Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Bethany Helwig
Moose Lake Star-Gazette 

Heated debate erupts during Sturgeon Lake City Council meeting


February 21, 2019

During Sturgeon’s Lake regular city council meeting, Councilor Rick Lewis raised questions about the work being done by city worker Scott Helfman and appropriate pay for his efforts.

The issue was raised when discussing the need for a building and zoning administrator to deal with the issuance and enforcement of building permits. City worker Helfman commented “we don’t have a lot of teeth in our ordinance” to deal with non-compliant citizens and he didn't have time to deal with it himself. The council decided to keep things as they are for the time being.

Councilor Lewis brought into question why Helfman would be too busy to deal with the building permits. He compared the time it takes other cities, such as Moose Lake, to check on the water and sewer systems and the time it takes Helfman.

"I don't know what you're doing on a daily basis," said Councilor Lewis of city employee Helfman. "Let's say it takes two hours for you to check on everything. Then the other six hours of the day, I don't know what's going on. What is keeping you so busy?"

Helfman has been a public works employee for the City for over 20 years and performs maintenance on the water and sewer system as well as handling emergency repairs for the City. Councilor Marsha Helfman said, “He's really the go-to. Anything that's not city hall related, that's Scott. We’re really small so he wears many, many hats.”

"I think what Rick is saying is, you know, maybe it's an accountability to this," said Mayor Danelski.

City worker Helfman stated he does keep track of his time, which led to Councilor Lewis asking where he punches in a time card.

Councilor Helfman said, "It's the same thing as our clerk and our treasurer. They don't necessarily report to anyone. [...] We take them at their word."

"Don't you think, as a city, as a government, shouldn't people punch a timeclock?" Councilor Lewis said.

Councilor Helfman stated that they were super fortunate to get the services they do with how little is offered to city employees, comparing what Moose Lake pays their employees. Councilor Lewis countered that Moose Lake has much more to maintain and Sturgeon Lake doesn't have any money to pay what they currently do.

City employee Helfman went on to say that he had been contacted by John Mikrot, who works on other local systems, stating Councilor Lewis wanted a bid on what it would take to do Helfman's job and asking if Helfman had quit. Councilor Lewis denied this, stating he was researching what employees are paid in other cities. He said he spoke to Phil Entner of Moose Lake as well about his responsibilities and what he's paid. Lewis wanted to know, if they had the equipment, if Helfman could do the same work instead of hiring out certain duties.

"I'm not saying that you don't do anything," said Councilor Lewis. "I'm just trying to figure out how can we save money and make things more efficient for everyone."

"That's what I've been trying to do for the last three weeks," said Helfman, and added that two other people had volunteered to help with the frozen sewer ponds.

Councilor Lewis said he'd volunteer to help with any additional tasks, such as snow plowing, if they need it. "I'm not trying to get you fired. That is not my plan. I'm trying to find a way to save the city money. I hope you're not upset with me­. You probably are."

Mayor Danelski eventually asked, "Are you two going to be able to work together as zoning?"

Helfman said they would make it work and added, "I volunteer so much for the city that I don't write down time for.”

Councilor Jessica Langhorst jumped in stating how helpful Helfman is during emergency situations in the city, such as when the power went out in the middle of the night.

Councilor Adam Langhorst interjected that he supported the use of a timeclock as a matter of assurance and oversight of city employees. Councilor Helfman brought up the issue of a timeclock being problematic when an emergency comes up and if employees are expected to punch in before addressing said emergency. Mayor Danelski suggested city employee Helfman go back onto salary in order to make the timeclock unnecessary. "The budget has already been set for this year and everything so I really don't see anything like that changing."

Councilor Lewis wanted to see job descriptions for everyone as there were discrepancies about who does what. He also brought up Treasurer Kathy Lake’s irregular hours and that her schedule has been questioned. "The question I have, why does it matter as long as her works getting done?"

City worker Helfman said in response, "So you just went through that with me on being accountable ... keep going."

Treasurer Kathy Lake said she's never had a set schedule, "but then Marsha wanted a set schedule from me. I don't have one. I have a lot of issues going on. I come in when I can."

"I never said Kathy had to have a set schedule," said Councilor Helfman.

The treasurer said a set schedule was demanded and if she deviated from it, she had to have it okayed by the councilor.

Councilor Helfman said she originally thought Lake had a set schedule and she wanted to know what it was so she could hold the employees accountable. Helfman then wanted to meet with Lake and stated Lake never did.

"Because I have been going through my mother's death!" said Treasurer Lake.

Lake left the council chambers shortly after.

Mayor Danelski said, "No resolution was made for you to be the [...] personnel director. That was a suggestion. That wasn't passed."

"The thing is, you guys had asked me to step in and do that at the last meeting," said Council Helfman.

"You­—no. I know what happend at the last meeting. I was here!" said Mayor Danelski.

Heated words continued to be exchanged and Councilor Adam Langhorst eventually called for a five-minute recess for the council to collect themselves before continuing the meeting.

Councilor Adam Langhorst informed the council that their funding may potentially fall $10,000 short if the legislature does not pass the small cities assistance from the state for roads for 2019.

Problems with snow plowing and snow removal at intersections in the City was brought up by Councilor Jessica Langhorst. The council discussed finding a new contractor for road maintenance who is both insured and has the proper equipment.

The council discussed the upcoming census and possible training they could participate in to better inform community members of the process. Councilor Helfman pointed out that the census is important because if they end up having a population of over 500, the city can receive additional funding. Census workers will most likely begin appearing this summer to begin pre-census information gathering.

Fire Chief Mike Mikrot gave his monthly report for the fire department. They had dealt with only a couple medical calls and no fires. A resolution was passed to make repairs on two of the fire engines and a first responder vehicle.

Two issues were brought forward by members of the public. One citizen wanted to report on a possible trespass issue where snow is being pushed onto his property and also tearing up the sod. Secondly, the issue of new lighting for the fire hall was brought up as only a single light is currently working in the hall. Both matters were tabled until further investigation could be completed.

Councilor Adam Langhorst proposed putting City funds into a League of Minnesota Cities municipal fund money market account with the potential of double the return of their current account. After discussing the associated risks as well, the council passed a resolution to apply for a membership application and potentially put only certain funds into the account.

Various city positions were appointed to council members from cemetery director to road commissioner. Three new positions were created: Councilor Lewis was appointed public works commissioner, Councilors Lewis and Helfman as the personnel committee, and Councilor Adam Langhorst as the finance commissioner.

Mayor Danelski proposed possibly adding a maintenance fee for burial plots at the cemetery to help offset costs. City worker Helfman inquired about paid time off. Councilor Adam Langhorst suggested they not make any budget changes until they know if they will receive the $10,000 of funding in question from the State.

In other business, the standing assessment agreement with Pine County was passed.

The council agreed to give a $100 donation to the Moose Lake Historical Society along with a letter of support for funding the society is seeking.

A motion was passed to apply for a procurement card for the City, which would allow them to purchase QuickBooks.

A contract for legal service with Ledin Hofstad & Troth, Ltd., was reviewed but tabled until further research on comparable legal services could be done.


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