to include.  Also I feel this will require some additional investigation and observation through interaction with city employees, community members, city council, and my fellow interns’ impressions of the City…posted by Ryan Albright. 

Off-Hours and Excursions

June 23rd, 2010
We’re very busy with our hours at city hall (8-5 M-TH, and 8-12 F), class two nights a week, and attending city council meetings every other Tuesday. But, we have been able to get out and about on weekends. One day trip was to Chippewa Falls, WI and a tour of the Leinenkugel Brewery and the Chippewa Falls community where the LGMIP was hosted in 2007.

Here's to Wisconsin!

 The following weekend we went to the Mall of America and watched the U.S. play England in the World Cup Soccer Tournament during lunch.  We then cruised the mall for the afternoon.

Lunch and Watching the U.S. Soccer Match

Entrance to the Mall of America

Part of the LGMIP includes two extended weekend excursions, and last weekend we loaded up the van and headed west for a long roadtrip out to Mt. Rushmore and the Black Hills of South Dakota.   On the way, we stopped at the ultimate South Dakota tourist trap, Wall Drug, for a look-see, and the ceremonial placing of the iconic bumper sticker on the van.

 

Where in the heck is Wall Drug?

After a long, hard drive, we arrived at Rapid City in the late afternoon and checked into our accommodations at the Lazy “U” Motel.   

The Lazy "U" Motel in Rapid City, SD

Not wanting to waste any time, we immediately jumped back in the van and headed to Custer State Park to view the wildlife during an early evening drive along Iron Mountain Road.  As seen in the photos below, the buffalo did not disappoint us!

Home on the Range

The Evening Grazing Fest

Several Bison in the Gulch

Had to Wait for this Big One to Get Out of the Road

After sleeping in the next day, it was off to Mt. Rushmore!

Interns at the Mall Entrance to Mt. Rushmore

Our National Treasure

Member of the Lakota Tribe Explaining His Culture

One More Pic in Front of Rushmore

 The afternoon was set aside for a trip to Sylvan Lake, and a hike up Harney Peak, the tallest mountain in the Black Hills at 7,200 + feet.   It’s a 3.5 mile hike each way, and a minimum of 3 hours roundtrip.   But, the view at the top is worth every aching foot of the hike!   And, on the way, we were greeted by one of the mountain goats that make their home in the Black Hills area.

Mt. Goat on Harney Peak

Top of Harney Peak (Rushmore in the Background)

Harney Peak Lookout

Thunder Head Forming (View from Harney Peak)

A Majestic View!

Another Great View!

The next day, we enjoyed a buffet lunch at the historic State Game Lodge in Custer State Park.  The State Game Lodge served as the “Summer White House” for President Calvin Coolidge in 1927 and was visited by President Dwight D. Eisenhower for several days in 1953. It was built in 1920, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. 

Lunch at the State Game Lodge, Custer State Park

In Front of the State Game Lodge

After lunch, it was off to visit the Crazy Horse Monument.  Sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski and Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear officially started Crazy Horse Memorial June 3, 1948. The Memorial’s mission is to honor the culture, tradition and living heritage of North American Indians.   Sixty-two years later, progress has been slow.   The plan is very impressive, however, and it will be the largest mountain sculpture in the world when completed.

Interns at Crazy Horse Mt.

The Scale is Massive!

The next day, we loaded the van early for our long return trip.  On the way, we drove through Badlands National Park before continuing the trek back to River Falls.

At the Badlands

Accommodations

June 14th, 2010

One of the duties of the host local government is to provide housing for the LGMIP interns and professors for the duration of the program. This has varied tremendously over the years, depending on the available resources of each community. This year, with the University of Wisconsin, River Falls only a short distance from city hall, the city has put us up in UWRF residence halls. The interns are staying in the newest hall called South Fork Suites which has accommodations arranged in 4-bdrm suites, as indicated by the diagram below.

South Fork Suites, UWRF

Parker Hall, shown below, is the professors’ home during the program. 

Parker Hall

First City Council Meeting—–Chickens May Come Home to Roost in River Falls

June 11th, 2010
 
 As part of the LGMIP, students attend regular city council meetings, and our first meeting was this past Tuesday night.   In addition to our group being introduced, a highlight of the agenda that evening was the first reading of a proposed ordinance allowing citizens to keep a small number of chickens (no roosters) as pets and for personal egg production.  Interestingly, roosters are not needed for hens to lay eggs–we learn lots of interesting stuff in this internship program.  

Sorry, roosters not allowed!

In an unprecedented move, the City Council voted to allow our group to sit in on their closed session as well.   This was quite a privilege, and gave the students an inside view of the council’s decisionmaking responsibilities.   Of course, they are bound by Wisconsin law to keep all that they heard confidential, so no blogging on the specific topics will be seen here, but in this blog post, the interns give their reactions and impressions of the city council meeting.

River Falls City Council Preparing to go into Regular Session

 

–On Tuesday, June 8th, we attended our first River Falls City Council meeting which reminded me somewhat of the mock senate the students of State and Local Government, another class taught by Dr. Baker, participated in every Friday afternoon last semester.  The highlight of the meeting seemed to surround a proposed chicken ordinance that would allow citizens to house chickens for pets or personal use.  An intern from the planning department gave a lengthy presentation, describing the details of the ordinance and offered positions that both opposed and supported the passage of such an ordinance.  Although the presentation was informative, it seemed that it could have been summarized into a much shorter and more direct explanation of the ordinance and the effects it would have on City staff as well as citizens.  Despite the fact that it was a first reading, the ordinance seems to already have sparked a bit of controversy.  Council members had several questions about the necessity of such an ordinance and already spoke of amending certain sections of the proposition.  We also heard from another council member after the meeting that the ordinance has opened the flood gates for complaints, providing the council member with the most citizen response he has heard since he has been in his position.  With only two citizens that have expressed positive interests in this ordinance so far; it does not seem very likely that it will pass.  It will be interesting to attend a few more council meetings throughout the rest of our time in River Falls, and I am interested to see what other kinds of issues will arise, the ordinances that will be proposed, and how the chicken ordinance pans out…posted by Meredith Kirby.

–On Tuesday, June 8th we took the opportunity to attend the River Falls City Council meeting.  This was the first council meeting that I have attended since moving to River Falls though I have been to several in my hometown of Woodridge, Illinois and my college town of Cedar Falls, Iowa.  We arrived about ten minutes before the meeting started and found an already crowded meeting room.  Citizens continued to arrive until the beginning of the meeting and some were forced to stand during the proceedings.  I was pleasantly surprised to see a normal city council meeting that well attended by the citizens of a community.  In my experience council meetings are typically attended by almost noone.  I was also impressed at the way the city has embraced modern technology throughout city hall itself and in the council chambers.  Utilization of technology made for a very smooth meeting that was easy to hear, see, understand, and follow from anywhere in the council chambers.  The meeting began with a public hearing portion where the council approved the payment of bills, received an award for water quality and sustainability, and fielded suggestions from community members.  During this portion we were given the opportunity to formally introduce ourselves as interns to the council. We explained the purpose of the program and what projects we are working on and received a warm welcome from the council, administration and the community. 

Next ordinances and resolutions were read and decided upon.  Two presentations were given on new ordinances that were being proposed for the first time.  One proposed a new pet chicken ordinance, and was the reason for the strong citizen turnout, the other concerned exemptions to building permits.  The chicken ordinance will allow citizens to keep up to five hens as pets and for egg-laying purposes.  A small number of residents has shown interest in keeping chickens while a larger number has already voiced their concerns and oppose passing of such an ordinance.  The presentation was informative on the issue and made a positive case for allowing citizens to keep a limited of egg producing chickens.  However, it was clear that the presenter was a bit nervous and inexperienced speaking in a city council type setting.  He was a young intern though and did a good job fielding questions and taking advantage of the professional learning experience.  From here the council moved on to resolving unfinished business approving liquor licenses and building permits for local bars and restaurants.  This was the only portion of the meeting where the council engaged in discussion and debate of the issues.  They chose to make each decision on a case-by-case basis as different establishments were trying to approve unique permits and had a unique set of obstacles.  I thought it was an exercise of good judgment in deciding each case on an individual basis.  After civil discussion and some debate all but one case was decided upon unanimously.  The one with disagreement only had a single dissenting opinion from a council member.  Though I am not familiar with the issues, the town, or the council, I felt that they conducted business in a very organized, civil, and professional manner during the open public portion of the meeting. 

Following the public portion of the meeting we were privileged to be invited to stay during the closed session.  This has to be the rarest opportunity I have ever experienced in local government and I am very thankful for it.  During the session, city administrator Scot Simpson and the city attorney alerted the council to some legal issues the city of River Falls is currently involved in and asked for council feedback and direction.   I found this to be a very interesting discussion…posted by Ryan Albright.

–Yesterday marked the first City Council meeting. After the presentation of the Gold Water Star, we were introduced to the council and the city; this was a great experience as we were made into celebrities on the local access channel. Once the introduction was completed, we moved into the main issue which went before the council. Though it seemed like a nominal issue for me, the Chicken Ordinance proved to be a hot one. It was presented by Buddy’s other intern, Ryan, and he laid out the basic provisions of the new ordinance. A resident must have a permit from the City Clerk to have chickens and can only have 5 hens—no roosters—which must be in a fully-caged structure to prevent free-roaming. Also, the cage must be more than 10 feet from a neighbor’s dwelling. Ryan had to field questions from the council and responded admirably in the situation because many of the questions were “nit-picky”; they included the number of complaints to revoke a permit from one citizen and amount of noise a hen makes when laying an egg. After the questions, it became clear that the bill needed to be amended and was sent back to the staff to prepare a second reading. Following the Chicken Ordinance, there were some nominal bills which passed until the amending of building permits came into debate. During the debate of the amendment, it became clear that ultimate responsibility of ensuring that the work being done on a citizen’s house is done properly and the responsibility of the individual citizen. The plan will save the city money as building permits were required to install doors, windows and driveways; this is reasonable as a new door should not be subject to a building permit and cost the citizen money to have it inspected. Like the Chicken Ordinance, this bill was tabled as the council insisted that it be more specific, but applauded the work of Scot to alter the out-dated statutes. The last item on the public agenda was the renewal of alcohol permits for the liquor establishments in town; all but three were approved without debate. The issues with the three dealt with their outdoor smoking patios. For the bars, the liquor licenses would be renewed if their outdoor structures met the mandated requirements of the building inspector and the council. After the approvals (pending in 3 cases), the council went into closed session; however, in a surprising move, we were permitted to stay for the session.

                During the closed session, my eyes were opened to the competing interests of the council members, who are strongly influenced by their constituency. Though I cannot elaborate on what was discussed due to the closed door status of the meeting, I learned a lot about the inner-workings of the city. After the session, my interest in a career in public administration grew substantially through the attitudes and responsibilities of a city administrator. Once the council ended, we were invited to a “reception” at a local establishment, but I had to respectfully decline because I was exhausted after a long day in the “real world”. I learned a vast amount of information at the meeting and look forward to immersing myself in the atmosphere of City Council…posted by Chris Browning.

–This was not the first city council meeting I’ve been to, but it certainly had some of the most interesting issues as main topics. One of the issues was the first reading of the newly proposed “chicken ordinance.” The ordinance would allow residents within the city to keep up to five chickens contained in their yard as “pets” or for eggs. At this moment I was extremely hungry because we hadn’t had dinner yet and I was thinking to myself, “I like hot wings a lot, but I don’t know if I would want to have chickens as pets.” One councilman later was talking to us describing how remarkable it was about the amount of people who have called him voicing their concerns about the chicken ordinance, but almost nobody batted an eye when the city spent five million dollars on the new city-council building. Alright, enough about chickens. Overall, I thought the council meeting went very smoothly. The setting seemed very informal which might be a good thing in a lot of ways. Nobody was dressed in anything more formal than a button down and slacks other than the city attorney who was wearing a suit, and the city administrator had a tie and coat on.  We, of course were all decked out in full suits. The tone of the room was very relaxed and besides the two new councilmen, all of the others seem very open with their opinions. It truthfully felt like one of my fraternity chapter meetings in a bit more formal location. There’s the occasional well placed joke or sarcastic comment here or there, but business still runs very smoothly. It’s important because the meeting is laid back enough that average citizens don’t feel awkward going in and addressing council. Before the chicken ordinance was discussed, Scot Simpson introduced Dr. Baker who in turn introduced me and the rest of the interns. I was the first in line to give a brief introduction to city council, whom we’d already met, and the rest of the people in attendance. All we had to do was say our name, hometown, major and what we are currently working on for the city. It was easy enough, but I was still a bit nervous. Not about addressing the council and the audience, but the fact that the council meetings are broadcast on the city’s cable channel. I don’t know if many people watch that channel, but still. Also, speaking into a microphone is awkward. After the regular council meeting, they were about to go into closed session.  We were actually invited to remain in the council chamber and had the extremely rare opportunity to stay and watch what goes on in a closed session. Generally no one is allowed to stay for a closed session because potentially sensitive information is discussed. One of the councilmen even excused himself because he thought there might be a conflict of interest with one of the topics to be discussed. The most intense thing they talked about was…Oh I’m just kidding! I’m bound by Wisconsin law to not disclose anything discussed in closed session. But there really were some very touchy subjects and I think I can speak for everyone when I say this was a unique experience for us interns to see how the behind-the-scenes business is handled…posted by Zack Miller.

–Last night’s council meeting was a really great experience. We were formally introduced to the city and council members and then sat in on the remaining meeting. One of the more anticipated issues on the agenda was Ordinance 2010-07 Chapter 6.05- Chickens. It was the first reading and presentation of the ordinance presented by the Planning Intern Ryan Mathisrud. It was an informative presentation from a city standpoint, however being from a rural area I found it strange to have such a debate/presentation over having a coop with 5 chickens. I guess that is life in the city. The rest of the public business was pretty up front and moved quickly, the council awarded renewal of liquor/beer licenses to the local bars, some with pending stipulations. The council meeting was then moved to closed session. We were given the extremely rare opportunity to stay for the closed session as voted by the council. It was a wonderful experience to sit in as the council, attorney, and city administrator discussed confidential information as we observed. This was my first real council meeting; I was trying to relate it to my Buckeye Boys State experience as I was a council member in our mock city as well as the President of the council. Given that experience it was great to observe a real council meeting. I look forward to the remaining council meetings and department/committee meetings that we will have the opportunity to attend…posted by Matt Overturf.

–Last night we had the opportunity to attend the River Falls Council Meeting.  The meeting started out by the City of River Falls receiving the Gold Water Star Community Award.  Although this may not seem like much to the average citizen, this award proves River Falls’ dedication to maintaining the water in their city as well as the extensive planning and foresight it took to meet the requirements for this award.  Another exciting part of this Council Meeting was the presentation about a Chicken Ordinance.  This was the first reading of the ordinance and there was a presentation to go along with it.  The presentation was done by Ryan, a planning intern at City Hall.   The discussion was pretty limited and the main concerns were about neighbor complaints.  In the next reading and discussion there was also a limited discussion, but it seemed to me that a theme emerged.  It appears to me that one of the Council members is more interested than the other Council Members in keeping restraints on residents of River Falls.  I believe that the goal of this tendency is to keep the people of River Falls as safe and as comfortable as possible but I think it is viewed by other members as stubborn and annoying.  After several discussions regarding liquor licensing, the council moved into closed session.  Although this is typically a time for the council and limited number of city employees to discuss matters regarding purchasing property or conferring with legal counsel, a council member moved that we would be allowed to stay for the closed session.  Although one member opposed, the motion passed and we were allowed to stay for the session.  My understanding is that this opportunity is very rare and I am very excited that we got to stay for it.  Overall, I felt that the council meeting went very smoothly.  I was very interested to see what the city attorney did for the city and although he does not have a full-time position at city hall, it seems to me that he added to how smoothly the meeting ran.  Though this is a very small part of the meeting, his involvement interested me the most…posted by Lacey Davidson.

River Falls, WI City Hall