Lake Elmo hires parliamentarian to run meetings

Desperate for relief after months of public fighting, the Lake Elmo City Council hired a parliamentarian to preside over its Nov. 17 meeting in hopes that an outside voice would bring civility to its deeply divided members.

In an awkward dance of hushed voices and formal titles, the council tried their best to afford some politeness toward their guest. Despite a purposefully shortened agenda, the meeting once again continued beyond its average of four hours and past 11 p.m.

While each member of the council was reined in at least once during the proceedings for missteps, onlookers and council members admitted that it was one of the smoothest meetings recently.

“It was like being here last year,” Councilmember Justin Bloyer gibed.

“Last year when the minority was me,” Councilmember Anne Smith said in riposte.

The council voted to hire a parliamentarian Nov. 4 in a 3-1 vote with Bloyer dissenting and Mayor Mike Pearson abstaining. In response to the vote, personnel from the League of Minnesota Cities and the Bureau of Mediation Services met with members of the Lake Elmo council and staff to offer the services of Judge Tammy L. Pust.

Pust is the chief workers’ compensation law ludge for the Minnesota Office of Administrative Hearings.

“At the invitation of your council, I am here on contract to the city,” Pust told the council and the public. “I am not here in the capacity of a chief judge presiding over any kind of contested case proceeding. I am here as an expert in facilitating community-wide discussions.”

When asked the cost of her services, Pust said she was not personally being paid but was representing the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH). As a government agency, the OAH will bill the city $120 per hour. Pust was present for a one-hour special meeting prior to the regular council meeting and for the four hour and 15 minute regular meeting — an expected cost to the city of at least $630.

“Hopefully, you will not be seeing me long,” Pust said.

Pust is personally familiar with dysfunction on city councils, having served on the Roseville City Council 2006 to 2012.

When Pust was elected, the council was in the midst of public debate surrounding a divisive retail and residential development and had a history of long contentious meetings. Pust was part of a 3-2 vote in 2006 in favor of reinstating an ethics committee in Roseville and creating a city ordinance enforcing the city’s code of ethics for elected officials, commissioners and staff.

Pust has been an attorney for more than 30 years, a judge for two and a half years and serves as a parliamentarian during meetings of the Lutheran Synods.

The council discussed Pust’s services at the end of the meeting.

“It was an honor to be invited,” Pust told the council. “I certainly learned a lot. But depending on your conversation, we are going to have to discuss the role and what did or didn’t work.”

Pearson thanked Pust for her services.

“I’m just going to be candid here — it’s up to the council here on what they want to do,” Pearson said.

“I thought it worked well,” Councilmember Jill Lundgren said. “I thought it went smoother than it usually does.”

“I thought it went very well,” Bloyer said. “You helped Mayor Pearson keep control when things get out of control. It isn’t the mayor’s fault when things get out of control — it’s the council’s.”

Smith said Pust got the council back on track, and that having a parliamentarian at future meetings could help them set a pattern.

“I hope you come back,” Smith said.

“I also think your presence here has been invaluable,” Councilmember Julie Fliflet said. “I certainly, certainly hope you come back.”

Fliflet made a motion to continue with Pust’s services until a time when they are no longer necessary.

“The council needs to understand that no matter how this vote goes, that it is not a done deal,” Pust said. “It needs to be discussed on my end.”

Fliflet amended her motion to direct staff to hire another parliamentarian if Pust or her office does not wish to continue.

“The League of Minnesota Cities made it very clear that Mayor Pearson does a fine role chairing our meeting,” Bloyer said. “The issue with running our meetings doesn’t lie with him, it lies with this council.”

Bloyer claimed that the hiring of the parliamentarian was political theater and that the council majority was trying to bring down Pearson in the same spirit that they censured Bloyer.

“I would have preferred that we listen to what our experts had said,” Pearson said. “What the significant issues are.”

The relative calm of the meeting could come from a desire to be hospitable to Pust.

“There is a certain politeness we offer our guests,” Pearson said. “When we develop some familiarity, we let that politeness fade away.”

“I just want to recognize that the League of Minnesota Cities and the Bureau of Mediation Services were in favor of us having a parliamentarian tonight,” Smith said. “It was stated to the committee that is working on this issue — the mayor was there, Councilmember Fliflet was there — so to suggest the League and the mediators are not in favor of this is 100 percent inaccurate.”

Pust interjected to disagree.

“I would like to state for the record that I was there as well, and the recommendation to hire a parliamentarian came from this council as a result of a vote at your last meeting,” Pust said. “It did not come from the League or the Bureau of Meditation Services.”

Pust added that consensus of the group was that this was not a reflection on the ability of the mayor to run the meeting.

Smith said that she was not present and that she had received the information for interim city administrator Clark Schroeder.

The council voted on the motion to continue to use the service of a parliamentarian at future meetings, and again voted 3-1-1 with Bloyer dissenting and Pearson abstaining.

Contact Alicia Lebens at alicia.lebens@ecm-inc.com