Council finalizes new Water and Light  Commission eligibility

Bit by bit, piece by piece, the North Branch City Council has been working the past several months at coming up with new eligibility requirements for people wanting to serve on the new five-member Water and Light Commission. Finally, during their May 26 meeting, the final pieces of the puzzle were put into place, but not without one final adjustment.

During the construction of the ordinance, the council would look at specific points of the requirements, reaching consensus on those points until they came up with a total package that each council member may not agree on all specific requirements, but would be able to pass a vote as a whole.

For the final vote, the council was presented with two versions of the ordinance, with minor differences between them. “Version A” included the language that “no more than two members of the public utilities commission may be chosen from the city council.” It also lists when council members would be appointed to the commission.

“Version B” was silent on how many council members could be appointed to the commission, however the bill that was passed by the State Legislature and signed by Governor Walz already had a two council member limit.

The language the two versions agreed upon included “at least three members shall be a customer of either water and/or electrical services.” It also states “one of the members may be a business owner of a business that is a customer of either its water and/or electrical services even if the business owner is not a resident of the city.” Besides that one exception, all other commission members must reside in the North Branch city limits.

Each commission member will serve three-year terms. Upon appointment to this new, five-person commission, the terms will be staggered so that not all five terms will expire at the same time.

Council Member Brian Voss added one last piece to the puzzle, making the motion to go with “Version B,” but to include the language that no members of the city council be appointed to the commission.

“I feel the core point is because of the contentious history that has taken place over years or decades, that in order to create this fresh, clean start, I feel there needs to be this very sharp delineation between the council and staff and the commission,” Voss said. “Future councils might find themselves in a better position where things are less contentious and there is little confrontation.”

Voss also suggested the council could appoint a non-voting liaison to the commission so the council could have minimal input into the commission, along with having someone be the ears of the council.

Council member Kelly Neider countered Voss, stating that she felt that addendum handcuffed this and future councils in the event not enough people applied or if one of the council members would be considered to be an excellent choice for the commission.

“We might get fortunate and have something like eight applicants and we wouldn’t need to pick a council member,” Neider said. “But I think it would be unfortunate if we cut that out altogether.”

Ultimately, Voss’ motion passed 3-2 with Neider and Mayor Jim Swenson voting nay.

According to City Administrator Renae Fry, the city can call for applicants beginning the end of this week and would most likely run for three weeks. In the meantime, the council will decide how they want to vet the applicants, along with schedule a time to make a decision on their selections. Fry guesses the new committee would be able to meet the third Thursday of July

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