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

 
 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