City council will receive VCRC's report Monday by David Lias The Vermillion City Council will receive a report Monday compiled from input gathered in a meeting that lasted nearly three hours Jan. 12 at the William J. Radigan Fire and EMS Facility.
The forum, facilitated by the Vermillion Conflict Resolution Center, was designed to engage a public dialogue regarding the controversial city hall issue that has gripped the community for months now.
The Vermillion City Council passed a resolution last fall to replace the current city hall with the purchase of the Community First Bank building for $1.1 million, and setting aside up to an additional $1 million for remodeling.
The resolution was referred to a public vote and failed by a wide margin.
City hall wasn't the only topic of discussion Monday. VCRC chairman Mark Cullen and Dr. Richard Braunstein, the organization's president, began the meeting by leading talks about the dynamics of challenging public decisions.
Braunstein said a basic theory of conflict resolution states that no solutions to controversy are possible until procedural, psychological and substantive interests have been met.
"Our agenda here tonight includes making this theory practical," he said. Braunstein told the 70 people who crowded into the fire hall's meeting room that they wanted to talk about procedural concerns, including how decisions are made in the city.
Free and frank discussion
"We want to hear your substantive concerns about the actual relocation or renovation project, and we want to hear your psychological concerns � things that might be lingering from past decisions perhaps related or unrelated to this issue," he said. "We want a free and frank discussion of all the things that might be related."
Monday's meeting began as an official city council meeting, but the VCRC was in charge of conducting the forum as a neutral third party.
The goal was not to hinder anyone who wanted to give input, and judging from the content of some of the comments, people didn't feel deterred at the forum.
Citizens told the VCRC staff members that fair, honest and
Continued on page 8A
open communications, integrity and respect of citizens' input are factors that influence the quality of government and citizen relations.
"I think the tail not wagging the dog is one," a woman told the facilitators. "We've got a small group of people making decisions with no communication with those who voted them into office."
"The integrity concern to me means when you give figures on a project, compare apples to apples," Lynette Melby said. "If the mayor would present facts accurately instead of spinning them � I guess that's what I mean by integrity."
Another important factor, according to Matt Fairholm, is respect for persons elected to office as part of the democratic process. "I think that's part of a healthy respect of democracy," he said.
Casey Davidson told Braunstein that he's concerned about unexpected surprises that often seem to occur as the city council addresses issues.
Judy Clark suggested that procedures should always be in writing.
Complaints about noon meetings
"I know there's a lot of grumblings about the noon meetings held before the evening meetings," Lynette Melby said. "Also, the number of executive sessions. I think I speak for a lot of the public that there is a lot of unhappiness about that."
Technically, decisions aren't made behind closed doors when the city council meets in executive session. But the discussions leading to those decisions are kept from the public in those instances, and that leads to mistrust, she said.
Citizens suggested that if the noon meetings continue, they at least should be televised.
"I'd like to see the city do away with the noon meetings," Lynette Melby said. "I actually think those noon meetings are causing way more controversy and mistrust in local government than what they are worth for the ease of the mayor and a few councilmen."
"I appreciate the notion of having more efficient evening meetings and having decisions made every two weeks instead of just talking about things," Fairholm said. "In some ways, I think the noon meetings are beneficial in moving things forward in the city, so I'm not necessarily opposed to them."
"It allows the city to ask staff for further information when needed, if possible," Alderman Drake Olson said. "For certain issues, we are able to look at what's going on and have access to all of the information we need. At 7 o'clock just before the meeting, it would be too late to acquire all of that."
Mayor Roger Kozak said the city council could adopt a practice of the Yankton City Commission, which holds a work session every other week at 5:30 p.m. to meet with citizens and discuss upcoming business.
"Meeting a little bit before the actual council meeting every other week might be a good compromise," Neil Melby said.
Pros and cons
After lengthy and often critical discussions on city council procedures, the VCRC staff asked citizens to present pros and cons for the city hall issue.
Several people said the proposed purchase of the bank building to transform it into a city hall isn't necessary. Many people noted that the current city hall could be renovated to meet current needs.
Lynette Melby said the city would be stuck with two buildings � the old city hall and the bank building � if its plans to purchase the bank were successful.
"We need to avoid the expense of carrying two buildings, because the city would have two buildings on its hands," she said.
Clark noted that renovation of city hall could be more expensive than the bank purchase proposal or new construction.
"The problem is we don't have the facts to say one way or the the other, yet," she said.
"First impressions are extremely important," a man in the audience noted as he pointed out the poor esthetic quality of city hall, built originally as a power plant before 1920. "And you're going to say 'that never happens.' That is a crock of crap ? people need to see that buildings look presentable."
Kozak noted that engineers have studied city hall and concluded it can't be renovated for a lesser cost than building a new structure. "You would be throwing good dollars after bad if you stayed in the present location and tried to make it acceptable and functional and efficient to provide services to the citizens," he said.
"The existing city hall is not worth renovating," said former City Engineer Joe Gillen, who worked in the structure for many years. "The existing building is not well arranged for an office building. It didn't start out as an office building. Walls, stairways and other rooms are not in the right place.
"You've got walls in there that are in the way to renovate," Gillen said, including a large concrete vault. "The ceilings and floors are wood frame construction, and the construction is not fire resistant."
Not everyone agreed, however, that renovation shouldn't be considered.
"Amazing things can be done with renovation," said Pam Ward. "You can restructure the layout. You can improve the look of the building."