Lake Elmo renews contract with parliamentarian

Six employees at Lake Elmo City Hall have quit since March. At least three have publicly cited a hostile work environment as a factor. (Gazette staff photo by Alicia Lebens)

City has spent about $13K to date

Just after 11 p.m. on May 3, the Lake Elmo City Council voted to extend a contract with Kevin Wendt, the city’s parliamentarian, for an additional three months. Since first hiring a parliamentarian in November 2015, the council has spent about $13,000 to have a person trained in Roberts’ Rules of Order manage the city’s business meetings. A majority of the council — Julie Fliflet, Jill Lundgren and Anne Smith — believe Wendt’s presence is needed.

Wendt offered the same contract to the council as he had for the previous three-month contract.

“Perhaps the council would consider a longer contract in order to get a greater discount,” city administrator Kristina Handt said.

When the council approved the original contract, Wendt had offered a six-month option.

Smith made a motion May 3 to enter into a six-month contract with Wendt in order to receive the 25 percent discount for the extended length of the contract. Wendt, however, said his schedule in the fall is uncertain and he would not be able to sign a six-month contract.

Fliflet asked if he would be willing to give the council a 25 percent discount on a three-month contract instead of the previously offered 15 percent discount. Wendt offered to give the council a discount of 20 percent for a three-month contract.

“Is there a buyout? God forbid, if I get hit by a bus or something like that happens and there is a new mayor, is there a buyout or are we on the hook?” Mayor Mike Pearson asked.

“There is a 30-day written termination at the will of the council,” Wendt said.

Councilmember Justin Bloyer said he didn’t feel the parliamentarian was helping the council reduce the length of their meetings.

“Would the meetings that go until 2 a.m. then go until 4 a.m.,” asked Bloyer. “Is this really what we are getting for our $12,000?”

From January 2015 to October 2015, the Lake Elmo City Council meetings had an average length of four hours. During the time period that the council has used a parliamentarian — November 2015 to May 2016 — the average length of the meetings has increased to four hours and 49 minutes.

During public comment, resident Dale Dorschner spoke against renewing the parliamentarian’s contract.

“When I go look at a contract for a service, I look at performance measures,” Dorschner said. “I don’t know why this parliamentarian was hired, but I assume it was to provide more order in governance. I observe no more order in governance. I actually saw a regression in governance.”

Dorschner opposed the expense of having the parliamentarian coming from city tax dollars.

“This is a luxury for you guys because you can’t behave and don’t have the professionalism to run your own meetings,” Dorschner said. “If you guys want him, I say it comes out of your own pockets.”

Former mayor Susan Dunn, on the other hand, thanked Wendt and said his services were helpful to the council.

“I think it is well-worth the money spent,” Dunn said. “When you have different personalities working together with perhaps different ideas, I think you do a very good job … of giving everyone a chance to express themselves.”

“I believe you have been a good addition and I believe you have been worth every penny we have spent,” Smith said. “I think it is inappropriate to suggest that you haven’t brought order or done a good job in what we have asked you to do.”

“This is no slam against the parliamentarian, but judge by the fruits,” Pearson said. “We have had some difficult meetings in the last 16 months, and this hasn’t born fruit.”

“This council tried a lot of things before we got a parliamentarian,” Fliflet said. “If we ever saw improvement I would be the first to implement the termination clause, but until that happens we need him — we need our parliamentarian to get some work done at our meetings because it is painful.”

Pearson made a motion that each council member would make a $500 contribution from their own pay to help with the cost for the parliamentarian. Bloyer agreed and wanted to increase the amount.

“Throw it all in there,” Bloyer said.

The motion to reduce the council salary to help pay for the parliamentarian failed with Fliflet, Lundgren and Smith dissenting.

Contact Alicia Lebens at [email protected]