After a lengthy discussion at the June 9 North Branch City Council meeting, council members have established a time line for considering and appointing applicants for the open positions on the Water and Light Commission.
“The general consensus of the council at our work session two months ago was that you wanted some type of vetting process,” City Administrator Renae Fry said to council as she introduced the applicant review and selection process agenda item.
Discussions of application requirements and interviews had taken place during the work session as well, but the final decision, which is now needed, was never made, according to Fry.
Council member Brian Voss began the discussion, questioning the previous selection process.
“I’m not opposed to candidates coming up and offering their marketing pitch, promoting themselves,” Voss said. “I would offer as a question, because I’m the new man on board, what has the previous process been for the commissioner appointments for the utility?”
Fry noted in the past the council has appointed the only applicant at one point, and at another they had appointed based on a candidate’s line of allegiance with specific topics.
“I know this council has been very clear and adamant that they want a more thorough vetting process than just selecting people based on their factional alliance,” Fry said.
Agreeing there’s never been a formal process during his four years with the council, Mayor Jim Swenson encouraged the council to develop a process to ensure suitable candidates are chosen.
“In my mind the process would be pretty straight forward,” Voss said. “We’d look at them each individually, and I trust my fellow council members that we’re going to look at all of this information ahead of time so that when we get here to the meeting it’s going to be a very efficient process. I think Robert’s Rules and how we typically work with action items would serve us well.”
Noting his support for vetting applicants, Swenson discussed efficiency.
“Vetting is kind of a good way, because the council gets to see it. If we get 40 people that apply for it, then you just have to go through and get it down to who you think the best 10 candidates are and go down to that,” Swenson said.
“Even in the event we get four to seven applicants, hypothetically saying, we only get four, it doesn’t necessarily mean we need to select all four if they’re not qualified candidates,” council member Kelly Neider said, also noting she’d like to have face-to-face conversations with applicants.
“I would hate to see four people apply, and just because they can fog a mirror, we appoint them,” Neider said.
“We want to get this right and we want to get people that will serve on the commission and they have an understanding of how things work and want to work as a group,” Swenson said.
Swenson agreed with Neider’s thoughts on not appointing everyone who applies for the position.
Voss supported the idea as well and noted the ability of the council to appoint qualified applicants and reopen the applications until all open seats have been filled.
With the council consensus supporting an interview preference for candidates, Voss questioned the process to do so.
“We want it to be efficient, but we want it to be effective too,” Voss said.
Council member Kathy Bloomquist had a different idea, noting the extensive application packet and the vast amount of information required to apply for the commission.
“I don’t even know at this point if we need to interview,” Bloomquist said. “They have to answer all of these questions very distinctively, and to me, if they can do that, they are qualified.”
Council member Joel McPherson agreed with Bloomquist’s points.
Without knowing the number of potential applicants, the council continued to debate the preferred process.
“I sense that the council has an urgency to move this forward as quickly as possible,” Neider said. “I don’t think this selection should be like, just ram it through and get it done, but I sense that’s kind of the urgency that I’m feeling as a consensus.”
With a previous council suggestion of a turn around from the June 22 application deadline to a June 23 discussion on applications, Neider expressed her concern.
“I’m feeling like, oh my gosh, we’re jumping through hoops because somebody’s in a rush,” Neider said, also telling council she will make herself available no matter the final decision going forward.
“I do have a sense of urgency; as of July 1 we do not have a Water and Light Commission, so I would prefer that we could move this along,” Bloomquist said.
In response to Bloomquist, Swenson clarified the current commissioners continue their rolls until the new commissioners are sworn in.
Bloomquist then brought up past discussion regarding an agreement of commissioners extension to June 30, nothing beyond that.
Swenson noted bylaws of the commission in regards to commissioners staying in their seats until they are replaced; Fry supported Swenson’s point.
After additional conversation on timing and process of applications, the council majority agreed on a path going forward.
A motion made by Swenson setting June 23 as the date to receive application material as a council, a special meeting on June 25 for the purpose of reviewing and deciding finalists, and June 30 as a date to vet applicants, was seconded by Voss for discussion.
The motion passed 3-2 with Bloomquist and McPherson voting against.
The meetings were set for June 25 and 30 at 5:30 p.m. and will be open to the public.
“With the meeting on the 25th, if we felt we had a good group, since that is a special meeting, could that be an action item if that turns out to be the case?” Bloomquist asked.
Fry noted that wasn’t part of the motion.
In response to Bloomquist’s question, council member Voss made a motion to allow action at the June 25 meeting, which was quickly seconded by Bloomquist.
Fry objected the motion due to the fact that Bloomquist wasn’t on the prevailing side of the initial vote. Neither Neider nor Swenson seconded the motion; therefore it died.