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Willmar City Council won’t limit debate on use of street foam

WILLMAR — The Willmar City Council members decided they won’t limit consideration or debate on the possible use of foam to enhance city street construction.

The council defeated a motion Monday night that asked the council to support the city engineer’s recommendation to not use foam under city streets. The motion also asked the council to remove the possibility of trial areas of foam from any further discussion.

The motion offered by Councilwoman Audrey Nelsen and seconded by Councilman Bruce DeBlieck came out of discussion at last week’s Public Works/Safety Committee after Councilman Ron Christianson, who is the committee chairman, had asked City Engineer Sean Christensen to research foam use.

After consulting with city engineers in the region and other professionals, Christensen said he cannot recommend foam use due to numerous issues based on the insulation characteristics and additional costs to install at the depth required.

Christensen repeated his recommendation Monday night.

Nelsen offered to amend the motion by dropping language that would remove the possibility of trial areas from further discussion. But the amendment was defeated 3-4 with Nelsen, DeBlieck and Denis Anderson in favor, and Christianson, Steve Ahmann, Tim Johnson and Rick Fagerlie against. Councilman Jim Dokken was absent Monday.

Johnson asked Nelsen if she would withdraw her motion, which the rules permit, but Nelsen said no.

The council then considered the motion as presented and it failed on a voice vote with no council members voting in favor.

During discussion, Johnson said that under parliamentary rules of procedure, which the council adopted at the urging of citizens and the Charter Commission, that the motion was improper because it would restrict comments or discussions about matters that come before the council.

He quoted a paragraph that gives council members the right to have their say, and he said a governing body must have free and open discussion of all matters.

“To pass a motion limiting discussion or limiting a council member’s right to state or participate in discussions, even if it might be contrary to what some of the other members want to discuss, I don’t think it’s proper at all,’’ he said.

Fagerlie said a motion is not needed because the city is not putting foam under streets now. “We have no plans to do it,’’ he said. Fagerlie thanked Christensen for his statement and agreed it’s not something the city should do. “But I’ve learned that you never say never because things do change,’’ he said.

Nelsen said the request from Christianson was to find test areas for foam.

“Our city engineer has done research. He’s presented it to (council member) Christianson and to the entire committee, and I think we should accept his recommendation from the work he did that foam is not the correct thing for the city,’’ Nelsen said.

Nelsen said the foam issue is raised regularly at Public Works meetings.

“My request for the motion is to simply allow us to accept our staff’s recommendation to accept this and move on,’’ she said. Nelsen said foam may have applications in Christianson’s line of work as a housing contractor.

But she said the council should respect Christensen’s recommendation and his work and put the issue to rest for right now. “If the world changes or things change, we can come back and look to it again,’’ she said.

Johnson said he had no problem with Christensen’s position. But he pointed out technology changes over time. He said he’s no expert and deferred to Christensen on the issue.

However, Johnson said he thought the purpose of the motion “still sounds like it’s to limit discussion.’’

Anderson asked City Attorney Robert Scott “where the council was going’’ with the motion.

Scott said he agreed with Johnson’s objection that the original motion was improper. But he saw no problem with the motion as amended and said the council could pass a motion to not use foam under city streets and the council could always decide differently in the future.

Christianson quoted sources and a number of applications where foam is used. Christianson said he knows foam works and he thought the motion was made “to shut me up and I don’t like it.’’

Christianson said he chooses to follow the League of Minnesota Cities’ top priority for elected officials: to participate and ask questions.

Anderson said the engineer isn’t going to recommend using foam and said he would support the wishes of the city engineer.

Ahmann said he would not endorse any motion to limit debate on a perspective that a council member might think is correct or reconsider. “Why would we box ourselves in to saying no to never putting foam down when things change?’’ he asked.

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150