Waukon City Council addresses variety of matters; two council members call for mayor’s resignation during discussion of St. Patrick’s Day Parade cancellation

by Joe Moses

The Waukon City Council met in regular session Monday, March 16 to address a full agenda of items including the Public Hearing for the Fiscal-Year 2020-2021 Budget, the hiring of two new City employees and discussion of the mayor’s and council’s decisions relating to the St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
Mayor Pat Stone called the meeting to order with the council approving an amended agenda. The council moved into the consideration of two new hires. Natasha Wilkes was approved as Police Department Administrative Assistant with a start date of March 17, 2020 at $17.29 per hour. Kelby Moose as Water/Wastewater Treatment Maintenance Worker with a start date of March 23, 2020 at $15.96 per hour was also approved.

The Public Hearing for the Fiscal-Year 2020-2021 Budget was opened and closed without verbal or written comment. The Fiscal-Year 2020-2021 Budget Resolution was reviewed by the council with City Manager Gary Boden providing an overview of this matter. The council approved the resolution.

The Annual Budget for Veterans Memorial Hospital for Fiscal Year Ending June 30, 2021 was reviewed and approved by the council.

During Public Comment, Director Ardie Kuhse of Waukon Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) explained that new guidelines are being put in place for unemployment insurance claims through IowaWORKS due to temporary closures relating to the coronavirus. Kuhse indicated that this information is being provided to Waukon area employers and employees and that these claims will not count against employers.

Under Department Reports, Police Chief Paul Wagner discussed meeting with the Department of Transportation (DOT) relating to pedestrian activated lighted crosswalk signage. Wagner reported that a light pole was damaged on West Street near Waukon State Bank with a suspect and quick closure of the case being likely. Wagner discussed a recent application for the state radio system and use of a communications tower and that a tornado drill is scheduled for  March 25 at 10 a.m. to coincide with Severe Weather Awareness Week.

Street Superintendent Keith Burrett indicated that a spare light pole is in storage and would be used to replace the damaged light pole Wagner mentioned during his update. Burrett discussed ongoing street maintenance including street sweeping and filling potholes.

Water and Sewer Superintendent Jim Cooper provided an update about water testing results, which he indicated were good, and that an upcoming conference was canceled due to recent coronavirus concerns. Cooper discussed that an announcement will be published in the newspaper relating to flushable wipes, which he said do not decompose and have caused problems at a lift station.

In the absence of Park and Rec Wellness Director Jeremy Strub, council member Arvid Hatlan read aloud an email received from Strub as a department update. Strub’s email indicated that the Waukon Wellness Center has closed in response to the coronavirus with a board meeting scheduled for Thursday morning, March 19 to discuss activities which will potentially need to be canceled as a precaution.

City Manager Boden provided his report and discussed that Robey Memorial Library has closed to the public as a precaution relating to the coronavirus. Boden discussed the possibility of closing Waukon City Hall to the public with employees continuing to work. Boden indicated that he will be on KNEI Radio Thursday at 9:45 a.m. for the “Talk of the Town” segment. Boden provided an update on building permits and said that a sign permit was received for the Dollar Fresh/Hy-Vee grocery store to be located in the former Shopko building.

During the City Council Reports portion of the meeting, council members addressed Mayor Stone and provided feedback relating to the handling of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade cancellation. Council member Gayle Decker indicated that he believes Stone was out of line and that the council had unanimously voted to cancel the parade due to this being an emerging health and safety issue. Stone indicated that the council revoked the parade permit and did not provide any direction for vehicles and parade floats to exit the community. Stone further discussed that parade floats were lining up when the event was canceled with a minimal number of people viewing the parade as they traveled the route due to the cancellation.

Stone further indicated that the decision to cancel the event was made too late by the council. Hatlan suggested that Stone encouraged parade participants to line up and travel on the parade route despite the event being canceled. Council member John Ellingson said that Stone intentionally went around the will of the council and put the safety and welfare of citizens at risk. Ellingson added that candy was still thrown from floats and vehicles despite the event cancellation.

Ellingson requested that Stone resign as mayor with Hatlan echoing similar sentiments later in the meeting. The emergency meeting held the morning of Sunday, March 15 was discussed by the council and Stone. Hatlan indicated that Stone’s actions were a total disregard for public safety. Council member Ben Rausch addressed concerns relating to the elderly and those with medical conditions making them more susceptible to the coronavirus. Rausch indicated that in this instance, the mayor has failed this community.

Ellingson added that the mayor had placed a social gathering above the safety and welfare of citizens despite recommendations from State and Federal levels to limit exposure and public events due to the health concerns. Decker addressed Stone’s decisions and indicated that a mistake was made; however, he would probably not vote for Stone’s termination.

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