by Mike Knaak
Ways to open up city government and encourage more citizen participation were the focus of the June 1 St. Joseph City Council meeting.
Members approved one new service but postponed a decision on a second plan so they could do more research.
The council unanimously approved paying $7,000 a year for budgeting software that will provide citizens with a web-based method to dig into the details of the city budget. Instead of just seeing numbers, the software, produced by ClearGov, will offer more detailed descriptions, charts and data to compare similar cities. Department heads will be able to update budget narratives and department goals.
Council member Bob Loso asked if the administration would be able to monitor usage. Just like the rest of the city website, traffic can be tracked.
The annual fee includes training and software upgrades. The money will come from the administration’s capital budget. The new service should be running in two to four weeks.
The council postponed a decision on a second proposal that would allow remote video participation in meetings for council members and the public.
There’s a greater need for remote access by council members and the public to follow social distancing guidelines. Local governments across the state are looking for ways to comply with open meeting laws during the public health crisis. Beyond the current social-distancing challenges, council members favored options for citizens to participate in meetings without attending in person, but were not ready to pick a solution.
Mayor Rick Schultz said he favored some method for remote meetings, but he wants to investigate other options and see what other cities are doing before approving a specific plan.
The $7,200 proposal also included adding a microphone and other electronics to another council table workstation. The council approved that expense but propositioned a decision on the remote video conferencing equipment.
The council agreed to extend for one month at a cost of $1,000 the contract with its legislative lobbyist.
St. Joseph’s two bonding requests, for the Community Center and East Park, could be part of a bonding bill when the legislature returns for an expected special session later this month.
Public Works Director Terry Thene reported picnic tables have been delivered to restaurants and bars to provide outdoor seating following easing of Covid-19 restrictions. Thene said the College of St. Benedict and St. Benedict’s Monastery contributed some tables to the effort.
Two projects, paving in the industrial park and Millstream Park parking lot, are on schedule.
The City Council’s next meeting is 6 p.m. Wednesday, June 15.