City Hall building banner - File photo Rhonda Silence
Rhonda Silence

City holds organizational meeting, talks housing and snowmobile trail

The Grand Marais City Council held its first meeting of the year on January 13, which included annual organizational activities and regular business. The city selected its official newspaper and financial depositories, made councilor and citizen assignments to various boards and commissions, and appointed a councilor to serve as acting mayor in the absence of Mayor Jay Arrowsmith DeCoux. For 2021, Kelly Swearingen will be the acting mayor.

The Cook County News-Herald, under new ownership since the end of November 2020, submitted a bid for the official newspaper. The only option for the city, the News-Herald made the same bid as last year, $9 per column inch. That is the newspaper’s rate for all customers, there is no discount for city government.

The city also selected Grand Marais State Bank and North Shore Federal Credit Union as local depositories of city funds for 2021.

Boards and Commissions
Swearingen noted that she is the city representative for the North Shore Management Board, but unfortunately, the NSMB meets at the same time as the city council. County Commissioner Ginny Storlie attends the management board meetings to represent Cook County. Swearingen said she gets updates on meetings from the board, but expressed frustration that the meeting dates conflict. Likewise, Councilor Anton Moody said he has conflicts with the Arrowhead Regional Development Commission. Mayor Arrowsmith DeCoux suggested speaking with those entities to see if some alternate arrangements for participation could be made.
Appointments need to be made to fill the role held by Tim Kennedy, who did not run for reelection. Both Mayor Arrowsmith DeCoux and Councilor Craig Schulte expressed interest in filling the vacancy on the Grand Marais Public Utility Commission, an annual appointment. A motion passed to appoint Councilor Schulte to the PUC.

Councilor Swearingen said she could fill the Planning Commission vacancy. Councilor Moody said he would be willing to take on County’s Parks and Trails Commission role. A motion passed to approve those appointments, with Councilor Michael Garry taking on the other positions formerly held by Tim Kennedy.

Citizens appointed to various commissions were Kevin LeVoir to the Grand Marais Library Board; Rita Hinchmann and Frances Jarchow to the Park Board; Tracy Benson to the Public Utilities Commission and Virginia Palmer to the Cook County/Grand Marais Economic Development Authority.

Housing and redevelopment presentation
The city council heard a presentation from the Minnesota Housing Partnership on the possibility of forming a housing and redevelopment authority in Cook County. The Cook County/Grand Marais Economic Development Authority (EDA) has been working with the Minnesota Housing Partnership to try to determine if forming an HRA would be beneficial for the city and county overall. Learn more about the EDA’s involvement in that and other housing work in this interview: EDA approves funding for Hedstrom Lumber employee housing project

Social Media policy proposed
Communications Director Patrick Knight presented a proposed social media policy for the city. Knight explained that the policy is proposed to address three issues: eliminating redundant or defunct city websites or social media; establishing management controls for city websites and social media accounts; and to prevent abusive, obscene or defamatory comments on city social media accounts.

Knight noted that there had not been any problems that brought this forward, but this is to prevent any future issues. City Administrator Mike Roth stressed that this is for use of the city’s social media accounts, not a councilor’s or staff member’s personal page.
The social media policy was adopted by a unanimous vote.

Changes to snowmobile trail leading into city
There was a discussion about the snowmobile trail coming into Grand Marais. A request has been made to revisit the change made during recent Highway 61 work. At that time, it was decided that the snowmobile route would be moved to the lower (south) side of Highway 61.
However, the Mayor Arrowsmith DeCoux said the commenter who raised concern said there is no way for the snowmobile groomer to groom the trail on the lower side.

Councilor Anton Moody said he was not aware that the change had been made until he heard from a local business.

Councilor Swearingen noted that the change had not been discussed at the city council in the past. She said the upper side of the road has been historically used without incident. She noted that the lower side of the highway does seem difficult, as it crosses private property, the U.S. Border Patrol office, as well as significant slopes. She pointed out that is why the route has been on the upper side of the highway. Swearingen said she would like to work this out to help the snowmobile club, which brings significant business to the community.

Mayor Arrowsmith DeCoux said there have been concerns of snowmobiles crossing at random points to reach businesses on the lower side of the highway. The City Administrator said his office had received “a lot of comments” in the past from people who were concerned about shared use of the upper side of the road for walkers and snowmobilers.

Councilor Schulte said it seems that snowmobiles are using the same path they have for the last 15 years. Because there is no signage, users are following the route they have in years past. He said once this decision is affirmed, a sign needs to be erected to let snowmobiles know which path to take.

It was agreed this hasn’t been a significant issue because of lack of snow, but agreed it was very important to talk to the snowmobile club. The matter will be put on the agenda for the next council meeting on January 27.

In other business
* The city council approved a 3 percent wage increase for supervisory positions for city workers. This follows the city’s practice to provide supervisors the same cost of living increase as that given to non-supervisory positions that fall under the city’s AFSCME contract.

* The council approved a liquor license for the Harbor Light Supper Club.

* Mayor Arrowsmith DeCoux gave a brief update on the recent county COVID emergency management team and the vaccine roll-out. He said so far, things have been going well.

* Arrowsmith DeCoux also let the council know that he had applied for a position on the Minnesota peace officers standards and training board (POST). The board is seeking a representative from a small city. He will let the council know if he is offered a seat on the council.

WTIP’s Rhonda Silence checked in with Mayor Jay Arrowsmith DeCoux to learn more on all of these matters, as well as the controversy launched when new Councilor Michael Garry made a personal comment about the president during the oath of office.
**This article was updated to note that Commissioner Ginny Storlie attends the North Shore Management Board meetings, but she does not give official updates to Councilor Swearingen for council meetings.