The Lake Elmo City Council acted beyond its legal authority when it placed a gag order on one of its members, the city attorney says. And council members are at odds over claims that there are millions of dollars in discrepancies in the projection of utility revenue.
Both matters were aired — but not resolved — at a volatile council meeting Tuesday that was adjourned at 10:30 p.m. when it grew so heated that the mayor threatened to eject unhappy citizens. "This meeting has gotten out of control," said Council Member Anne Smith.
No decision on the gag order was reached, but members of the council majority defended their July 5 resolution to control the actions of Council Member Justin Bloyer.
"We knew it wasn't legally enforceable," said Council Member Julie Fliflet. "The police were never going to be called if there was a violation."
The Washington County suburb's legendary fractiousness is rooted in years of bitter warfare over the pace of future development.
One issue in the disputes is financial planning for water, sewer and stormwater utilities — a challenging task in a place where the council's philosophy on growth has been upended with each election.
Bloyer has been accused of behaving improperly when he raised questions with a city staff member over whether the utility projections added up.
Earlier this month, a bare majority of the council's five members imposed restrictions on Bloyer. A memo by City Attorney Sarah Sonsalla said the council restricted Bloyer's interaction "with any member of city staff without another council member present" and required him to "direct all questions during City Council meetings to the chair and participate in training on handling of confidential information."
Sonsalla says she "was unaware of and therefore did not have the opportunity to review the resolution prior to it being adopted by the council." Having researched the issue at Bloyer's request, she wrote, she found that the action improperly limited "his rights to hold and enjoy his office," because legally "an elected official is entitled to hold that office without any restrictions."
On the matter of utility projections, the council months ago ordered an outside evaluation of the figures. Northland Securities has now produced a report, which Bloyer and another council member asked to have publicly aired on Tuesday night, according to a written account by City Administrator Kristina Handt.
The report became public, showing gaps between Northland's estimates and the financial plan drawn up by city staff. The report cautions that it is necessarily based on assumptions that may not come to pass and must be recalibrated over time.
Council members on both sides agreed Tuesday that there are legitimate grounds for disagreement on how to calculate the forecasts. Handt said the word "discrepancy" misstates the issue.