During a five-hour meeting Jan. 19, the Lake Elmo City Council voted 3-2 not to invite the Minnesota Bureau of Mediation Service (BMS) to resume working with its members to improve meeting management, council interaction and agenda setting.
In early August 2015, the city contacted the League of Minnesota Cities (LMC) to help mediate what was seen at the time as a decrease in working relations among council members.
“The League of Minnesota Cities suggested the city work with the Bureau of Mediation Services to explore common ground amongst the council members and decrease conflict,” interim city administrator Clark Schroeder said.
After a number of meetings, Schroeder said, the bureau withdrew from the process because progress had stalled. However, mediators from the bureau were willing to return to the process when there was full support from all council members to develop compromises, Schroeder said.
“I’ll make a recommendation that the city council invite the BMS back to provide mediation services for the purpose of improving meeting management, interaction and agenda setting,” Schroeder said.
“Up until this, I didn’t know that they pulled out,” Councilmember Justin Bloyer said.
“They withdrew. They basically felt they weren’t making any progress,” Schroeder said. “They are more than willing to come back … the change comes from within for the city council, to change from what is dysfunctional to something that is more healthy.”
“If we get unanimous support, that might say something to them and it might say something to us,” Mayor Mike Pearson said.
“I feel like we had a lot of meetings with them — we met one on one, we invited them to a couple training sessions, met in this sub-group a few times — I really appreciate the work that they did with us,” Councilmember Julie Filflet said.
However, Fillet said she wasn’t supportive of the topics of meeting management and agenda setting.
“I feel like we are learning a ton from our parliamentarian,” Fillet said. “I’m getting a ton of positive feedback about how the meetings are run.”
Fliflet said she wanted to keep working with parliamentarian Kevin Wendt, instead of trying a new method with the mediators.
“When we brought forward the idea to hire a parliamentarian, they specifically said that you should run the meeting,” Fillet said to Wendt.
However, the mediators did not encourage the Lake Elmo council to hire a parliamentarian.
“I would like to state for the record that … the recommendation to hire a parliamentarian came from this council as a result of a vote at your last meeting,” parliamentarian Tammy Pust said Nov. 17. “It did not come from the League or the Bureau of Meditation Services.”
Pearson said he had wanted mediators at a workshop to discuss the adoption of the League of Minnesota Cities Mayor’s Handbook as a guide to manage meetings, and that they didn’t come because other members of the council disagreed.
“They are the experts, and I think they should push and nudge us in a better direction,” Pearson said. “I think they weren’t being effective because we weren’t owning our own faults … I’m not looking forward to these meetings, but I think that it is important that we do it and not rest our laurels on a taxpayer-funded (parliamentarian).”
Bloyer said while he appreciates the parliamentarian, it doesn’t solve the problems the council has.
“This is a Band-Aid to make everything look like it is going better, but it is not. We are still here to 11 p.m.,” Bloyer said.
The Bureau of Mediation Services said it would not return unless the council was unanimous in its desire to have its mediators return.
Pearson moved to invite the bureau to return, but the motion failed in a 3-2 vote, with council members Fliflet, Anne Smith and Jill Lundgren opposed.
Both Fliflet and Lundgren said they would welcome the mediators back for other topics, but opposed mediators coming to work on meeting management.
During the Jan. 19 meeting, the council also voted to enter into a long term contract with Wendt for his parliamentarian services.
“On our Jan. 5 meeting, the parliamentarian offered to enter into negotiations to decrease his rates if there is going to be a long-term contract,” Schroeder said.
Wendt has been charging $200 per hour for meetings and $150 per hour for document reviews prior to the meeting. In a long-term contract, he would charge a base rate of $200 per hour for meetings up to five hours, $250 per hour for the entire meeting if it runs over five hours, and $150 per hour for document review, but would give a discount if the council signed a one-, three- or six-month contract. For one month, the discount would be 10 percent, for three months the discount would be 15 percent, and for six months the discount would be 25 percent.
Bloyer estimated that all parliamentarian services in the last three months, including the Jan. 19 meeting, have cost the city about $4,500.
“This is a very costly exercise,” Pearson said.
The council voted 3-2, with Pearson and Bloyer dissenting, to entered into a three-month contract. If the council continues to hold meetings that are on average four hours long, the council would pay about $4,845 in the next three months.
Contact Alicia Lebens at [email protected]