Princeton Mayor Brad Schumacher didn’t take a business-as-usual approach to board and commission appointments during the Princeton City Council’s Jan. 10 meeting.
Normally, annual appointments aren’t controversial items. The annual action occurs during the council’s initial meeting of the new year and take little agenda time to complete.
However, when the council reached the liaison appointment for the Princeton Utilities Commission during last Thursday’s meeting, the discussion became interesting when Schumacher suggested he replace Councilor Jack Edmonds as the PUC liaison.
“This is held by Jack. I will take that,” Schumacher said, referring to the PUC liaison position.
The Princeton Public Utilities Commission is an independent board. Its members are appointed for three-year staggered terms by the council and it is responsible for the operation of the city’s water and electric systems.
The PUC meets at 1 p.m. on the fourth Wednesday of each month at the PUC offices and is staffed by General Manager Connie Wangen.
During the 2018 Princeton mayoral campaign, Schumacher stated in a campaign questionnaire response that he advocated changing the structure of the Princeton Public Utilities by increasing the size of the PUC board from three members to five.
Schumacher also mentioned in the questionnaire response, by way of example, that Elk River Mayor John Dietz is that city’s utilities board chairman.
“This arrangement is very successful in controlling spending by allowing the people of Elk River to control leadership through the general election,” Schumacher wrote.
After a long, silent pause during last Thursday’s Princeton City Council meeting, Councilor Jules Zimmer said he wanted to hear what Edmonds had to say about Schumacher replacing him as PUC liaison.
“I would like very much to stay on that commission,” Edmonds said. “We are at a stage right now where we need to promote our PUC because of the value it has within our community. Having a good, strong relationship on the city council side is very important. I definitely wish to stay on.”
Zimmer said the PUC has been satisfied with the liaison relationship that’s been provided since Edmonds has held the post.
Edmonds’ response and Zimmer’s follow-up didn’t satisfy Schumacher.
Schumacher begged to differ, stating that the PUC meeting minutes from 2018 were not
present and there were no copies of meeting agendas at city hall for the last 12 months that the PUC had met.
Edmonds said there were minutes available. Schumacher replied, “We don’t have them up here [at the city council level].”
Edmonds said the PUC meeting materials could be supplied to the council as needed.
“I’m sure they could be brought here,” he said. “It’s never been brought to my attention that they [the meeting minutes and agendas] have to be included in our meeting packet or presented to administration. So I can’t imagine Connie [Wangen] objecting to that.”
Schumacher said that he wasn’t allowed by city staff to have the meeting minutes and agendas from Princeton Public Utilities.
“For some magic reason, they are not being given to the city council,” Schumacher said.
Edmonds replied: “I don’t know if that’s the case or not. I would not have brought them to a meeting; the city administrator would probably send them over here.”
Schumacher said: “They don’t exist here at city hall. That’s what I’m saying.”
Edmonds replied, “They may exist at the PUC.”
Councilor Jenny Gerold asked if there were meeting minutes from other Princeton advisory boards. Schumacher replied, “Yes, they are in our packet.”
Edmonds explained that the PUC is an independent operation. The city council appoints the governing board of the PUC.
“They are not a function of, nor does the City Council hold any jurisdiction over PUC operations,” Edmonds said. “Our only input with the PUC is we appoint the governing board, the directors, and from that point on, they operate the PUC.”
The role of the liaison is to keep good relations between the PUC and the city, Edmonds added.
“Actually,” he replied, “We are trustees on the audit for the PUC, so [the City Council] is more than just a governing board. We select the people who go on the PUC. I’m saying that I want to be the liaison to this board so I can bring back meeting minutes and agendas of all the things that are happening that will affect every single resident in the city of Princeton.”
Edmonds said he was “very capable” of doing that.
“It think this up to the rest of the council,” he said. “Whatever needs to be done, will be done, but the public utility has been operating for 100 years.”
Schumacher continued to drive home his point about the meeting minutes and agendas.
“Where are they?” he asked. “The city administrator doesn’t have them.”
Schumacher used an example from his Baldwin Township Board days to further discussion.
“When Baldwin Township Board Supervisor Larry Handshoe leaves this meeting tonight, he’s going down to Baldwin Township and bring the meeting minutes and agenda from Princeton City Hall. That’s what he does as a liaison there. When you go to a different council, you bring information, especially for something that affects every single resident and every business in Princeton.”
Edmonds said bringing the meeting minutes and agendas forward to the city council has not been done during the 100 years that Princeton Public Utilities has been in existence.
Schumacher contended that the meeting minutes and agendas were being hidden from the public. “Until right now, in 2019,” he said.
Edmonds said the documents had not been hidden from anyone: “They are public knowledge.” Schumacher still wanted to know where the meeting agendas and minutes were located.
Zimmer said to Schumacher, “If you’re going to fault Councilor Edmonds, they you have to fault me and the rest of the council because we’ve never requested them. If you are requesting them, then they will be provided by the PUC.”
Zimmer said he didn’t see any reason to remove Edmonds as PUC liaison to the Princeton City Council.
City Administrator Robert Barbian said he has been attending most of the PUC regular meetings, and at those meetings, he obtained agendas. “Those include the minutes,” Barbian said. “To be honest, over the last 10 months, I have chosen not to save them. That’s what I know from the 10 months that I’ve been here.”
Barbian said he didn’t believe that there were historical PUC meeting minutes kept at City Hall.
After Barbian’s comment, Schumacher conceded his point and said that the council’s PUC liaison would be Edmonds.
Edmonds’ appointment as the PUC liaison was made official after council members approved the remaining slate of liaison appointments, which included the following:
—Planning Commission: Councilor Jeff Reynolds.
—Park Board: Councilor Jules Zimmer.
—Airport Advisory Board: Mayor Brad Schumacher.
—Economic Development Authority: Councilor Jules Zimmer and Mayor Brad Schumacher.
—Fire Advisory Board: Councilor Jules Zimmer and Councilor Jenny Gerold.
—Housing and Redevelopment Authority: Mayor Brad Schumacher.
—Tree Board: Councilor Jeff Reynolds.
—Cable Commission: Mayor Brad Schumacher.
—Mille Lacs County Historical Society: Councilor Jack Edmonds.
—ECRDC Board: Mayor Brad Schumacher and Councilor Jack Edmonds.
—Chamber of Commerce: Councilor Jenny Gerold and Councilor Jules Zimmer.