October 25, 2021 City Commission Vote Explanations

Here are my vote explanations for the City Commission meeting on Monday, October 25, 2021. You can watch the meeting video on the City of Marquette YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U1k-p0KJxUo. As always, please feel free to reach out with any questions or concerns at ebonsall@marquettemi.gov or (906) 236-0247 (my personal cell number). Without further ado, here we go…

Approve City Supervisors’ Contract: YES (Passed 7-0)

A different version of this contract was previously rejected by the City Commission at our meeting on August 30 on a 5-2 vote – that previous version would have provided the City’s 8 supervisory employees with 3% annual raises over the course of 5 years. Although I was one of the two Commissioners who voted in favor of that contract, I understood my colleagues’ concerns that this contract had been negotiated before we knew that the City would be facing a steep budget shortfall in FY 2022. Most of my colleagues and I did not disagree with the idea of a 3% annual raise (which is fairly modest by today’s standards), but we did have concerns about locking in these pay increases for a 5-year period given the current uncertainty regarding City finances. Instead, we decided to go back to the negotiating table with the supervisors’ AFSCME bargaining unit, and we were able to come to a compromise which was acceptable to all parties. The new supervisors’ contract which we voted on at Monday night’s meeting was a 2-year deal with a guaranteed 2% raise in 2022 and a wage reopener in 2023, with the addition of the day before Thanksgiving as a paid holiday. I was grateful to City staff and the bargaining team and members of AFSCME Local #1852 for coming to a new agreement and I felt that this was a fair compromise given the unfortunate circumstances, so I voted yes. Hopefully we will be able to get the City in a stronger financial position over the next year, and be able to provide our supervisors with a raise that more adequately reflects their contributions to the City in the second year of this contract. The 2% raise in 2022 equates to $10,839.52 in additional wages, which has been budgeted for in the FY2022 budget approved by the City Commission last month.

Approve City Hall Employees’ Contract: YES (Passed 7-0)

This is another contract negotiated with AFSCME Local #1852, this time with the City Hall employees’ bargaining unit. This contract was largely modeled after the renegotiated supervisors’ contract – in this case, it was a 3-year contract but with a 2% raise guaranteed only for 2022, with wage reopeners in 2023 and 2024 and the addition of the day before Thanksgiving as a paid holiday. The 2% raise in 2022 equates to $30,000 in additional wages, which has been budgeted for in the FY2022 budget approved by the City Commission last month. This contract affects 28 City employees. I voted Yes because I felt that this was a fair agreement given the City’s current fiscal constraints – as with the supervisors’ contract, hopefully the City Commission will be in a financial position to offer these hardworking employees a more adequate raise in a year or two. After all, our people are our most valuable asset, and if we don’t invest in them just like we invest in our roads and our parks, the quality of the City services that our people provide will inevitably decline.

Bring City Attorney Services Back “In-House”: YES (Passed 7-0 as Amended)

Amendment to Require Final Contract to Be Approved by Subcommittee: YES (Passed 7-0)

This was another item brought back from a previous City Commission meeting. The 3-member subcommittee of the City Commission established at our October 12 meeting met and quickly returned to the Commission with a recommendation for how to proceed with bringing the City Attorney back “in-house” and hiring Suzanne Larsen (our current City Attorney) as a full-time City employee. This was technically two separate votes – one vote to approve the City Attorney position as a City employee and terminate our contract with Kendricks, Bordeau, Keefe, Seavoy & Larsen, P.C., and a second vote to formally appoint Suzanne Larsen as the City Attorney and approve the negotiated terms of her contract. The contract itself was still being finalized as of Monday night, but Ms. Larsen, the City, and the Commission subcommittee had agreed upon a $115,000 annual salary, a $50,000 term life insurance policy, and the same benefits package that would be given to City department heads, and an initial contract term of January 1 – September 30, 2022. This is a fair compensation package, and bringing City Attorney services back in-house will increase the City Attorney’s availability to City staff and the number of hours that Ms. Larsen can spend on City business, while saving at least $50,000 per year which can instead go towards balancing the City budget and maintaining critical public services and infrastructure in Marquette. It is also worth noting that Commissioner Davis offered an amendment requiring that, in the interest of Commission oversight and transparency, the previously established subcommittee of 3 City Commissioners should have the opportunity to review and approve the final contract before it is signed by the Mayor and City Clerk. Especially given the City’s current budgetary constraints, this was a common-sense vote to improve the quality of legal services provided to the City while also saving a large amount of taxpayer dollars, and I voted Yes as a result.

Approve Temporary Marijuana Events Policy: YES (Passed 7-0 as amended)

Amendment to Require Review of Policy After One Year: YES (Passed 7-0)

This was a vote to approve a new City policy which would allow public or private marijuana events to be held at three specific locations within the City of Marquette: Tourist Park (in May and October only), Lakeview Arena, and the Presque Isle Pavilion. These locations were chosen due to expected event size, designated 500-foot marijuana buffers around public schools, places of worship, and substance use disorder treatment facilities, availability of necessary facilities and services, and the relatively isolated location of these three sites. Under this policy, hosting a marijuana event would require the payment of $700 in fees (which is similar to the $1,000 required by the State of Michigan for marijuana events on state property).

Events at Presque Isle and Lakeview Arena would only be able to take place at the Presque Isle Pavilion and inside the arena, naturally limiting them to a reasonable size, and events at these locations would have to comply with the non-smoking ordinance which prohibits smoking in virtually all City parks. As a result, any marijuana events at Presque Isle or Lakeview would essentially be commercial events, where people could purchase products and could only consume non-smokable products. Smoking could take place at a marijuana event at Tourist Park, but the event hosts would have to reserve the entire campground for the event and events could only take place there in May or October to avoid disturbing campers. Commissioner Mayer also introduced an amendment requiring that the City Commission review this policy after one year in November 2022, and this amendment passed unanimously. I felt that this policy met the growing demand for a space for marijuana events in Marquette, while also balancing that appropriately against the needs and desires of the community and putting in safeguards to protect all three of these beloved City recreation areas. We will see how it goes, and will be able to make any necessary adjustments next fall when we revisit this policy per Commissioner Mayer’s amendment. This is the same experimental, flexible approach we have taken when legalizing marijuana businesses and food trucks within the City limits, it has served us well in both instances, and I think it will do so again with this policy.

Approve Contract w/ MDOT for US 41 Project Cost Sharing: YES (Passed 7-0)

MDOT has completed plans for reconstruction of US 41 between the Front Street roundabout and Furnace Street. As part of this project, City utilities under the highway that are in poor condition will be replaced, and this was a vote to approve a contract with MDOT for this work. This contract requires the City to provide $159,900 in a cost-sharing agreement with MDOT, but this is much less than it would cost to replace these utility lines on our own. Also, because this work is taking place right next to the Founders Landing Brownfield Plan area, the Marquette Brownfield Redevelopment Authority (MBRA) has already approved the full reimbursement of the cost of these repairs to the City through property tax capture at the Founders Landing Brownfield site, so these repairs will not cost regular City taxpayers anything in the long run. I felt that this was a common-sense vote, and I voted Yes as a result.

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