Abby lifts restriction on public comments
Abbotsford residents who show up to city council meetings will now be able to speak about any issue they want, even if it’s not the agenda, but their comments will be limited to two minutes per person.
That was the decision of the city council at Monday’s regular monthly meeting, which drew several residents who spoke in favor of lifting the restriction on public comments to topics that are already on the agenda.
By a vote of 6-1, the council eliminated that limitation, which was first put into place in October of 2018 after city administrator Dan Grady was hired. Ald. Frankie Soto was the lone no vote.
The four residents who spoke at Monday’s meeting all said it doesn’t always work to go through individual council members to get something on the agenda — as city officials have suggested.
Resident Jim Colby said timing can be an issue if people want to voice their opinion on an issue before it ends up on an agenda for a vote.
Residents Darla Viegut and John Kreeger both pointed out that the city’s website does not always have the most up-to-date contact information for council members. Kreeger said an email he sent to one alderperson bounced back.
“If you expect us to go to our aldermen, we need to have that information,” Viegut told the council.
Viegut also urged the council to follow proper parliamentary procedures when doing teleconferencing, such as taking a roll call of those on the phone line and having callers state their name each time they speak.
Resident Nina Writz said if the council does not open public comments to nonagenda items, the city needs to send a letter to every city resident letting them know “If a person does bring up a non-agenda item, it is reported in the newspaper, and other people still have a chance to give their opinions at the next meeting,” Writz said.
Ald. Mason Rachu said he understands why residents would want to raise issues at council meetings if they can’t reliably contact their elected officials.
“If I’m trying to get a hold of my alderman, and I can’t get the right email address, what do you do?” he said.
Ald. Frankie Soto said he has taken phone calls from city residents even if they don’t live in his ward, but he was adamant that he will not respond to people from outside the city, nor will he use email as a means of communication.
“I don’t care who it is. I will take a call, but I’m not taking an email,” he said. “So, if you email me, you’re going to be ignored, because you can call me.”
Ald. Roger Weideman said people can always go to the city administrator with questions or concerns.
DPW Craig Stuttgen said he doesn’t mind if people want to come in and voice their opinions, but he thinks topics of discussion should be on the agenda first so city officials can gather the right information ahead of time.
“It’s an incredible waste of time to have people talk about stuff we’re not prepared to talk about,” he said.
Ald. Dennis Kramer said he understands Stuttgen’s concern, to a point.
“At the same time, the public wants the ability to bring it up,” he said. “I don’t think people in the community expect you to have all the answers.”
Kramer pointed out that most city residents never come to council meetings, and don’t understand the process for getting something on the agenda, so the city needs to give them an open forum.
“They’re probably going to go away relatively happy or at least know it’s going to be brought up again,” he said.
Ald. Brent Faber said he is OK with opening public comments to any topic — as long as a time limit is imposed.
A motion made by Kramer and seconded by Faber eliminated the “pertaining to the agenda” restriction, and added a two-minute time limit. City administrator Dan Grady said this limit will apply to all meetings held by the city.
_ The council approved a new lease agreement with Central Fire and EMS for use of Abbotsford’s fire hall, but no motions were passed related to paying a greater share of the building’s insurance premium, as previously proposed by Ald. Weideman.
Central Fire officials have urged the city to allow the district to insure the building in order to save $1,659 annually in premiums, but the approved lease states that the city will maintain the insurance coverage. Grady said the district’s insurance provider has declined to offer coverage to the city for the public safety building.
Ald. Jim Weix said the city will continue to explore other insurance options to see if money can be saved in the future.
_ The council passed a resolution calling on Gov. Evers to lift the statewide Safer at Home order and “allow all businesses to reopen with proper safety protocols.” Alds. Rachu and Soto voted against the resolution, and Weideman abstained.
_ The council authorized the public works department to sell an old bread truck used to haul tools for fixing water main breaks. Stuttgen said the truck has not been taken out on a call in two years since the city replaced its oldest water mains, which were most prone to break.
_ The council accepted a bid of $755,506 from Haas Sons for extending the roadway and utilities on Opportunity Drive, going east across the railroad tracks into the city’s new industrial park area. Haas submitted the lowest of seven bids.
_ The council approved a contract amendment with MSA Professional Services for work related to the Opportunity Drive extension. The total contract amount is listed as $76,200, but $11,000 of that is for construction observation, which may be reduced if the city can some of that work in-house.
_ The council approved a $6,500 stormwater study on Linden Street, to be done by MSA in order to provide the city with possible solutions to water backups and flooding on that street.