Rhinelander council approves dispatch center upgrade, city attorney and new seating arrangement
By Lori Adler, reporter
The Rhinelander Common Council met Monday with a main item on the agenda being the hiring of a new city attorney. The council interviewed Steve Sorenson, a member of the Von Briesen firm, for the position in a closed session held immediately prior to the September 9 council meeting. After further review of Sorenson’s qualifications, Mayor Chris Frederickson recommended the hiring of the new attorney though at least one council member preferred a second interview session before making a decision.
“I thought we were going to have one more interview session with Steve before we make an appointment, and I would prefer to do that because maybe we have more in-depth questions to ask him,” Alderman Tom Kelly asked, later noting, “I would recommend that we have a closed session again just before our next council meeting, like we did two weeks ago, and have a second interview and then make a decision.”
A motion, however, was made to hire Sorensen as the new attorney with an immediate start date of September 24. The council approved the hiring of a new attorney with four yes-votes, two no-votes (Emmer and Kelly), and two absent (Rog and Kirby). Sorensen will receive the same rate as von Briesen of $275 per hour, but since he is lives closer to Rhinelander, travel costs will be minimal.
Dispatch Center Improvements
A contribution for the needed upgrades to the emergency dispatch center shared between Oneida County and the City of Rhinelander was approved at Monday’s meeting. The city will provide $15,000, plus a 10% contingency, to the dispatch center for the upgrades.
The contribution request was not initially well received by the city since the original agreement from 2006 indicated a one-time payment from the city but no additional maintenance or upgrade fees. The dispute culminated this past June with a letter from the Oneida County Sheriff’s office stating that emergency dispatch services for the city would be discontinued as of January 1, 2020 if an agreement for financial help for the necessary improvements to the center was not reached. However, discussion between the city and county continued until the agreement for the $15,000 contribution was made.
In addition to the dispatch center needs, talk regarding city support of other shared services continues. Outlined in a document referred to as an MOU (memorandum of understanding), these shared services include the drug enforcement officers and the SRT team. The city decided it will consider each item separately rather than as a single agreement and felt the first step was to take care of the emergency dispatch issue. Talk on the other items outlined in the MOU will continue as needed.
New Seating Arrangement
Alderperson Steve Sauer bought to council a resolution that would create a new seating chart for the common council in hopes of helping people in the audience in identifying council members.
“I think that the seating chart has kind of devolved over many, many years, I must presume, because this is the way it was when I got here,” Sauer explained, adding, “A little bit of understanding as to whether or not their representative is speaking, who their representative is and potentially whether their representative is representing them is necessary, and it’s impossible to do so if you don’t who’s who and where they’re sitting.”
The council approved the new seating arrangement and alderpersons proceeded to their new seats after the motion carried. As viewed from the audience, district representatives from the odd-numbered districts (1, 3, 5 and 7) will now sit to the left of the city administrator, mayor and city attorney, while the even-numbered districts (2, 4, 6 and 8) will sit to the right. The order around the table (from left to right) is now as follows: Kirby (district 1), Emmer (district 3), Rog (district 5), Sauer (district 7), administrator, mayor, attorney, Rossing (district 8), Holt (district 6), Kelly (district 4), and Larson (district 2).
Official Newspaper of Record
A resolution was brought forth to change the official city newspaper of record from the River News to the Star Journal. The official newspaper of record is where the city pays to publish meeting notices, agendas and minutes.
“We do have a free newspaper that goes to every property in the city, every rental property in the city, every business in the city as opposed to a subscription paper, alderman Steve Sauer remarked, adding, “With two-thirds of the city in the poverty level, why are we charging people to see what the city council is doing when we have a free option? I think it’s our duty to provide this information to as many people as possible.”
Current city attorney Hector De La Mora responded, “One of the questions that was raised, can a shopper be a qualified newspaper? The Attorney General has rendered opinions on more than one occasion that basically have said that a municipality cannot spend money to publish the information in a shopper.”
De La Mora further explained, “I understand that some questions have been raised as to what constitutes a shopper. I’m not familiar with this particular publication, but I’m told that it carries some current news information articles. If the bulk of the information is to promote businesses and is provided primarily for that purpose, I think without further research, a reasonable conclusion would be that it is a shopper, and it would not qualify.”
De La Mora added, however, that if the city wishes to pursue this idea, further research is needed and suggested that the resolution be tabled until new attorney Steve Sorenson can research the possibility. The council then moved to table the resolution until further research can be done.
Several citizen appointments were approved at Monday’s common council meeting. Matt Wolcelka has been named as Weed Commissioner. Todd McEldowney, Sandra Bergman, Brandon Karaba, Matt Whalen and Michael Carlson have been named to the Sex Offender Restrictions Appeal Board.
The next meeting of the Rhinelander Common Council is scheduled for Monday, October 14, at 6 p.m. at Rhinelander City Hall.