Citizen input turns Greenwood Town Board meeting into marathon session

TUESDAY, MAY 10, 2016 — The Greenwood Township Board of Supervisors conducted its regular meeting Tuesday, May 10, over a tedious three hours and forty-six minutes. The regular group of about 50 to 60 citizens, which has typically filled the town hall in recent years, was in attendance and again dominated the meeting. They spoke their minds during the time on the agenda set aside for public comments and continued giving their input on every item on the agenda. The board was yelled at, jeered, mocked, and peppered with accusations. Even seasoned professional politicians would be rattled working in this hostile atmosphere.

To be fair, the entire group of 50 or so citizens rarely speaks directly to the board, choosing instead to be served by five or six vocal individuals who seem to be convinced they are the camarilla. The crowd, however, augments their vitriol — laughing, talking, jeering and the noise is often disruptive causing the agenda to be dealt with at an excruciatingly slow pace. It is obviously difficult for the board to remain focused and it has to be a nightmare for the clerk to keep track of what actions the board takes.

These are the conditions under which Greenwood Township Board Chairman Rick Worringer called the meeting to order. Copies of meeting minutes from the April 12 regular board meeting of Township Supervisors, the April 12 public hearing on the Comprehensive Plan and the May 5 Board of Appeal and Equalization were presented to the board by Township Clerk Sue Drobac. No one on the board of supervisors made comment on any of the three sets of minutes presented, however Worringer noted that the board was implementing a new policy which will now have the chairman sign the minutes along with the traditional signature of the township clerk.

Supervisor Carmen DeLuca motioned, with support from Supervisor John Milbridge, to approve the April 12 regular board meeting minutes. The motion passed with unanimous vote. Supervisor Dr. John Bassing moved to approve the minutes of the Comprehensive Plan public hearing, with Milbridge providing support, and the motion passed unanimously. DeLuca made a motion to approve the minutes of the Board of Appeal and Equalization. Bassing supported the motion, with himself, Supervisors Gene Baland, DeLuca and Worringer casting their votes in favor of the motion. Milbridge abstained from voting on the motion which passed.

Turning to the township’s financials, confusion ensued over paying claims and fixed bills. Treasurer Delores Clark reported that the township’s checking account balance was $620,512.12, long term investments balance was $251,198.66 and savings account balance was $310,015.59, for a total of $1,181,726.37. Supervisor Bassing moved, and Supervisor Baland supported, to accept the treasurer’s report on the bank balances. This motion passed with a unanimous vote.

However, the board became mired when it turned to paying its bills. First it became apparent that the list of claims presented to the board was incomplete. Clerk Drobac read the claims recorded on April 22, totaling $99.40, and claims recorded on May 10 totaling $26,389.19. Sometime while preparing the lists of claims for the town board those recorded on May 3 became misplaced. Treasurer Clark brought this to the attention of Drobac and the board. Chairman Worringer recessed the meeting allowing the clerk and treasurer time to look for the missing paperwork in the township’s offices.

When the clerk and treasurer returned, the meeting was reconvened, and because they had not been able to locate the missing claims, the board decided to approve the claims now on the table and take up the matter of the missing claims at the next meeting. Proceeding, Supervisor Milbridge made a motion to approve paying the claims as recorded on April 22 and those recorded May 10. Discussing the motion Supervisor Bassing said that he had several questions regarding the bill from the township’s (former) law firm, Hanft Fride, of Duluth. The law bill totaled $5,190.32, which included attorney Tim Strom traveling to Greenwood and the time he spent at the township’s reorganization meeting.

Supervisor Bassing questioned specific charges for activity resulting from a March 1 phone call from (then) Township Clerk Ellen Trancheff; a March 7 email regarding election law; and phone calls between the law firm and (then) Supervisor (now Chairman) Worringer and Planning and Zoning Director Julia Maki on March 18 and another phone call by Worringer on March 23.

“Under what authority does Ms. Maki and Supervisor Worringer have to contact the attorney?” Supervisor Bassing questioned.

“I assume she called about protecting the security of her files,” Chairman Worringer answered. He went on to explain that he was not sure if he called the attorney, or answered the attorney’s call. Worringer, however, accepted responsibility for talking to the attorney and said that he was out of line since board policy did not afford the supervisors the right to contact the attorney.

Supervisor Bassing was not appeased by the answers he was given and showed his hand. “What accountability is there here?” Bassing questioned. “I took a lot of heat on an email question when I was just trying to keep the township out of a lawsuit — on the planning survey.”

March 18 was the day when Supervisor Deluca and Clerk Drobac demanded to be sworn in a week before the Township’s scheduled reorganization meeting. Supervisors Bassing and DeLuca then demanded immediate access to all township files and took it upon themselves to call a locksmith and computer technician to help them gain access in spite of the fact that they did not have any board authority to do so and only represented two-fifths (less than a quorum) of the board. They were not conducting township business at a meeting. They proceeded in spite of the fact that (then) Vice-chairman Baland instructed them, via telephone, to “not break into any offices.” Worringer and Maki had talked to the attorney in an attempt to mitigate any potential problems which could leave Greenwood open to litigation. While it is certain that Planning Director Maki, and (then) Supervisor Worringer contacted the township’s attorney contrary to written board policy, they did so in response to Bassing and DeLuca operating without full board authority.

Supervisor Baland said that he was vice-chairman on March 18 and that he would take responsibility for the phone calls.

“Show me some indignation then, like you did for me,” Supervisor Bassing demanded.

“Okay,” Supervisor Baland answered, “Is that enough?” Superisor Bassing agreed that it was enough.

Supervisor Milbridge withdrew his motion to pay the claims, and Supervisor Baland withdrew his support. Supervisor DeLuca moved to pay all the claims, except the one from Hanft Fride, and to write the attorney seeking a more exact accounting of the firm’s charges. Supervisor Bassing supported the motion which passed with all voting in favor of the motion.

The town board spent one hour and forty-five minutes approving the previous meeting minutes, listening to township residents’ public comments, approving the bank balances and sorting out the townships bills before it could turn its attention to the other items on the agenda.

Returning to old business remaining on the agenda from the township’s last meeting, Supervisor Bassing informed the board that he had reviewed the past four years of the fire fighters and emergency medical technicians (EMT) paid on call payments and that he had many concerns about the payments. Bassing reported that people were being double paid, for working at events at Fortune Bay and for fire department or EMS calls which took place during the event. He also cited instances of firefighters being paid on call for more than the 24 department meetings and training events permitted in the township guidelines approved by the town board in April 2010. Bassing did not cite any specific examples of the discrepancies he found, but noted that the board had a fiduciary responsibility to account for the paid on call payments.

Supervisor Bassing motioned to hire an accountant to “conduct a limited procedure review of expenses.” Supervisor DeLuca supported the motion and in discussion asked, “are we going to go after recovery?” (if any improprieties are found). Chairman Worringer said that he agreed that the matter needed to be looked into, but suggested that the township adhere to the paid on call policies going forward, instead of conducting a paid outside review. He also noted that he serves on the fire department.

Calling for a vote, the motion passed with Supervisors Bassing and DeLuca, and Chairman Worringer voting in favor of the motion, and Supervisors Baland and Milbridge voting against.

Past board practice has been to allow board members to perform paid work for the township provided the board approve the work relationship by resolution annually. Three years ago, before he served on the town board as a supervisor, and now chairman, Rick Worringer was appointed to be the assistant to Maintenance Director Pat Trancheff. This part-time position is only utilized occasionally when the work at hand requires an additional person, or should illness or vacation days require someone to fill in for Trancheff. The town board first considered the resolution at its March reorganization meeting but it was tabled then, and again tabled at the April meeting of the board. The issue was again on the agenda, but failed to garner enough support to be adopted. A motion was made to approve the resolution, but with Worringer abstaining it failed in a tie vote with Supervisors Bassing and Deluca voting against approval and Supervisors Baland and Milbridge voting in favor of the resolution. The lack of approval keeps Worringer from being paid for work he has already performed and could cause future legal problems for the township.

Chairman Worringer reported that he and Supervisor Baland had interviewed all applicants for the Planning and Zoning Commission and that they individually came to the same recommendations. Worringer nominated Ellen Trancheff and Dan Carnicom to serve on the Planning and Zoning Commission and Marcy Moe to serve on the Board of Adjustments.

Supervisor Bassing objected to the nomination of Trancheff, noting that policy prohibited more than one township official or employee from serving on either board, and that Supervisor Baland already served on Planning and Zoning. Trancheff is an employee of the township serving as 911 coordinator. Chairman Worringer then said that he would conduct interviews again, and come with his suggestion to the June board meeting. Both Mary Richard and Barb Lofquist were at this meeting, and had been interviewed to serve on the Planning and Zoning Commission. Lofquist suggested that they might immediately solve the problem if they drew names out of a hat. Richard agreed that this idea was suitable to her. A drawing was quickly held with Lofquist being chosen. Unanimous approval was given by the board to the three appointees. Carnicom and Lofquist will serve on Planning and Zoning and Moe will serve on the Board of Adjustments.

The town board learned about the pros and cons of installing a wireless (internet) based fire alarm system in the fire hall and town hall. Brandon Peterson, Electric Scientific Co., appeared before the board to outline the services his company could provide the township during an interesting presentation. The town board took the information under advisement.

Reviewing the township’s correspondence, the town board:

• Approved donating $100 to the St. Louis County Fair to help pay for its 2016 event

• Learned that Gruben Holdings, LLC (Gruben’s Marina) would charge the township $250 a month, $1750 for the season (until November), for docking of fire boat No. 1 and that there would be no charge for the temporary docking of fire boat No. 2

• Approved keeping the fee the township charges for providing St. Louis County fire protection for unorganized township 63-15 at the previous rate of $8,000 per year. Township 63-15 comprises a large section of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, but also includes several developed properties on Mud Creek Road, north of Breitung Township

• Acknowledged the receipt of a letter from Dave Parrucci noting that he was unhappy that a recent Planning and Zoning Commission meeting had been canceled and that he had not received any communication from the township treasurer regarding his concerns about an audit of the township’s 2015 financial records

• Discussed implementing the financial procedures outlined in a letter from Irene Bright and her concerns over keeping separate the responsibilities of the clerk and treasurer in handling the township’s financial records. Bright’s recommended suggestions will move a great deal of responsibility to the clerk from the treasurer.

In other action, the town board:

• Updated township policies with tedious line item by line item votes. The vote for each individual policy was called for as individual motions by Supervisor Bassing when he was unable to find support for the entire list of policies he had drafted

• Approved paying for election training for the township clerk

• Approved repairing a culvert on the township hiking and bike trail

• Approved repairing a pothole on the Birch Point Road extension. The township is not responsible for the majority of township roads, but is responsible for this section of the Birch Point Road

• Approved donating $500 to the Joint Power Recreation Board, which provides money for youth recreational activities for Tower-Soudan area youth

• Passed a resolution accepting $6,500, a barbecue pit and picnic tables from the Greenwood Community Recreation Board for the pavilion project currently being constructed at the town hall

• Approved changing the proposed bronze appreciation plaque to a granite monument acknowledging donations to the pavilion project. It is expected the monument will cost about one-half the amount of the plaque

• Approved a motion appointing Supervisors Bassing and DeLuca, Larry Tahjia and Mark Drobac to the Fire Department committee investigating fire alarm systems for the fire hall and town hall. They will join Fire Chief Dave Fazio, along with firefighters Pat Trancheff, Jet Galonski and Ed Borchardt who already have been serving the township in this capacity

• Acknowledged the receipt of the Lake Vermilion area lodging tax report

• Received reports from the Planning and Zoning Director, Safety Director, Fire Department Chief, 911 Coordinator, Maintenance Director and Township Clerk

• Unanimously passed a resolution to accept a $15,000 donation from The Bois Forte Band of Minnesota Chippewa

• Approved the expenditure of funds to promote township fire safety through subsiding a portion of the costs for residents to purchase a fire extinguisher at a township wide training event to be held on June 21. Firefighter Ed Borchardt informed the board that this fire extinguisher training is an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requirement for all township employees and he encouraged the township to have all its employees attend.