The Houston City Council met for its regular meeting at 6 p.m. on Monday, November 13 in the council chambers of Houston City Hall. In attendance were City Administrator Peterson, Deputy Clerk Hegland, Mayor Olson and Council members Knutson, Krage and Schutte. The council opened a public hearing about a vacation planned for a portion of St. Paul Street next to the city softball parks. Peterson noted that the vacation had been triggered by the possible building of a Dollar General location in the area, and the vacation of a portion of the street would allow the store to have a separate driveway and access from the softball diamond. Peterson also made mention that no decision was being planned regarding the vacation at this current meeting, saying the street vacation would not happen and would be conditional on the Dollar General deal going through.
One citizen responded during the public hearing time, questioning what she believed had been a lack of notification from the city regarding the possible Houston Dollar General location. The citizen stated that the deal felt like a “rumor” around town and expressed frustration that there was not a dedicated article sent to the local newspaper. Peterson explained the process of the land deal to the gallery, clarifying that Dollar General is currently in the process of securing the land and finding a site that will work before a purchase or construction will even begin. Administrator Peterson also noted that the issue had been posted to all necessary and required places in meeting agendas and meeting minutes, and that any citizen is allowed access to that information at their request. The citizen concluded that it is the responsibility of individual citizens to access city information during these processes, and thanked the council for their explanation.
Next, the council heard an update regarding the zip-line at Trailhead Park, explaining that the zip line had been inspected and modified to meet the inspector’s requests, and that the zip-line will be regularly staffed and inspected to prevent vandalism. The board then welcomed Erin Dorbin from KARST Driftless Guidepost, who gave a presentation regarding a Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation Grant the city recently received. Dorbin presented her previous work with a Smithsonian program at Lanesboro that involved getting young people interested in local history which resulted in media presentations that are now in the Smithsonian archives. Dorbin continued on, saying the city had been granted $5,000 from the Smithsonian, who is looking to extend this project into Houston and an additional $10,000 from SMIF.
“It’s to connect students with local historical and cultural centers in Houston County,” Dorbin said, “to conduct community based research, and to provide students with hands on technology experience.” Dorbin noted that Houston is one of six counties selected to participate in this project for 2018. The program combines the efforts of students, historians and workers to create stories on economics, history, and rural identity. Dorbin thanked the council for their time and handed out contact information, urging the council to contact her with any questions regarding the project. The council then approved the grant commitment documents and a draft project budget prepared by Dorbin. Following that, the council heard from the International Owl Center regarding a possible lease for new construction at Trailhead Park, which Peterson said would go to the planning commission for review.
The council then approved moving forward with a playground project grant through US Bank and involving the Houston School District. The city is not allowed to apply for the grant directly, but the school has agreed to be involved on a “name only” basis on the application. Peterson said she will check if that agreement is workable for the grant before submitting the application. The board approved moving forward with the process. The board accepted the resignation of city attorney Jed Hammel, who is closing his law practice, and discussed finding a new attorney for local measures. Peterson noted that the city had already contacted some legal services through Flaherty & Hood of Winona, but the council generally agreed that a more local attorney would need to be found and asked Police Chief David Breault to provide his recommendations for an attorney that meets his needs.
The council also approved payment of taxes for a newly annexed “island” of the city that was previously thought to be already annexed, and payment for the utility improvements at Elm and Stoddard street. Fire Chief Joe Krage was also in attendance to announce the new assistant fire chief appointments of Brandon Olson and Steve Skifton. The Houston City Council will meet for its next regular meeting on Monday, December 11, 2017, at 6 p.m. in the council chambers of Houston City Hall.