The Houston City Council met for its first regular meeting of the year 2018 at 6 p.m., January 8 in the council chambers at Houston City Hall. In attendance were Mayor Olson and council members Knutson, Sanden, Krage and Schutte, along with City Administrator Peterson and Deputy Clerk Hegland. Following the Pledge of Allegiance, Mayor Olson opened up the meeting for a period of public comment, of which there was none.
The council then turned to the six items on the agenda, starting with the council’s meeting schedule and list of mayoral appointments for the year 2018. The council will continue to meet on the second Monday of the month, except for the months of October and November due to recognized holidays and city hall being closed. The October and November meetings will take place on the following Wednesdays, being October 9 and November 13 respectively. Council member Schutte, the representative to the parks and rec board, mentioned that parks and rec meetings will not following a regularly monthly schedule as presented on the calendar, but will be held more on a quarterly basis or as the need arises. As for appointments, the city saw minor changes to the makeup of the Park and Rec Board and the Tree Board, but overall the appointments were largely unchanged. The council approved both the calendar and the appointments via a unanimous vote.
The council then spent the majority of the meeting time discussing a lease proposed by the International Owl Center for a previously discussed expansion into Trailhead Park. The council debated the size and layout of the parcel leased, setback requirements from a nearby highway, the status of a current Houston City welcome sign on the property, DNR and maintenance requirements for the parcel, noise issues regarding the nearby band shell, and the placement of walking bridges on the property. The council wanted a firm commitment from the Owl Center that the construction would take place before the lease could be granted, and the Owl Center countered that securing the lease would be necessary in convincing donors to the center to give money for the construction. The Houston Planning Commission had decided in an earlier meeting that a lease was preferable to an easement for the property, and the council debated terms of the lease, finally deciding on a 20-year lease asking $2,000 per year with an option for renewal.
Next, the council approved their first resolution of the year, recognizing over 50 donations given to the city for the 2017 calendar year. The council then approved a payment for the 2016 Ellsworth Street Project totaling $2,000, which had been withheld from payment by the city until seeding had been successfully completed on the land covered by the project. After that, the council took time to recognize the years of service given by several of the city’s employees. Police Chief David Breault was recognized for 16-plus years of service, and Librarian Liz Gibson-Gasset was recognized for 16. Maintenance Superintendent Randy Thesing was recognized for his 15-plus years, Deputy Clerk Audrey Hegland for 12, and Maintenance Assistant Ed Jacobs for 10. Assistant Police Chief Brett Hurley and Administrator Christina Peterson were both recognized for five years of service, Library Assistant Bethany Peterson-Lee for three, and the city recognized one year of service for Chamber Director Sarah Wexler-Mann, Nature Center Manager Susan Wiegrefe, and Custodian Amanda Langheinrich. Finally, the council recognized its newest employee, Suzanne Peterson, who began work as a city treasurer and accountant on October 10, 2017.
The council then discussed Building Code Enforcement, debating whether or not to continue with the state-operated program or to start taking on the responsibilities at the local level, including bleacher inspections and accessibility code enforcement. Peterson noted that this would require more training and work on behalf of the city office, and mentioned that she had contacted La Crescent about sharing their building inspector, but the inspector was busy enough in La Crescent. Peterson also mentioned that Houston has one of the lowest fee structures for a city that has a building code, but administering it locally could possibly break even as opposed to going through the state. The council decided to hold off on a decision regarding the issue until a public hearing can be scheduled. The Houston City Council will meet for its next regularly scheduled meeting at 6 p.m. in the council chambers of Houston City Hall on Monday, February 12, 2018.