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C&C: News and Northfield

<ong>City Council deals with disputes at meeting

Last Tuesday night’s Northfield City Council meeting addressed two controversial council actions. The council held a closed meeting immediately before its regular scheduled public meeting to evaluate City Administrator Joel Walinski after he facilitated meetings that were accused of violating the Minnesota Open Meeting Law.  The council also went one step further toward settling the issue that spurred the possibly illegal meetings: the cessation of giving tax reimbursements to Waterford Township. They agreed to meet with Waterford Township officials at an April City Council work session to discuss how to settle their dispute over ending reimbursements.

Northfield annexed 20 acres of Waterford Township, a community on the northern end of Northfield, in 1980. As part of their annexation agreement, Northfield agreed to give an annual reimbursement payment to Waterford Township.  The city has given them about $118,000 in payments since then. On January 19, Northfield decided to end their reimbursements to Waterford after 30 years. The City Council claimed that, according to state law, it was only necessary to make payments for six years. Waterford Township attorney Mark Johnson disagrees. In a written opinion, he said that the agreement between Northfield and Waterford on reimbursements is still enforceable and has not expired under state law.

Johnson and others have accused Walinski and the City Council of breaking the Open Meeting Law. The Law prohibits having a series of council meetings that involve a decision-making process attended by less than a quorum of members. In January, Walinski met individually with members of the council to discuss ending the tax reimbursements. These one-on-one meetings were the actions accused of being illegal.

When announcing the results of their evaluation of Walinski at their public meeting, the City Council said that he had met or exceeded expectations on many different levels. Yet the council felt that there were areas of his performance that needed improvement including public relations and giving more concise information to the council earlier. The evaluation also called upon him to develop a plan for furthering professional training.  The council is expected to vote to renew Walinski’s contract at the end of March.

The council and Waterford Township leaders hope to settle their disagreements at what will likely be a series of meetings between the two groups during the coming spring and summer.

Northfield Company and County Landfill fined for pollution

In an ironic twist on the Northfield-Waterford Township disagreement, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) has fined the corporation that is now located upon the 20 acres Northfield annexed from Waterford Township. Multek Flexible Circuits and the Rice County Landfill were both fined for environment permit violations in February by the MPCA.

Multek Flexible Circuits, Inc. has its American headquarters on those 20 suddenly significant acres. Multek was fined for uneven record keeping; the MPCA found that the company was not monitoring daily pollution releases as state and federal law requires. Multek makes flexible circuit boards for automobiles, cell phones, printers, and cameras. They were fined $8,650 but had $3,900 of its fine forgiven for implementing improved record-keeping procedures.

The Rice County Landfill, located in Dundas, was fined $10,000. MPCA inspectors found seven pollution control violations when they visited last October including waste that should have been covered by a layer of soil and contaminated runoff leaking through the landfill’s lining.

Rice County Administrator Gary Weiers admitted that some problems were overlooked but he felt that the MPCA overstated some of the conditions that were considered violations.  Weiers told the Northfield News that the landfill had already worked on stopping future problems by doing actions such as building berms to stop runoff. The MPCA forgave $6,121 of the landfill’s fine after the facility corrected its violations and became in compliance with MPCA standards within thirty days.

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