Rhinelander council split but narrowly approves new bylaws
By Lori Adler, reporter
Rhinelander’s common council met Monday, and one item on the agenda was a review of a new set of council bylaws. The document created by city administrator Daniel Guild was the subject of much discussion and resulted in a split decision.
The 27-page bylaw manual is a handbook of council practices such as parliamentary procedure, meeting and agenda guidelines, open and public records rules and decorum. Review of the document was originally on the August 26th agenda, but it was tabled at that meeting as several alderpersons requested more time to review the manual. At Monday’s meeting, Guild reported that he had yet to receive any comments or feedback regarding the document.
Initial comments made by some council members questioned the need for Guild to be creating the document when the League of Wisconsin Municipalities provided guidelines for which the city has already been following. Guild replied that revamping the city’s already existing policy manual was part of his annual work plan and that he felt there were discrepancies to be addressed as well as updates to reflect the ways Rhinelander currently does business. He also stated that he used the templates from the League of Wisconsin Municipalities to create the manual.
“The backbone of the document did come from the League,” Guild explained.
Several alderpersons then expressed the need for more time to review the manual, citing the length of the document. It was also felt that comparisons need to be made between Guild’s document and the League’s guidelines to ensure the new document follows all Wisconsin municipalities rules and regulations.
“Council member Steve Sauer responded, “I feel as though there was plenty of time given to do your homework.”
A motion was made by alderman David Holt (seconded by alderman Steve Sauer) to approve the document as written pending a legal review by city attorney Hector De La Mora. Additional discussion ensued and then a vote was called. Four council members (alderpersons Tom Kelly, George Kirby, Dawn Rog and Lee Emmer) voted against the motion, creating a 4-4 split among council members. Mayor Chris Frederickson broke the tie with a vote in favor of the motion, and the new bylaws were approved (pending legal review).
A bill from Von Briesen for $42,735, along with two other Von Briesen bills, were not approved at Monday’s meeting. Only $30,000 had originally been slated for legal costs in the city’s official 2019 budget, and that amount has already been exhausted. While the city has the funds to pay the bills, they are legally unable to pay a bill if the budget does not support the cost. A budget amendment will be necessary in order to approve payment. The amendment will be drafted and presented at the next council meeting.
Information Technology (IT) Audit
At the August 26th meeting, the common council approved the use of a private firm to conduct an audit of the city’s IT system. However, city administrator Guild recently received information that the city’s insurance carrier, Cities and Villages Municipal Insurance Company (CVMIC), can conduct an audit for the city. In addition, possible grant or matching funding programs could allow the city to have the audit completed for less than budgeted or provide a more comprehensive audit for the budgeted amount. While the grant or matching funding is not guaranteed and the cost for the audit could be as much as $850 ($400 more than the council originally budgeted for the audit), the council approved a motion to move forward with the audit through CVMIC.
Legal Fees for Walking Quorum Allegations
Alderperson Dawn Rog has been vocal about the city paying any legal fees regarding the pending walking quorum lawsuit, stating that payment for any fees related to this issue should not come from the city budget. Upon Rog’s insistence at a previous council meeting, attorney De La Mora removed the line item from the current Von Briesen invoice for .36 of an hour, which he had originally billed for review of a newspaper article regarding the case as part of his initial investigation into current city issues.
In addition to explaining the removal of the charge, De La Mora also provided additional information on the pending case. While the district attorney has rejected the case twice, a lawsuit against the City of Rhinelander regarding the walking quorum issue has been filed. As part of the city’s insurance coverage, an attorney for this case will be provided (and paid for) by the insurance carrier so the cost will not need to be paid by the city or any individual council members.
Three properties listed as currently uninhabitable (959 Eagle Street, 521 Gardner Street and 658 Coolidge Avenue) were discussed at Monday’s meeting. City administrator Guild explained that recovering money from the property owners for unpaid fines or to have the building refurbished or demolished can be difficult. He further explained that some cities allow property owners to give the properties to the city in lieu of paying any additional money owed or having to improve the property. Guild requested the council consider this option for these three properties.
Fire chief and city inspector Terry Williams was able to provide information to the council on the three properties. According to Williams, both the Gardner Street and Coolidge Avenue locations could possibly be renovated so they might be able to be sold. The Eagle Street property however is dangerous, per Williams, because it experienced a partial collapse from last winter’s heavy snow load.
The council approved the motion to present the property owners with the option to giving their properties to the city.
The next regular meeting of the Rhinelander Common Council is scheduled Monday, September 23, at 6 p.m. at City Hall.