There's room for improvement at Roseville council meetings
Roseville Review 1/25/05
by Bethany Norgaard News Editor

I can't help but feel a little sorry for Roseville Mayor Craig Klausing. While some residents may gripe that he is unable to keep council meetings under control, I often wonder who could.

Not only does Klausing have to listen to former mayor John Kysylyczyn read minutes and articles from years past to form a "flip-flopping" attack against him during meetings, but Council Members Amy Ihlan and Greg Schroeder have been butting heads lately, putting Klausing in the position of having to concentrate more on keeping the peace than moving the meeting agenda along.

When Roseville residents voted in a new mayor and council member last year, they appeared to be sending a signal that they were weary of the petty bickering of the past. The citizens were hoping for a more congenial, productive City Council, something that, for the moment, isn't happening.

To their credit, the council members are considering enacting measures to make their meetings run more smoothly. This, I believe, is a must-needed and overdue action.

At a meeting earlier this month, the City Council voted predictably to approve the concept plan of the Twin Lakes redevelopment project on a 3-2 vote.

Granted, the Twin Lakes project will perhaps be the most important proposal the City Council will consider this year and it is appropriate to discuss it at length. But as 21 audience members got up to speak on the topic the majority of whom I have watched make the same arguments time and time again at past meetings there was very little (if any) new information put forward for the council to consider.

As the clock approached 8:30 p.m., Klausing attempted to halt the public input but was immediately opposed by Ihlan, who said anyone who wanted to speak should be allowed to make their point.

While I believe this is true it's one of the foundations of democracy there has to be some reasonable middle ground. Klausing asked several speakers to "wrap it up" or be aware of the hour so the council could move forward. Instead of honoring the mayor's request or simply asking for additional time, his appeals were generally ignored.

I particularly pity those folks in the audience whose items are at the end of the agenda. They have to sit though hours of repetitive testimony and wrangling, all with the slim hope that the council will get to their issue before midnight.

It must be especially distressing for young parents who have hired baby sitters and elderly residents.

I've covered city councils and county boards across the state; some like Little Canada run their meetings well. Others allow meetings to run off course and out of control. Obviously, it's easier for a city like Little Canada to run meetings efficiently since, because of its size, the council doesn't have to deal with huge, divisive redevelopment projects very often.

But I don't think size is the only factor. I recall covering a Maplewood City Council meeting last April when the council had to decide whether or not to construct a traffic roundabout at the intersection of two fairly busy roads where a four-way stop wasn't considered possible. The proposal was complicated because a fire station and a popular city park were at the corner, and council members heard 13 people speak passionately against the roundabout.

The council chambers were packed and City Manager Richard Fursman not only instructed speakers to keep it short, he timed them, giving each person three minutes. Perhaps it wasn't enough time for everyone to make all their points, but the rules were clear from the outset and everyone complied. Besides, the residents also had an opportunity to submit written comments to the council before the meeting.

In fact, when I pick up my agenda packets prior to council meetings, they're always filled with not only staff reports, but also e-mails and letters from residents. I read through these and note concerns just as I do when I listen to speakers during a meeting.

I will probably receive letters from council members and residents who disagree with me. Many will say that I'm not a council member and that I don't know what I'm talking about.

Both arguments will be right, to an extent. I don't know what it is like to sit on a city council, but I know what it looks like from the audience. I don't believe that I am the only one who thinks more things could be accomplished at Roseville City Council meetings if they were run more efficiently and with less squabbling.

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