Resident objects to new comment rule
Renee Norgaard says new village public comment rules violate free speech
A heated exchange over public comment at the Rib Lake Village Board meeting on December 11 nearly resulted in Renee Norgaard being removed from the building.
Before the public comment portion of the meeting, village president Bill Schreiner read the updated rules of order for public comment, which he said had been approved by the village’s attorney and was the opinion of two legal counsels for the League of Municipalities.
When he was finished, Norgaard said the new rules were illegal and in violations of First Amendment rights, stating the board does not have the right to dictate the content of what a person wishing to comment on. She went on to say that the board had sold out the right of taxpayers to have a say in the operation of the village for the amount of $5,000.
Schreiner interrupted to say that what she was discussing was not on the agenda and reminded Norgaard that her comments were in violation of the rules he had just read in regards to public comment and asked her to direct her comments to items that were only listed on the agenda, saying if she continued to violate these rules, he would direct her to refrain from continuing to speak.
Norgaard pointed out the agenda listed update rules and citizens comments. She resumed what she had been saying about the village selling out public comment for $5,000. Speaking over her comments, Schreiner again stated that what Norgaard was commenting on was not on the agenda and said she was in violation of the rules for public comment. He asked Norgaard to stop speaking and sit down, saying if she continued to break the rules, she would be asked to leave.
“You can not dictate my content. It is . . .,” began Norgaard.
“Yes, we can,” interrupted Schreiner.
“. . . relating to the agenda,” Norgaard finished. She then began reiterating the Norgaard’s allegation of corruption and misconduct in office against several village officials. One of the trustees called a point of order. Schreiner told Norgaard she was disrupting the meeting and affecting the board’s ability to carry out the business of the meeting. He then asked her to leave.
As Norgaard continued her allegations against village offices, Schreiner motioned for police chief Derek Beckstrand to escort Norgaard from the meeting. Beckstrand approached Norgaard and was about to escort her from the room when she stopped speaking and sat down because her two-minute time limit to speak had ended. Beckstrand asked if he should still remove Norgaard from the meeting. Schreiner declined to do so as long as there were no further disruptions by her.
Hal Swenson asked to address the board. Schreiner asked if it was related to the agenda. Swenson said it was and asked if the board would consider removing citizen comments from the agenda so they didn’t have to “listen to this foolishness all the time.”
Ken Norgaard said he wished to comment along the same lines as Swenson. He said the last time he was at the meeting, the board had discussed removing citizen comments from the agenda. Ken Norgaard noted the board had eliminated citizens comments from the agenda and then read in the minutes of the following meeting that the board voted unanimously to allow citizen comments. Ken Norgaard wanted to know what had changed. He said he had stopped at the clerk’s office the previous week to check on the new rules to find out what the rules were first hand and listen to the recording of the exchange. Ken Norgaard said village clerk Dawn Swenson told him to come back later in the day, which he did, and said trustee Russ Bullis was in the office at the time. He asked Bullis if he had been disorderly and disruptive. Bullis agreed that Ken Norgaard had not been.
“What is going on here, guys?” Ken Norgaard asked. “What did we do wrong? As a business person, Renee and I pumped $700,000 into the community and overpaid the tax by five grand. Think about it. What is going on here?”
Schreiner started to say that Ken Norgaard was in violation of the rules, but Ken Norgaard finished up by telling Schreiner he was in violation of Supreme Court law and that he had better be careful with that.
After Beckstrand gave his report to the board, which was the next item on the agenda, the Norgaards left the meeting.
During the meeting, the board approved renewing health insurance with Security Health at a cost of $6,609.15 per month. Schreiner said the village could save money by switching to Anthem ($5,194.95) or WPS Health Plans ($6,401.62), but the out of pocket expenses for each were so much higher that it made more economic sense to stay with Security Health. He said the employees will continue to pay 15 percent of the cost of the premium.
The board approved a 1.5 percent wage increase for village employees in 2020. Not included in the increase are Beckstrand, who is under a separate contract, and the library employees whose salaries are set by the library board. Under the increase, Swenson would received $50,641 and public works director Tom Olson would received $43,913. Hunter Bernitt would received $20.59 per hour, Dan Koehler $18.80 per hour, Gary Polacek $14 per hour, Tammy Mann $14.46 per hour, Angelisa Leggett $9.88 per hour and election workers $9.25 per hour.
The board also approved the following Christmas bonuses: Swenson $185, Beckstrand $50, Olson $60, Bernitt $85, Koehler $25, Mann $25, William Eisner $25, Leggett $25 and Polacek $25.