City Council menu tonight: two specials and a work session


  • There’s a special Northfield City Council meeting tonight at 5pm to interview the interim city administrator candidates.
  • There’s another special Northfield City Council meeting at 7pm to A) approve an outdoor dining permit; B) approve board/commission appointments; and C) consider proposal for Al Roder’s separation agreement
  • A Council Work Session follows to discuss: A) Commuter service; B) Energy Task Force; and C) Nonmotorized Transportation Task Force

And see the Northfield city calendar for other public meetings that are scheduled this week.

Update 7/30, 10:30 PM: Here’s the audio of Monday night’s Council meeting, courtesy of KYMN 1080.

Click play to listen or download the MP3. 2 hours, 20 minutes.

66 thoughts on “City Council menu tonight: two specials and a work session”

  1. I saw the last 10 min of the Council mtg. Roder offered to settle for $0 if Lansing apologized? No city attorney was present? And Dave DeLong sprang to the podium in frustration?

  2. I think that’s about right, Griff.

    The Council work session that was to follow the Council special meeting was postponed. Given the contentiousness and length of last night’s meeting, those of us on the energy and nonmotorized transportation task forces agreed with Joel Walinski that it would be better to talk to the Council at a future date.

  3. The first of the two special meetings was at 5PM, and was the interviews for the interim city administrator. Three people were interviewed, two outside candidates, and an “internal” candidate, Joel Walinski. After the interviews, there was a short discussion about naming an “interim interim” ( not a typo). Joel Walinski was named for that position.

    Griff; You are correct to be amazed that there was no attorney present at the second special meeting at 7 PM, which dealt with approving the outdoor dining permits, once again with board and commission appointments, and with the separation agreement for the city administrator.

    Outdoor dining permits were approved, board and commission appointments were a repeat of the now familiar “fight”, and the lengthy (1 1/2 hour) separation agreement discussion was in dire need of an attorney’s presence and advice… not just for content, but for parliamentary procedure.

    Dave deLong “sprang to the podium in frustration” when a councilor, other than the meeting chair (Mayor) called for a vote. Mr de Long rightly protested a “Point of Order”. The inappropriate vote call is just that, about as inappropriately out of procedural rules as you can get; It essentially ignores the “privilege” of the Chair.

    There is no way to adequately explain/describe this meeting. One “side”or another would accuse the other of bias, regardless of what was reported. I was observing for the LWV, and will probably have to write a special note rather than try to summarize the content of the meeting, it was so fraught with innuendo, accusation, etc. (I expect even that comment will draw extreme criticism).

    I would suggest that any citizen who wants to be informed about last night’s 7PM special council meeting, request a CD of the meeting from City Hall. To borrow a copy is free; or one is available for purchase.

  4. Bill and Kiffi, thanks for the update. KYMN’s Dusty Budd generously gave me the audio file of the meeting. I’ll try to get that posted tonight.

    NTV normally broadcasts the Council meeting at 7 pm on the Tuesday after a meeting but I don’t see it on today’s schedule.

  5. Yes I sprang from my chair. Frustration not so much, because I had made up my mind to let them work it out. I had given my comments at an earlier meeting. I spoke to raise a point of order, a parliamentary inquiry after Councilperson Scott Davis took it upon himself to conduct a vote.

    I pointed out that this was not proper procedure. Ok I pointed it out in no uncertain terms but while it was and is evident that some members of the council have disdain for Lee Lansing the individual they need to show respect for the office of Mayor and council procedure as outlined in City Ordinance.

    I sat there and listened to an hour and a half of “discussion”. If they were trying to persuade the Mayor, they should have tried more honey and less vinegar. If they were trying to lay blame on the Mayor, I say mission accomplished. Talk about being set up for failure. What language would Mr. Roder find acceptable if any? Why not have Mr. Roder write the letter and direct the Mayor to sign it? Why didn’t the Council draft the letter in resolution form? Even if the Mayor voted against it he would still have to sign it.
    Is it because they want to be able to blame the Mayor for this mess or or any money their “forced” to pay out because they might get sued? News flash every one has a part in this, no matter how much you try to blame someone else.

    So much drama, so much theater, so many games, so much B.S.

  6. Patrick, perhaps the following might help. These paragraphs are from a redacted public document made available to the public at the meeting. It is a letter from Jim Pokorney to the Mayor dated July 19 2008. I believe this might partially answer your question as to what Mr. Roder is looking for in an apology.

    As you requested, I am following up our phone conversation yesterday by informing you in writing as to a proposal Kris and I are working on to get resolution with Al Roder regarding his separation agreement.”

    “As an alternative, offer, Mr. Roder has proposed that he will sign the release and drop all payment demands if you agree to write an apology letter with regard to your behavior and actions regarding your relationship with Mr. Roder. You and Mr. Roder would need to work out the parameters of such an apology and the final draft would need to be acceptable to him. The letter would be a public document.”

    Mr. Roder did mention twice during the “discussion” that he had three criteria for the apology but they were not stated in any public document and Mr. Roder did not say what they might be during the “discussion”.

    The Mayor had read from a prepared letter of reconciliation during his remarks in the “discussion”. You will have to get the text some where else but there was no response from Mr. Roder. When pressed by Council if this letter of reconciliation was the apology letter that would be required by the motion, the Mayor did not say yes or no, he said words to the effect that- it is what it is and the council should vote on the motion was before them.

    What does Mr. Roder want? No one knows. What will he find acceptable? No one knows. In a nutshell no one knows.

    The cards have been dealt, now we wait to see how it plays out. Any bets?

    The Mayor has been given a deadline of -close of business on Friday, to comply with the council’s motion. That is to come up with a letter acceptable to Mr. Roder. Given the circumstances does the Council really think this will happen? Mr. Roder’s last day is Wednesday but it’s my guess he will be effecting the City for much past that.

  7. David,

    Thank you; that was quite helpful.

    It will be interesting to see what Mr. Lansing’s response is, and whether he would write such a letter of apology. As you said: any bets?

  8. David D. I would point out that you were out of order. The Mayor could have asked that the sergeant-at-arms remove you from the chambers.

    Kiffi: We shouldn’t be using an attorney for parlimentary procedure. Robert’s Rules of Order are designed so that a political body can regulate itself.

    Perhaps the best approach would be for the City Council to offer an apology on the Mayor’s behalf. If Roder is requesting a personal apology, that is outside the scope of the Council’s authority. Apologizing for the Mayor is not. An apology to drop the severance request – that is a no-brainer for the Council.

  9. Well, David L., you’re right that we shouldn’t have to use an attorney for Parliamentary procedure; you maybe were reading too fast but you’ll note I said ” for presence and advice … not just for content, but also parliamentary procedure”. The Council had a lot of times when they said they didn’t know what the legality would be.

    When you have a situation where a council person calls a vote, which is about the most disrespectful thing to do to the chair, i.e. strip the chair of its privilege as chair, you need someone who might be at least perceived by that unruly councilperson, as having some ” weight”.

    In my opinion, although I would prefer to never see the gavel used at a council meeting, the Mayor would have been thoroughly justified in the heavy use of it. Every time he tried to draw some behavior “boundaries” he was either ignored, questioned, or smirked at. It doesn’t do much good to have the Mayor try to keep order if the procedural rules are repeatedly ignored.

    If you have parliamentary procedure skills, in depth, maybe you should offer a training workshop for the council… they might as well drop a few bucks with a local “consultant”, don’t you think?

    As far as having a citizen removed by a sergeant-of-arms for calling Point of Order, we had a Police Chief-at-arms in the chamber at the time, and he didn’t seem to be ruffled.

  10. Has the City Council ever appointed a Parliamentarian? If not, any reason that our city attorney, sitting at council meetings anyway, cannot also wear that hat? Which leaves open the question: would she be pro-active and intervene [at least on such procedural matters], rather than wait to be explicitly asked for her professional opinion – her apparent stance on legal issues.
    Is the audio of last night’s meeting available on the web somewhere?

  11. Kiffi,
    “Every time he tried to draw some behavior “boundaries” he was either ignored, questioned, or smirked at. It doesn’t do much good to have the Mayor try to keep order if the procedural rules are repeatedly ignored.”

    He’s a joke. He has broken not only the public trust, he has broken the trust of sound citizens who serve on the council. He has done NOTHING to earn back any level of respect or trust.


  12. I always thought Roder probably decided to leave when local mayoral candidate David Hvistendahl made the keystone of his platform firing Roder.

  13. The councilors negotiating with Mr. Roder should have drafted a letter of apology for the mayor, which he could edit within reason. They also should have drafted a letter of apology from the council on behalf of the city, which would have included the needed condemnation of the mayor’s behavior.
    The council then would have had two options Monday: the mayor either agrees to sign his letter or the councilors approve and sign theirs. The meeting could have been over in 15 minutes.
    There was no reason for discussion. We are all well past the point of a long discussion on this issue. The mayor should not be forced to sign a letter he doesn’t mean for money, and the councilors should not be kept from signing a letter they do support.
    Sure it would be great to save $35,000, and there was a way to do that without again humiliating the mayor. We must set an example for the city and our children that you don’t sell out your beliefs for money. Everyone knows I’m not a supporter of the mayor, but it’s clear that in his mind he doesn’t believe he did anything wrong. That’s really the source of all the conflict, because you can’t negotiate with someone when the two sides can’t agree on the same set of facts. You can argue about whether the sun is purple or yellow, but you can’t negotiate the color. You see what you see. Sadly, the mayor’s decision to run again is stunning proof that he either doesn’t understand or can’t accept what has happened over the last two years.
    All the council can do is listen respectfully to the mayor, then work within Robert’s rules to keep moving forward until January.

  14. The Nfld News has a new version of its story: Separation agreement calls for apology.

    The sidebar on that page has several links to pdfs:

    Lansing’s goodwill letter to Roder

    Letter from Lansing dated July 18, Page 1

    Letter from Lansing dated July 18, Page 2

    Letter from Lansing dated July 21

    Letter from Lansing dated July 24

    Letter from Pokorney

    Unsigned letter

  15. Hey Griff –

    Not to add more work to your unpaid job, but last time you posted the audio of a Council Meeting you had kind of a “table of contents” with the times of various participants’ comments.

    Any chance you could do it again for us over-scheduled and/or under-motivated but interested citizens?

    Thanks much,


  16. I think we should all focus on what the issue is here, and try to look at it in a logical way without jumping to emotional conclusions.

    1. Mr. Roder is demanding either severance pay or an apology for the Mayor.

    Two questions therefore follow; the first one to be analyzed is: Why would Mr. Roder be entitled to severance?

    What does his contract say about severance pay? He’s entitled to it if he is fired. He wasn’t fired. He resigned. He’s got a new job. Does he still have a claim? If so, what are his damages?

    Until the first question is resolved, there is no need to determine the second; if the Mayor owes Mr. Roder an apology. So any argument about that is really moot at this point.

    What would Mr. Roder’s legal cause of action be under his employment contract? Is it actually viable, or would he get kicked at summary judgment?

    This city has lost uncountable capital reserves, is bleeding money for attorney’s fees, for unenforceable city code revisions, for independent investigations. Why are we afraid of defending against a lawsuit for which there may be no legal basis?

    Would the League of MN Cities cover the city? Has the city even filed a liability claim with the League? Have any of the council members even looked at their coverage by the League? Maybe the League doesn’t cover employment contract claims, I don’t know. But we should at least ask.

    According to the League’s website:

    “It’s very much an over-simplification, but, in general, for the city to be liable for someone else’s damages, three conditions must be met:
    1. The city must have been negligent. That is, the city must have done something it shouldn’t have done, or failed to do something it should have done.
    2. The damages must have been caused by the city’s negligence.
    3. It must not be one of the areas in which the city is immune from liability.”

    Everyone needs to take a step back from their emotional reactions and look at this as casual observers. Why would we rush to settle a potential lawsuit until we determine if the suit is even viable? IT MAKES NO SENSE.

  17. The council supports an apology, so the council should write one on behalf of the city. The mayor simply doesn’t believe that he’s done anything wrong, so anything he would write would be worthless.
    It’s just time to end this. The two sides will never agree. Roder is leaving and the voters will decide whether Lansing does as well.
    Sadly, it seems this will become another version of the Target debacle, adding to the herd of dead horses piling up on Bridge Square.
    What a sad place this is.

  18. Britt, I think the answer to your question “Why would we rush to settle a potential lawsuit unit we determine if the suit is even viable?” is that an apology would be free. It would be the expedient thing to do. I think Councilor Pokorney called it a “business decision” on the tape of the meeting.

    That said, I don’t think the apology letter it is the right thing to do. The premise of Mr. Roder getting a letter to help clear his name to help him with further employment is preposterous. What is he going to say to potential employers when presenting them with the letter? “Here’s the letter of apology I coerced out of my former mayor by threatening his city with potential lawsuits if he didn’t write it.”

    Griff, thanks for posting the audio of the meeting. Kiffi, you are right in your post #3. There is no way to describe this meeting. It was one of the most bizarre things I’ve ever heard.

  19. Could events play out something like this?

    1. Roder promises, in writing, that he won’t sue if the council and the mayor apologize.

    2. The mayor and the council offer a formal apology.

    3. Roder sues, using the apology as evidence that the city did something wrong.

    Does this sound plausible? I’m not sure, but I don’t think the promise in Step 1 would count for much. For example, don’t doctors sometimes get sued despite the waivers their patients have signed?

  20. Britt’s right, as always (#23). Scott’s suspicion (#26) is one I’ve had, as well, and I don’t think it’s a far-fetched scenario at all.

    I’ll second Britt’s comments by echoing, if Roder is contractually not due a severance, then an apology is unnecessary. But also adding, if it can be determined – in the fine print of his contract – that he somehow is owed a severance, then he will get it, and the apology is again unnecessary.

    There’s certainly plenty of blame to go around, but forcing an insincere apology is meaningless in more ways than one. If the Mayor has done things for which he should apologize to Roder, than he should do that because it’s the mature and right thing to do, not this way.

    I get the suspicion that the issue is severance pay is being dangled as the price of quieting Roder’s desire for other legal remedies or compensation. Feels like extortion to me.

    It reminds me so well why I’m running for Mayor in the manner I am. In the face of absurdity, put on an absurd face.

  21. In Roder’s defense, there haven’t been many people willing to acknowledge just how difficult we (the citizens of Northfield) made his job, and how professionally he handled himself through this sordid affair. We need to do a lot better if we don’t want to get black-balled in the small world of city administrators.

  22. Britt- You’re a lawyer. Aren’t there protections in place in Minnesota employment laws guarding against harrasment in the workplace? If Roder’s allegations of the mayor’s behavior are correct and verified by the Goodhue Report, does this give him legal grounds to pursue damages along this line? I’m just wondering. If your answer costs me money, though, then forget I ever asked it. I’ll join Brendon’s camp, instead.

  23. David L., I agree with you too (#28). I don’t believe Roder’s been treated well, by many. Likely some of the criticism has been warranted, and some has been baseless, politically motivated and hurtful.

    I don’t know enough about all the minute details of how he has been treated, but I’m still siding with Britt’s logic on the severance issue.

    On the issue of being harassed that John G. raises, and that Scott O. and I alluded to, that seems like another matter quite apart from severance pay, which is why I feel like the severance package is being used by Roder as sort of a gambit.

    Maybe that’s to be expected in this type of situation, but it still feels somewhat childish to me.

  24. David L. –

    Whether it’s you, or me, or Kiffi Summa, or Britt Ackerman, or any of the other people who have participated in this or other discussions on line or in the streets, I think we have made it very clear, to anyone even halfway paying attention, that Northfield has more sophisticated intelligence and expressed opinions per capita than any other community in Minnesota and probably right up there with any community in the country. Personally, I’m damn proud of that fact.

    Furthermore, we haven’t tricked, and certainly haven’t forced, any of these people to come to our community and take their six-figure salaries out of our citizens’ wallets. If they can’t take the heat, they shouldn’t be trying to cook up their schemes, projects, or hot-dishes in our kitchen. You, me, Kiffi and Britt, as well as the others, have gotten singed on more than one occasion, by the citizens, the media, and even our friends, in this community, and I don’t think any of us are bringing home as much bacon as the city administrators.

    In addition, my previous career gave me experience working with a number of cities throughout Minnesota as well as a number of communities around the country. I think the idea that city administrators and city staff members, much less elected officials, work in a Garden of Eden before Adam and Eve took that first bite of knowledge is a myth, perhaps intentionally manufactured.

    I think that you have inadvertently made a powerful point. Maybe the pool of professional bureaucrats is too small. Maybe Northfield should try something different. I sat in a group of local citizens recently who wanted John Stull, former mayor and retired top manager at Malt-o-Meal, to be the interim City Administrator. With eyes un-blindered by same old, small pool, approach, perhaps he’d bring some private-sector experience and wisdom to the perhaps too-closed environment.

    Finally David, some of your recent comments have made me wonder if you are, in fact, a member of the Republican Party. Now that Bill Cooper is back in the Land of 10,000 Taxes, perhaps he can run an ideological purity test on you. I understand it’s quite definitive.


    – Ross

  25. I certainly hope somebody down there is writing a book or a screenplay…I think the FIrst Chapter or Opening Scene should include excerpts from the Hoyt Adminstration…all the way to Broadway, baby!

  26. Ross,

    If that’s the nature of the threat, then I think the City’s screwed either way the election falls.

    If I don’t win, I’ll have more time for a play or screenplay; if I do, then I’ll have access to material and resources and stories that might have eluded me otherwise. It’ll just be that much more robust a piece, and written four years from now.

    How’s that for a plank: Elect me to delay the inevitable by four years!

    People have been elected on less.

    Truth is I have no set plans for writing a play – screen or stage – about Northfield’s compelling political machinations of the past few years, but the idea does keep knocking on the front door of my cerebrum.

    Again, the cost to the writer could be quite dear, far outstripping the benefits.

  27. No plans, eh Brendon?

    Well, now that I’ve got some time on my hands…

    …when is the next Very Short Play Festival…

    …and do I have to fit twelve months into three minutes?

  28. The Very Short Play Festival IV:

    Deadline for submissions is March 1, 2009.

    Performance in late April, 2009 at the NAG Theater.

    But, here’s the good part, you have ten minutes of stage time if you want it!

    You could fit the last five years into that!

    Six or seven with really good actors.


  29. Roder had a severance issue when he resigned from Becker Cty in 2002. A commenter named ‘hadenough’ posted this on this Nfld News thread:

    I think there is enough blame to place on a few different individuals. Including Roder of course. He must feel this apology will vindicate him and deflect any of his fault with the issues he had with the city.

    The Internet is a great source of information. Google Al Roder and you will find this:

    There sure seems to be a common denominator involved.

    On page 4 of that PDF:


    a. Commissioners Engebretson and Murray will be meeting to decide on an Interim choice to replace Al Roder, County Administrator, who has resigned.

    b. It was moved and seconded to remove the Severance Issue off the table (Seal, Murray), carried. Al Roder, County Administrator, stated that he did not make a formal severance pay proposal.

    c. It was moved and seconded that Al Roder be done today, July 23, 2002. Salary would be paid
    thru September 3, 2002 and Health Insurance through the end of September as requested in Al Roder’s resignation (Johannsen, Winter), motion failed. Johannsen, Winter, voting yea; Murray, Seal, Engebretson voting nay. 3-2 not in favor.

    d. It was moved and seconded that Al Roder’s last day be on July 31, 2002. Salary would be paid through August 30, 2002 and Health Insurance through the end of September (Winter, Johannsen), carried. Seal and Murray voting nay.

  30. The News quotes Roder as saying:

    “My hope is Lee (Lansing) would find a way to resolve this in a way that’s best for the city, but apparently he hasn’t.”

    Does this reek of “Now, I’m going to sue” to anyone else?

    Are we allowed to spank our city leaders?

    mental note: add spanking plank, probably oak, to my mayoral platform

  31. Brendon- I thought you were running for mayor, not chairman of the board! Or are you trying to represent a splinter group? Or, is this just going against your grain?

  32. No, John G., just bored with all this lumbering about, but also barking mad and pining for real leadership.

    Sorry to be a birch about it, but I’d love to see a few people kicked in the ash.

    I expect that’s a poplar sentiment right now.

    Better leave while I’m behind.

  33. Brendon- Thought you could stump me, huh? My pun roots go really deep. I can tap into years of experience. Perhaps I should write a pome. I’m sure it would be a plum! Are you druping yet? This is just the fruit of my labors. Some folks think I’m nuts, though. Acorny joke here and there, I guess.

  34. Ross: What is the end result of the fact that “… Northfield has more sophisticated intelligence and expressed opinions per capita than any other community in Minnesota …” ?

    I would settle for common sense over sophisicated intelligence, and practicality over expressed opinions. If common sense and practicality is a litimus test for a party affliation, then count me in. I don’t intend to join the NIMPU (Northfield Is My Personal Utopia) party.

    Roder has had to deal with a lot of issues, not of his doing, which don’t come up in towns without a NIMPU party – prayers ladies, rental ordinances, anti-annexation, staff turnover, and secret allegations. It is a wonder the staff got done as much as they did. For the sake of the next administration, some of the political power of the NIMPU party needs to be tempered.

  35. “Northfield Is My Personal Utopia”…
    I like that. I’ve lived in a lot of cities, and this one is the best I’ve found. Of course, I disagree with just about every plank in the purported NIMPU platform, but at least people here care enough to argue about prayers ladies, rental ordinances, and annexation.

    Back to the original point, though. I too feel that Al Roder has been treated horribly, and I am concerned that he might have a leg to stand on in suing the city. Still, given that Lee is unwilling to apologize, apparently we aren’t going to get any indemnity against legal action that way.

    So I guess the options are: 1) just cut Mr. Roder loose, and see where the chips fall, 2) have the Council apologize for the Mayor’s actions, and see where the chips fall, or 3) pay him off.

    I’d be happy with 1 or 2. 3 only seems a good idea if the city is receiving legal advice that Al has a strong case against us.

  36. Sign me up for NIMPU! I have loved Northfield since my freshman year at St. Olaf in 1964. After an extended absence, I am back as of 2004. So, where shall we hold the first organizational meeting?

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