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Special elections slated for Preston

Fri, Sep 19th, 2003
Posted in Features

Monday's Preston City Council meeting had a bumpy start with a council that seems split on most difficult and contentious issues. With the recent passing of Mike Gartner, the city council is left with a two-to-two vote, especially when anything having to do with Heartland surfaces. Council member Heath Mensink moved that agenda item 18 having to do with a building permit for Heartland be tabled. The mayor, David Pechulis, had contended in a letter to City Administrator Fred Nagle that the "city can only issue a building permit (to Heartland) if it is in compliance with our ordinances." The law firm of Kennedy and Graven, who have advised the council on legal matters related to Heartland, have stated to the council that the facility must comply with 'local laws', which are the city's ordinances. Mary Tietjen of Kennedy and Graven says that since "the City Council has already approved the Conditional Use Permit for the construction of Heartland's facility. . . this would not be a valid basis to deny the building permit." Pechulis directed Fred Nagle in an August 9, 2003, letter not to issue a building permit to Heartland until the city council discusses this matter. Mensink argued on Monday that since Nagle was absent that the discussion of the building permit be tabled. The vote on tabling item 18 was deadlocked, Mensink and Council member Jerry Scheevel for and Pechulis and Council member Mike McGarvey against. Pechulis inquired whether council members had individually spoken to Nagle about the issue. When he asked Jerry Scheevel directly, Scheevel replied, "It is none of your business." This comment generated some muffled disapproval from some members of the audience. McGarvey, recognizing the deadlock and with a nudge from City Attorney David Joerg to get to a vote on the motion, voted with Scheevel and Mensink to table the building permit discussion until the next council meeting. It took fifteen minutes to just approve the agenda. At this point it looked like a very long and contentious night. Fortunately, members of the council made an effort to work together and efficiently on the remaining long agenda.Rec Center ReferendumThe steering committee for the proposed Recreational Facility has suggested that the city hold a referendum to see if citizens would support the City bonding for $1,500,000 in funding for the facility. Crescendo Consulting of Winona has been hired to determine how much could be raised with pledges and they expect the group can raise approximately $3,000,000. Preliminary estimates indicate that a pool-indoor complex would cost an estimated $4,500,000. Plans call for the facility to be attached to the Fillmore Central Middle School. If the complex was built, it would replace the existing Preston pool, which is 40 years old and in need of repairs. It is estimated that to replace the outdoor pool would cost more than $1,000,000.If the fundraising effort to raise the $3,000,000, were to proceed, the city would need to pay Crescendo approximately $100,000 in fees. Consequently, the Steering Committee advised the council to hold a referendum in advance of the fundraising effort to see if the citizens are willing to bond for the shortfall of $1,500,000. If the referendum were to fail, the city would not go ahead with the private fundraising and would not need to pay the $100,000 fees owed Crescendo.

Deputy City Clerk Sheila Marzolf said that they expected the referendum to cost between $2,000 and $5,000. The council voted to go ahead with the referendum probably in early November.Special City Council Election In conjunction with the discussion for the referendum was the need for a possible special election to fill the vacancy on the council. David Joerg explained the choices. According to state law the council has the option to appoint someone to fill the vacancy. Mike Gartner was first appointed to the city council twelve years ago to fill a vacancy. If they chose to do that and there is a deadlock, then the mayor could appoint someone to fill the vacancy. The city can also have a special election, however, the council must first pass an ordinance which states the circumstances under which the special election will be held. Pat Gartner, Mike's widow, suggested that the people should decide who would replace her husband through an election held with the rec center referendum. Another citizen asked that they have the special election, then get something done, and 'make the city proud again.' Joerg said that interested candidates would have to file an 'affidavit of candidacy.' Another citizen suggested there finally be a referendum on Heartland also. Pechulis tried to make it clear that this was not an option because of state law. The council approved that an ordinance be written by Joerg so that they could have a special election to fill the vacancy. The plan would be to hold both elections together to save money. Mike Gartner was mayor pro-tem. The council appointed Jerry Scheevel temporarily until the new council member was either elected or appointed.Initiative Foundation The Preston Area Community Foundation represented by Dan Christianson, Wayne Dreier, and Don Berkland, came before the council to discuss applying for a $10,000 grant through the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation. To this end they need to form a core leadership team of 15 to 20 people from the Preston area. The team should be diversified in age and background and hopefully would include at least one high school student. The team would focus on the strengths of the community. If the grant is received the group would meet monthly, be active in the community and attend training sessions. The group would bring relevant issues forward. Support of the city council is necessary to get the grant. Dreier said that they will not solicit people to form the team but expect interested people to submit their names to them. (PO Box 467, Preston) The council voted unanimously to support the foundation's efforts.MN Job Opportunity Building Zone (JOBZ) Barry Kramer detailed a program instituted by the state that potentially would help communities to compete with Iowa and Wisconsin in attracting business and new jobs. Preston is invited to join the I-90 corridor group (from Albert Lea to WI border) in their application to the state. Future revenues would be deferred in the form of tax exemptions and tax credits in order to attract business. The city would decide which would be a participating property. The council approved the resolution.Volunteer Day The mayor by proclamation designated the first Sunday of September to be Volunteer Day. He chose this day in 'recognition of the late John "Mike" Gartner for his personal dedication, his lifetime achievement of volunteer work and commitment to the people of Preston.'Karen Reisner can be contacted at news@fillmorecountyjournal.com

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