City Council Recap: 5 Apply for Open Seat

Lowell City Council met for approximately an hour on Monday night to discuss nine agenda items. All four members were present for the meeting which was held at Lowell City Hall.

One matter of business for the evening was to discuss how to fill the current vacancy on the council. Five city residents have submitted letters of interest:

  • Jake Davenport
  • Mike Gadula
  • Leah Groves
  • Tina Dickerman
  • Katie Rademacher

City Manager Mike Burns noted that all five meet the qualifications to serve on the council. The person appointed will finish the term of former Councilmember Greg Canfield, which will expire in January 2022.

With recent public health orders restricting gatherings to 10 people or less, Burns said the interviews would likely need to be conducted via the video conferencing platform Zoom. That way, they will comply with the Open Meetings Act.

“I don’t want to do it via Zoom,” said Mayor Mike DeVore. “I think that’s a dangerous way to interview people.”

Councilmember Cliff Yankovich asked whether it would be possible to interview the applicants in person but stream the meeting via Zoom to allow for public participation. Burns thought that might be a possibility, but he would like to get an attorney opinion first.

Steve Donkersloot, general manager of Lowell Light & Power, said he interpreted the order to prohibit all gatherings at non-residential venues while up to 10 people could gather inside a residence.

Although the format still needs to be confirmed, the interviews will take place on November 30.

COVID-19 Update

The agenda item garnering the most discussion during Monday’s meeting was an update on the city’s COVID-19 response. Burns shared that one employee had been diagnosed with the disease but contracted it on vacation so there was no need to quarantine other workers. Still, “It has caused us to review our policies again,” Burns said.

The city is implementing a daily screening form for employees and moving meetings to Zoom. After some discussion with councilmembers, it was decided that city offices, including Lowell Light & Power, would move to meeting with residents by appointment only. “I’m allowing some employees who can work remotely to work remotely,” Burns added.

Late fees and shut-offs for water bills will continue to be waived for the time being as well.

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Showboat Insurance Discussed

Lowell City Council and the Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce have been discussing the creation of a separate non-profit to manage the Lowell Showboat.

“It creates some interesting caveats if we do form a non-profit,” Burns said. The biggest issue will be to find the proper insurance. Since the Showboat is essentially a building being placed over the water, it can’t be insured as a boat. What’s more, while the city insurance plan could provide relatively inexpensive liability coverage, it won’t cover physical damage.

Burns is currently in the process of seeking out specialty insurance that would provide the needed coverage. In the meantime, the building contractor’s insurance plan covers the boat for now.

The city manager suggested the council proceed with setting up a board to run the non-profit, and DeVore replied that he would like to wait until after the vacancy on the council is filled.

Adult Use Marijuana

During his comments at the end of the meeting, Yankovich noted he continued to hear from residents who wondered why there are no limits on the number of adult use marijuana facilities in the city. Currently, six recreational marijuana businesses have been approved for West Main Street and a seventh application is pending.

“The best legal advice that we could get advised us not to put a limit because putting a limit would be asking to be sued,” Yankovich said. He added that he didn’t want to see 20 pot shops in town, but he didn’t think that would happen either. “I think the market is going to balance itself out.”

Burns said the city’s adult use marijuana ordinance is comprehensive and is being used as a model for other communities. “We do have a very restrictive ordinance,” Burns says. “[Marijuana businesses] have to be able to meet capitalization requirements just to operate.”

There have only been three police complaints linked to the businesses, and they include two car accidents and one internal issue with an employee. Burns also noted that by opting to allow recreational marijuana businesses in the city, Lowell is required by the state to offer at least one license for each type marijuana business. That means there could be six businesses in the city even if they were limited beyond that.

Other Items of Discussion

Other items discussed during the meeting included the following:

  • Burns said the city had reached a tentative agreement with MERS about its pension liability. However, it was something he planned to discuss in closed session.
  • City and Lowell Township representatives met for the first of a series of taskforce meetings to discuss the township’s water and wastewater needs. Burns said the meeting was introductory in nature and went well. “There was a narrative out there that communications were shut down almost a year ago…and we were able to squash that,” DeVore said.
  • The council unanimously approved changes to Oakwood Cemetery rules and regulations which were presented at their last meeting.
  • The council unanimously approved $21.900 for design engineering services for a resurfacing project to be completed in spring 2021 on Jane Ellen Street. The project is expected to cost $300,000 and will be paid out of the city’s street fund.
  • The council unanimously approved an agreement with MDOT that will allow for a $141,500 grant from the state for street work to be completed during a sanitary sewer project scheduled for Foreman Street.
  • Donkersloot shared that Lowell Light & Power and the Lowell Rotary Club were teaming up again this year to host a holiday lighting contest. More details will be forthcoming.

At the conclusion of the open meeting, Lowell City Council went into closed session to discuss labor negotiations. The next regular meeting of Lowell City Council will be Monday, December 7, at 7pm.

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