The Fremont City Council discussed the authority of the Keene Memorial Library Board of Trustees in regard to city and state statutes during its meeting Tuesday night.
The ordinance, introduced by attorney Timothy Buckley, was brought forth after the city council voted to approve the board’s hiring of an information technology specialist.
The council voted unanimously to continue discussion of the first reading to the first meeting of December, along with a revised version of the ordinance that Councilmember Brad Yerger presented to the council.
The original ordinance would act as cleanup of city and state statues and remove a sentence from Chapter 3, Article 7. It would clarify the library board’s role as an advisory board with no authority to hire personnel.
Yerger’s ordinance was a complete rewrite, which he said is up-to-code with revised statutory provisions in state law.
“If we’re going to make revisions to the library statutes, then we ought to be more thorough in doing so,” he said. “That’s what I’ve attempted to do and what I’m offering you here. We need to accurately clarify the powers, duties and operations of the library.”
Yerger said he’s seen a flawed logic or misguided motives for changing the library board to make it purely an advisory board. He also said other cities’ public libraries have been granted authority beyond normal advisory boards.
Councilmember Susan Jacobus said in her attendance of the board meetings that Library Executive Director Tina Walker and others had spoken about issues with the language of these statutes, and said she’d like to hear from the board members at a future meeting.
“What Mr. Yerger has put in front of you is, if anybody would like to see it later or download their own, I’ve got all the statutes concerning public libraries, and what he says is factual,” she said. “There’s also a history with the Nebraska Library Commission that supports these state statutes.”
Jacobus said the council should be supportive of the library and didn’t view it as micromanaging, as Yerger’s ordinance would allow the library to conduct oversight as needed in accordance with state statute.
“The library board has been filled with people that are experts in their field, both in genealogy and as instructors and teachers,” she said. “We’ve trusted them thus far, I would like to continue to trust them.”
Councilmember Mark Legband said although he is pro-library, he didn’t feel comfortable voting on Yerger’s ordinance, which was presented to the council for the first time that meeting.
“We have not even looked at it or had a chance to look at any of this,” he said. “If you want to continue it until everyone has a chance to read it, that’s fine with me.”
Councilmember Michael Kuhns agreed with Legband and said he would like to hear at the next meeting from Jacobus’ legal team, which she said she spoke with prior to the meeting.
Councilmember Glen Ellis thanked Yerger for his work on the issue and said it was the right path for the council to take. He said he was also interested in continuing the item.
“I think it’s going to be more than just removing a sentence to fix this problem,” Ellis said. “I think we probably ought to look at it as a holistic issue and try to solve it.”
Yerger agreed and made a motion to continue to the next meeting to give the councilmembers more adequate time.
“My goal was to get this in front of council so that we could understand why we might want to do a more thorough rewrite of Section 3, Article 7, so that the library board is fully functional in regard to state statute,” he said.
Several items on the council’s agenda were affected by the weather Tuesday. A real estate item was continued due to the applicant’s absence and a consultant was absent for a sewer charge item.
A recertification presentation for the city as an Economic Development Certified Community presented by Lt. Gov. Mike Foley was also postponed due to weather.
The council held its second reading for establishing Fremont as a Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) district.
PACE is an economic development tool that would give Fremont long-term fixed-rate financing for projects that are environmentally friendly. Grant coordinator Lottie Mitchell said there are not public funds at risk and no city or taxpayer liability.
The ordinance also is proposing to be defined as the city limits and be limited to commercial and industrial projects.
Jacobus asked several questions on discrepancies between the PACE assessment contract and state statutes. City Administrator Brian Newton said this was the same language used by Chris Peterson, managing partner for Nebraska PACE Sage Capital, for other cities like Bellevue, Columbus and Beatrice.
“So this is what he tries to get all the communities to adopt so we have a very similar type of language,” he said.
Jacobus also recommended amending the ordinance so that the PACE board would have to be appointed by the mayor and approved by the city council.
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“Right now, it just says appointed by the mayor, and I don’t think, with adherence to the Open Meetings Act, that we will want to have that not approved by city council for the seven-member board,” she said.
Yerger said he wanted to see the second reading moved to the next meeting so that Peterson could be present, as the weather prevented him from being in attendance.
“It’ll be a good tool, but I think that we’ve really got to exercise some due diligence in its implementation,” he said. “And quite honestly, I shared several of those concerns raised by Jacobus.”
The council voted unanimously to continue ordinance discussion to the next council meeting and hold a public hearing as well.
The council also discussed an ordinance dealing with the placement and density of multifamily dwellings.
Jennifer Dam, planning director, said she had been working work Yerger to make amendments that would require architectural compatibility, additional setbacks and landscape buffering.
However, Dam said she had a number of phone calls of people who were concerned about the ordinance’s language, which was significantly different than what had gone to the Planning Commission and public hearing last month.
“So the request that I received was that the more detailed language be sent back to the planning commission to review as one of the solutions,” she said. “The other request was to vote on the original language and then consider the additional language when we update the [Unified Development Code], which has been budgeted and we hope to move forward with this spring.”
Dam recommended the latter option, as the deadline for the Planning Commission’s January agenda is Dec. 12. She also said the council could approve the original ordinance and send the rest back to the Planning Commission to potentially be added later.
“I think that could create a balance,” Dam said. “And then we could continue to have conversations with developers and try to satisfy what some of the additional concerns are regarding the setbacks and the design elements of an apartment complex.”
Like Dam, Councilmember Linda McClain said she was also contacted by people concerned about the ordinance, which included language on garages, accessory structures and the location of parking lots.
“I feel, in the interest of transparency, which we’re always talking about, that to approve this amended version tonight without really allowing for public comment or for it to have gone through the planning commission process is not appropriate,” she said. “That said, I’m not sure what the right action is because I understand there are folks waiting on this to be passed.”
Yerger argued that since the council is free to make revisions after a public hearing, sending the ordinance back to the Planning Commission to review is not necessary.
“I’m OK if we just postpone it another time, but I think considerable work went into modifying this to come up with something workable,” he said. “And as Councilmember McClain said, we have some conditional use permits that are pending this language.”
Other councilmembers were unsure about the ordinance’s current position.
“I’m not comfortable adopting the original,” Jacobus said. “I’m not warm and fuzzy with adopting the entirety without amending what we have in front of us that was in part of our packet.”
Councilmember Michael Kuhns said he’s received input from developers and thought the ordinance needed to be more “black and white.”
“I think they’re somewhat of an expert in what they can do and what they cannot do to make money, and I think they need to be included on this,” he said. “If it gets too complex to where they’re going to walk away, we don’t want that.”
Mayor Scott Getzschman said the proposed amendment had too many changes from its original form.
“This is totally different than what we saw in the first two readings,” he said. “And for the council to take something that’s night-and-day different from reading one, reading two in the public hearing and making a decision, I think transparency went a long way away.”
Jacobus made a motion to strike two paragraphs concerning distance, but leave language on garages and parking, as she said they were important aspects. The motion failed, with Councilmember Mark Jensen, Jacobus and McClain voting in favor.
Legband made a motion to amend the original ordinance to remove language about the AR district and approve the ordinance. Both votes were approved 5-4, with Councilmember Matt Bechtel, Legband, Kuhns and McClain voting in favor and Getzschman providing the deciding vote.
The council also voted to consider a resolution to place a stop sign at Lincoln Avenue and 26th Street. Public Works Director Dave Goedeken said the Traffic Committee doesn’t usually place stop signs at a dead-end street.
“But Lincoln Road, we’re in the process of putting together plans to connect Lincoln Avenue up to 29th Street and ultimately 37th Street,” he said. So in the future, this will take a lot more traffic.”
The council also voted to continue discussions on amending the municipal code for charge and considerations for sewer connections.