After covering four or more city council meetings a month for several years now, I will admit that sometimes these meetings can get a little mundane. While it’s a given that a majority of the time one or more agenda topics will be worth reporting on in our paper (i.e. ordinance changes, budgetary items or other general policy-making), I think I can safely say that there are at least equal, if not more, parts of these meetings that can be glossed over and not given a second thought – not only by us reporters, but by the general public as well.
When looking at an agenda ahead of going to the meeting, usually I can predict which topics will fall into the newsworthy category and which ones I will admittedly be tempted to glance at emails, messages or yes, even social media, knowing that I am recording all of it on my own recorder, so I can closely listen to the whole meeting afterwards if I need.
But every once in a while, some agenda topic will surprise me and raise my interest. And what’s more, these topics may not be really newsworthy because they don’t directly impact a majority of the population, but they become so simply because it gives a glimpse into the thoughts of the council members.
So far in 2020, two such topics have come up. The first was at the Cambridge city council meeting. In short, the council was asked to deem a house that had been damaged in a fire a while ago a nuisance and to possibly proceed with the city initiating the demolition of the building. However, there were extenuating circumstances (the house had gone through a foreclosure sale before the fire) that made this decision not as cut-and-dried. (For the full story, see our Jan. 9 edition of the Isanti County Star).
The second topic was at the North Branch city council meeting, where a resident came before the council to ask for forgiveness or at least leniency on a fee he was assessed for failing to clear snow from the public sidewalk on the side of his house. Again, there were extenuating circumstances involved that the council had to consider. (For the full story, see our Jan. 16 edition of the Chisago County Star).
City councils in general receive criticism for being “power-hungry,” or “only interested in spending money,” or even just in general “not listening to their constituents.” But these two instances certainly go against those complaints.
It was interesting listening as the council members weighed the pros and cons, along with possible future implications of their decisions. These two topics were perfect examples of councils having to balance an individuals’ desires with the interests of the public as a whole.
Equally interesting were the outside-the-box conclusions they reached – conclusions that I think they should be commended in accomplishing that balance.
Sure, no person (or council) is perfect, and we won’t always agree with their actions. But I think these two examples show that they do take their positions seriously and that the system might not be as broken as some make it out to be.
BILL STICKELS III is editor of the Isanti-Chisago County Star. He can be reached at 763-689-1181 ext. 107 or firstname.lastname@example.org.