Despite the drizzly weather, more than two dozen people filled the Hokah City Council meeting room Tuesday night to weigh in on a school building issue that threatens to polarize the community.
Dissatisfaction over the Council’s plans to move the city offices into a building that some claim was acquired without proper procedure led to more rancor throughout the evening, causing Mayor Mike Walsh to threaten ejection for “anybody who gets out of hand.”
City Administrator Rod Blank opened the discussion, announcing the Building Committee’s decision to retain the library in its current location. Blank then cited what he believed to be some of the positives of the school building including off-street parking, handicapped accessibility and a commercial kitchen for people renting the facility for events. He also indicated that the building has caught the interest of potential renters.
“People are mad at me, but we do need to do something with the building,” Blank said. “My thoughts are to move the offices and sell the 102 Main St. building.”
Immediately, one citizen insisted that the issue should be put to a community vote. Another worried that the purchase of the school building violated the Hokah Comprehensive Plan formed in 1978.
Others feared that expenses would become a burden for the city, while some said not enough information had been gathered to determine a move or dialog with rentals.
“I know we can rent it out,” said Jerry Martell, “But you can’t rent a building when you’ve still got, ‘Sell the School’ signs scattered all over town.”
Citizen Ben Spanjers argued at length for unity. “Instead of hammering on these people who want to make changes, people should work together and get renters,” he said. “Progress happens. We need to work together. Why can’t we make this a positive?”
Spanjers added, “This is just a bump in the road – let’s move on.”
Librarian Shari Carlson felt that the divide had gone too far and urged the Council to seek help. She said that under the League of Minnesota Cities, Hokah could access the Bureau of Mediation. “These are services that provide conflict resolution,” Carlson said. “Personalities and histories are getting in the way. I think it would be wise for them to help us move beyond this and move forward.”
“This is not going to be healed by us coming to these meetings,” she added. Walsh asked for information, saying he would look into it.
Despite the opposition, the Council passed a resolution directing the Building Committee to develop a plan for the building as well as create a form for potential renters. Information regarding the next Building Committee will be posted at the Post Office, Fire Department and City Hall.
In Other Business
The Council authorized about $11,300 for street repairs at Seventh and Cedar. Council member Don Bissen objected, saying repairs could be made for about $1,000 by patching with hot mix, but Chris Oliver voiced concern that irregularities would create snow removal problems. The motion carried 3 to 1.
The Council also announced the results of last month’s closed session. Eric Leitzen was placed on permanent employee status and Chris Oliver was given the title, Public Works director.
Carlson announced that memoir writing classes will be held Oct. 10 and 17 at the library. She also said a Haunted Halloween is planned at Hokah City Hall.
The next Hokah City Council meeting is Nov. 8.