by Dave DeMars
About 75 residents and students packed the Feb. 5 St. Joseph City Council meeting to ask the council to pass a resolution declaring St. Joseph “a welcoming and inclusive community.”
Raj Chaphalkar, spokesperson for Cultural Bridges and a self-identified member of the staff of St. John’s University outlined the group’s purpose saying “St. Joseph is already a welcoming and wonderful place to live.”
“We want everyone who moves into our town for any reason to feel about it the way we do,” Chaphalkar said, who spoke during the public comments portion of the meeting. “A sense of belonging, stability, love and pride that allows us to call St. Joseph our home.”
Chaphalkar said one aspect of the council’s responsibility as elected leaders of the city is to set a tone and set forth the values of the city. His address to the council did not mention specifically the white nationalist posters recently posted along the streets of St. Joseph.
“Some people might mistake silence on this point as passive acceptance of sometimes hurtful rhetoric, or they misinterpret silence as a lack of caring for safety,” said Chaphalkar. “Of course we all know that is not the truth.”
Chaphalkar acknowledged the presence of reporters in the audience, but said his group had not called the press, nor was it the group’s intention to pressure the city council in any way. He hoped rather the group’s action might be interpreted as a desire for conversation about St. Joseph as a welcoming community.
Chaphalkar presented a draft resolution as a way for the city council to affirm the values listed in the resolution. The resolution was endorsed by a dozen local groups including the Church of St. Joseph, Resurrection Lutheran Church, College of St. Benedict, St. John’s University, St. Benedict’s Monastery, Central Minnesota Catholic Worker Organization, Central Minnesota Community Empowerment Organization and others.
Eleven other speakers addressed the council, each one echoing many of the views Chaphalkar outlined. Among them was Margy Hughes, a longtime resident and member of the St. Joseph Action Group, who added it was always a goal of her group that St. Joseph become a place of destination for shopping and dining, and in order to achieve that goal, it’s important St. Joseph be welcoming. She urged the council to adopt the resolution.
Jim Graeve, a community member of 54 years also spoke in glowing terms of being welcomed by neighbors and business people, though he allowed he was not an old timer in the community because he moved into the community and was not born there.
Bill Durrwachter also was supportive of the resolution but asked it be rewritten to exclude criminal behavior.
“There are too many words that spell out all, A-L-L” Durrwachter said. “Your ideas on race, religion and nationality are all well taken, but this community cannot afford to be a welcoming community to rapists, to prostitutes, to all sorts of scum on this earth. I don’t know how you’ll rewrite it, but I do hope you do.”
Each of the 11 speakers related how they felt warmly about the community, and how St. Joseph had provided a sense of safety, and that was something desirable and worth emphasizing.
The council followed its standing policy of not passing resolutions on items brought before it during the public comments portion of the meeting. But the council did depart from the norm when council member Dale Wick commented the group coming to the council this night had started the conversation within the community. While not offering a resolution, Wick took another path.
“I want to make a motion the St. Joseph City Council recognize the actions of the groups present tonight, and their efforts to continue building a friendly, inclusive and safe community for all who live, work and visit here,” Wick said.
The motion was approved with a 5-0 vote.
With the conclusion of the public comments, the council next approved the issuance and sale of equipment certificates. Tammy Omdal of Northland Securities told the council the $265,000 of General Obligation Equipment Certificates had been placed with Grand Marais State Bank and carried a 2.5-percent interest rate. The certificates would be redeemed during the coming five years.
City Engineer Randy Sabart provided a quick update on work proceeding on the water-treatment plant. Contractors have finished coating the interior of the tanks. Things are progressing on schedule and the work should be done by the end of May.
The council received updates and information in the form of annual reports from the city administration, public works, and fire and police departments. With few comments, the council approved the reports.
The council also made changes to two ordinances. The first was to improve the public-nuisance ordinance for the removal of debris, garbage and junk by the city when the owners of the property fail to do so. The city will take necessary actions, storing the material for 20 days and charging the owners for storage. That change was approved.
The second ordinance change dealt with a fee schedule change for 27 property owners who were sewer-only users and were informed they would be required to connect to city water. Sewer fees are based on the amount of metered water used by a property. Eleven have done so, but others have not or refuse to do so. This ordinance establishes a water service fee of $24 per month to be charged to the property owners whether they choose to connect or not.
According to City Administrator Judy Weyrens, several have water service in the home, but choose not to use it, and to avoid paying for it. This provides for uniformity and fairness in the sewer charges. Council approved fee changes.
Weyrens also provided the council with a brief discussion of the Orderly Annexation Agreement in preparation for the Feb. 15 open meeting with the public.
Council approved Mayor Rick Schultz’s appointments for the various commissions and committees.
Council also approved Wick as the acting mayor when Schultz may not be available to fulfill those duties.