When Edina city officials opened the floor Tuesday to listen to whatever residents wanted to discuss at the city's first town-hall meeting, they probably weren't expecting the complaint brought forward by Charles Hughes.
He hustled up to the lectern to protest the placement of an electric pole on Oaklawn Avenue.
The ugly pole had been erected right in front of a house instead of at the corner of its lot, which Hughes speculated must sap thousands of dollars from the home's value.
"It's like a big black phallic symbol," he said as smiles crept over city officials' faces.
Mayor Jim Hovland promised to ask city engineers about the pole, though he said "I certainly won't describe it like that."
In Edina, where residents tend to speak their minds to city officials whether invited to or not, the first town hall meeting was a civilized affair. There was no shouting or tears. The closest thing to controversy came when one resident, peeved that his street's paving project had been repeatedly delayed, alleged that a nearby road had been repaired first because a prominent developer lives there.
"No politics is involved in street reconstruction projects," Hovland responded. But he promised to ask about scheduled work on Park Place, where the resident said water backs into some garages from the street because the street it has been relayered so many times.
The Edina City Council decided to hold the town hall meeting as a way to give residents an open forum with city officials. Last year, some residents complained that city rules about what they could comment on at regular council meetings were too restrictive.
Council members, pointing to Eden Prairie's success with town hall meetings, thought a less formal setting might encourage some of the city's more bashful residents to have a dialogue with city officials.
About 30 people attended the gathering, which was televised on a local cable access channel and can be viewed soon on the city's website. Council members, who normally sit on a dais above the audience, sat behind a folding table to one side of the council chamber with the city manager. People who wanted to speak were asked to come up to the lectern so their comments could be amplified and recorded for the video.
Fifteen people spoke, asking for everything from city Wi-Fi installation to more responsiveness at City Hall. Senior citizen Addie Fitzsimmons told the council she was born "B.C. -- before computers" -- and that the city's high-tech website doesn't help people who have vision problems.
One resident suggested that all buildings built with flat roofs should be "green," with solar panels or other energy-conserving technology. Several people complained about street maintenance, with one woman saying there are "potholes you can fall in" and asking how streets are prioritized.
Wayne Dvorak asked why the city can't cut employees in tough economic times. But Clara Engelbert wanted to know why the city doesn't have its own civic theater and art exhibit areas, as Bloomington does.
"It's the only thing that keeps this city from being absolutely perfect," she said.
The meeting ended 15 minutes short of its scheduled 90 minutes. Attendee Bob Kojetin, a retired city official, said he thought the setting was too formal. Having to march up to recite name and address while on TV is just too intimidating for some people, he said, especially senior citizens like himself. He also said he had a hard time hearing parts of the meeting.
But resident Dick Whitbeck said he thought the session was "great, an open forum with no hostilities, just people asking questions and getting answers."
The city plans to hold another town hall meeting in about six months. That gathering will be held in the evening so people who work during the day can attend.
Mary Jane Smetanka • 612-673-7380