The Nisswa City Council had spirited discussion about ways to support city businesses during the COVID-19 shutdown, ultimately voting 4-1 to adopt a resolution similar to one the Crow Wing County Board adopted urging Gov. Tim Walz to allow all businesses to be open for Memorial Day weekend.

That didn’t happen, but the council’s meeting was before the holiday weekend, on Wednesday, May 20. The regular council meeting was conducted online via Zoom, though the full council was at city hall.

Council member Gary Johnson cast the only no vote, explaining later in the meeting that while it was great that the council did something, he didn’t think it was enough.

While council members indicated they believed all businesses should be open, most didn’t want the city to open itself to liability that could come with defying a governor’s order. Council member Mike Hoff advocated for a strongly worded letter of support for businesses.

City Attorney Tom Pearson encouraged the council to do that, saying he didn’t recommend the council act defiantly and allow businesses to be open in spite of the governor’s executive orders and the law.

Mayor Fred Heidmann said the governor has no right to put people out of business. While council members didn’t disagree, Don Jacobson said the governor has the authority to issue executive orders and the Legislature doesn’t have the votes to rescind that.

“I disagree with him, but he has the power to do what he’s doing,” Jacobson said.

Johnson said the resolution is pointless and not worth the paper it’s written on.

Council member John Ryan said the whole shutdown is ridiculous and didn’t need to happen.

“But we don’t have the authority to tell people you can open,” he said.

Jacobson said: “There is a solution to this whole matter - elections. All we have now is a resolution saying to the governor, ‘We aren’t happy.’”

Heidmann advocated for a resolution saying the city of Nisswa supports its local businesses, and if they choose to open, the city won’t stand in their way. He said the city should be strong like Pequot Lakes, which said its businesses could all open. News of the governor and attorney general being willing to shut down a big tourist town would work against them, Heidmann said.

Jacobson said that wouldn’t be a responsible position for the council to take.

Ryan agreed, saying the council doesn’t have the authority to tell police not to enforce rules and laws. The council has an obligation to the citizens, but also to the city as a whole not to open the city to a lawsuit or liability issue, he said.

Regarding a question on summer events planned in the city, the council agreed those events should continue so long as they have the required permits. Hoff said if people aren’t in favor, they don’t have to attend.

Roads

The council accepted a bid from Knife River for 2020 street improvements for $642,745. That includes $519,504 for street improvements plus $123,240 to extend sanitary sewer along Hazelwood Drive south of the Lower Roy Lake Road intersection.

2020 road projects are for Smiley Road South and Hazelwood Drive, the last two roads from the city’s 2018 bond issuance.

The council also accepted a bid from Landwehr Construction Inc. for the Hazelwood Drive bridge project for $286,117.

Liquor operations

Municipal liquor reports showed the Pickle Factory had $24,675 in sales this April during the COVID-19 shutdown, and that compares to $68,281 in sales in April 2019. Similarly, expenditures totaled $45,560 last month, compared to $86,614 in April 2019.

Spirits of Nisswa has remained open and reported sales were up in March and April. March sales at Spirits totaled $210,489. That compares to $154,370 in sales in March 2019. Expenses totaled $207,700 in April, compared to $138,624 in April 2019.

“We are definitely seeing the effects of the bars and restaurants being closed,” Manager Brian Farrell said in his written report.

In other business May 20, the council:

  • Approved a COVID-19 preparedness plan for city staff and department operations.

  • Learned Parks and Recreation Director Matthew Hill is now a certified parks and recreation professional, and the governor appointed him to a four-year term as the District 2 commissioner on the Greater Minnesota Parks and Trails Commission.

  • Approved 2020-2021 liquor licenses.

  • Approved a cross-jurisdictional road maintenance agreement between the city and Crow Wing County.

  • Approved an agreement between the city and Widseth engineering firm for construction observation and Public Finance Authority reporting for the wastewater treatment facility expansion for $373,500. The total project cost is $5,298,000.

  • Accepted donations, including $5,000 from the Nisswa Lions for firefighter equipment.

  • Agreed to hire Kennedy & Graven as the city’s labor and employment law attorney. The firm has offices in Minneapolis, St. Paul and St. Cloud.

  • Approved a road maintenance agreement between the city and Lake Edward Township, on the condition Lake Edward Township also accepts it.

  • Asked the planning commission to continue to work on an ordinance pertaining to storage units in the city. The commission has had trouble agreeing on ordinance language. A moratorium on mini storage units has been in place since September.

Nancy Vogt may be reached at 218-855-5877 or nancy.vogt@pineandlakes.com. Follow her on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Nancy.