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Tag Archive | "cedar springs city council"

Investigation into open meetings violation will go on


Cedar-Springs-new-logo

By Judy Reed

 

The Cedar Springs City Council voted last month to conduct an investigation into whether a violation had occurred under the Open Meetings Act last July, when the Council voted to take Mayor Bob Truesdale into closed session to hear complaints against him.

The Michigan Open Meetings Act states that a closed session may be called to hear complaints against a public officer, when the person requests a closed hearing. It can also be rescinded by the individual at any time.

According to Truesdale, he did not ask for the closed session, but was instead told by two of the council members that they were going to do this in closed session. Truesdale said he voted with the council figuring he had nothing to hide, and was not aware of his rights to end it at any time.

Two of the council members—Patricia Troost and Ashley Bremmer—are up for recall and the alleged open meetings violation is one of the reasons listed.

While Councilmember Dan Clark originally voted for the investigation, he began to have second thoughts last week, after reviewing two opinions by former State Attorney General Frank Kelley in connection with recalls and using public funds to defend the members up for recall. So he asked to have the matter revisited when the council met last Thursday for a special goals workshop session.

“I voted for it (the investigation) last month because I was not a councilmember at the time it occurred and did not want to interfere, “ he explained. “But when I realized that there was a conflict with an attorney general opinion, I tried to have them change the language to take it away from the recall.”

At the workshop, Clark proposed that they delay the investigation until they could find out whether the two opinions he read would cause the council to do something illegal. “In connecting the investigation with the recall, we are putting together two areas that should not be—the electoral and the judicial,” he explained.

The two opinions he cited were from former State Attorney General Frank Kelley.  In opinion 6704, dated March 22, 1991, Kelley answered the question on whether a municipality can use its funds for the purpose of paying expenses incurred by its city commissioners in the defense of a recall petition arising out of their performance of their duties as elected officers. He answered that no officer has any duties regarding the…outcome of  a recall election, and that his opinion was that the township may not expend public funds to challenge the sufficiency of  recall petitions.

The second opinion, no. 6715, dated March 17, 1992, also addressed public funds to pay legal fees of village council members who are subject of a recall. He again stated that a village may not use its funds for the purpose of paying legal fees to legal counsel opposing a recall petition.

Clark likens those opinions to what he sees the council is now doing—performing an internal investigation using public funds to exonerate the two members under recall. But Mayor Mark Fankhauser sees it differently. He says the investigation is not on behalf of Troost or Bremmer.

“We rely on our lawyer to act legally on our behalf. The recall was the catalyst that caused the entire to be compromised, and I felt it was important to address whether the council had done anything improper. It will be a small impact financially.”

City Manager Thad Taylor told the council that he had asked City Attorney Jeffrey Slugget whether they were using the funds improperly, and he told them that the city’s charter says they can use public funds as long as they are using it for a public purpose. He explained that the city must do the initial gathering of information, then show any evidence they gather to the prosecutor. If the prosecutor feels there is a case, it gets turned over to the Michigan State Police for further investigation.

Fankhauser said he felt the investigation should continue so that the public knows whether or not something illegal has been done.

Troost agreed, saying the investigation would tell them if five of them still on the council did something wrong.

Clark said the real issue is that they shouldn’t spend money on an electoral process.  “I want us to have a good image. I don’t want to spend public money on this. As a public body, we are influencing the electorate unintentionally.”

He said if there had to be an investigation, he felt it should come from a private source, not one funded by the city.

Clark also took issue with lawyer Sluggett’s response when asked at a previous meeting about who can call a closed session. “Mr. Sluggett said over and over that anyone can call a closed session and it is not so. I would like to have more than his opinion. As a council I don’t want to be diametrically opposed to what the attorney general says.”

Clark moved to amend their motion to investigate and asked for Taylor to stop the investigation and not restart until further info was gathered. It was defeated 6-1, with Truesdale saying he accidentally voted no when he meant to vote yes. That may have been true for one other council member as well.

Mark Laws, the Cedar Springs resident who has filed the recall petition, has also filed a complaint against the Council under the Michigan Campaign Finance Act. Under that act, a public body must maintain strict neutrality in each election and not attempt to influence the outcome of an election.

 

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Recall language approved


Cedar-Springs-new-logoLast Friday, March 7, was the third time the Kent County Elections Commission has held a clarity hearing on the petition language filed to recall two Cedar Springs City Council members. It was approved 2-1.

Council members Patricia Troost and Ashley Bremmer have 10 days from last Friday to appeal the decision.

According to Elections Director Susan deStiguer, the petition language was approved 2-1. Chief Probate Judge David Murkowski expressed concern about the factual portion and voted no.

Resident Mark Laws filed the petitions. The first time he filed, they were rejected by the Elections Commission. The second time he filed, the Election Commission approved them 2-1, but the Council Members appealed, and Circuit Court judge Mark Trusock reversed that decision Friday, February 21. Laws then immediately filed new language. That is the language approved last Friday.

It reads:

1) On July 11, 2013 Ashley Bremmer/Patrica Troost voted to go into a closed session, to hear complaints against council member Truesdale. The Open Meetings Act 267, 15.268, 8a allows for a closed session if it is requested by the person to be disciplined or reprimanded. Council member Truesdale made no such request.

2.  On November 14, 2013 Ashley Bremmer/Patricia Troost voted to change the city logo and tagline. For many years it has been procedure of the council to not take action on an item not previously on agenda for public input and comment. This change in the logo and tagline was not presented to the public for input or comment before the change was made.

Watch the Post for more details next week on the status of the petitions.

 

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Petition language approved for recall


Ashley Bremmer

Ashley Bremmer

Patricia Troost

Patricia Troost

The petition language to recall two Cedar Springs City Council members was approved by the Kent County Elections Commission Wednesday morning at a clarity hearing.

City resident Mark Laws filed the petition to recall Patricia Troost and Ashley Bremmer.

According to Elections Director Susan deStiguer, the petition language was approved 2-1. Chief Probate Judge David Murkowski expressed concern that the language might not be clear enough and voted no.

This was the second attempt by Laws to file petition language. The language was denied at the first hearing, because a new law says the language must be both clear and factual. The Election Commission’s approval of the petition language does not mean the statements are true, only that they are clear and provide facts. The language reads:

The new language (reason for recall) reads:

“1) On July 11, 2013 the city council motioned and supported to adjourn to a closed session and then adjourned. The Open Meetings Act 267, 15.267, 8A allows a closed session if the named person requests a closed hearing. No such request was made.

2) City council has a protocol in place requiring any change of import to be on agenda for public input and comment before it can be acted on by council in a following meeting. Former council member Merlington wrote this protocol. The new logo that was approved in November 2013 council meeting was not presented to the public for input or comments.”

The first reason applies to a council meeting where then Mayor Bob Truesdale was allegedly taken into closed session without asking for one and yelled at by other council members. The second reason has to do with the process of adopting the new logo.

Councilors Troost and Bremmer have 10 days to appeal the Election Commission’s decision to Circuit Court. If the court approves it, or if they fail to file an appeal, Laws can begin to collect signatures. If enough signatures are collected within the time frame allotted, and they are all valid, the recall would be on the ballot in November.

 

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To the Cedar Springs City Council and its Tax Payers:


 

I have held back my thoughts for a couple of years, but recent events do not allow me to do so any longer.

Just when several of us, and what I truly believe to be a majority of the tax payers, were excited that we had a leader with innovative business ideas, as well as a goal of making the city friendlier, a majority of the council voted him out of office in what I would call a very unprofessional manner. I know Mr. Truesdale had some very big, aggressive, modern, and forward-thinking ideas that quite possibly the council was not ready for yet, but in my opinion, it is past time for big ideas for this city. He may have made some mistakes, but who doesn’t? I, personally, like big goals. I look at it if from the point of view that if you only make it half-way to your goal, you still got somewhere! But why should I be surprised when this is the same group that says you cannot run the city like a business? I find this statement ridiculous and cannot believe such a thing is said. Rather, if it’s a school, city, county or any organization, it must be run like a business and get the most out of every dollar you possibly can. Please remember in your thinking, you do serve the taxpayers. The task of the council should be about what is best for the citizen not about which side one is on or about wins or losses.

It also does not hurt to be friendly instead of arrogant. Some of the city employees are great, but it seems as you get up the ladder it ends. City Hall should be a friendly place to go, not confrontational. After all, you are working for the citizens of the community!

I know some of the council members will say I have no vote or voice, as I do not live in the city, and yes, I cannot vote but I do feel the $468,000 I have paid in property taxes to the city in the last ten years does give me a say! I pay what I consider a lot of property tax without any city services: no water, sewer, leaf pick-up or road maintenance, as our property is on a county road but in the city limits.

I have never met the new city manager who has been here over a year. If I was a council member, I would want him out meeting with the tax payers, seeing if they had any needs, complaints, and maybe even new ideas. The last couple city managers at least stopped at our place of business when they first came to town.

Our company does a lot of municipal work for several cities throughout West Michigan and I can assure you, our city is very backwards and unfriendly. I truly feel we are a joke to all of West Michigan, not just Kent County. In the construction industry, we are known to be a very unfriendly city to try and build anything for and/or with.

I remember when my uncle (Mike Holton) and I donated the heating and air-conditioning to the Kent Theater, I checked to see if we could get the city fees waived. “Oh absolutely not,” as that would set a dangerous precedent. A few months later, we donated the plumbing for a shower building at the Kent County fairgrounds in Lowell. The city waived the fees and asked us if there was anything else they could do; they even thanked us and they weren’t even the owners of the building!

I have watched this city squander away so many things in the past, one being when the new Meijer store was being built. Meijer offered to pay the entire cost to run a water main big enough for their store as well as for future use under the expressway. This included all engineering, fees, permits, fire hydrants and related items at a cost close to one million dollars, and all at no cost to the city. As the individual from the West Michigan Metro Council tried to explain to both the city and the township, he encouraged them to take this gift as this is something the two of them wouldn’t be able to afford to do together in the next 10 to 15 years.  It was still turned down. In talking to Meilogo. This is my opinion, but I feel this is such an embarrassment to all of the residents in northern Kent County. What a joke that never should have happened. The attorney fees and time that was wasted on this is totally ridiculous! I am old-school and just a plain plumber, but I feel both sides should be tarred and feathered for their actions. Some sensible people from both sides need to get involved and get this issued solved. We do not need a new logo. I truly believe the Red Flannel logo needs to be returned to the people who really own it—the citizens of Cedar Springs and surrounding area. It has been our logo for as long as I can remember.

It’s past time to return the community back to the people that pay the taxes instead of a few people, who in my opinion, are trying to feed their huge egos and it appears have no common or business sense.

In all honesty, I feel badly that I have to write a letter of this nature. I grew up in this town, graduated from the school system, I’ve ran my business here, Northwest Kent Mechanical Co., for 25 years, and my mother lives here. My dad was fire chief for several years, he was on the council for 15 years, and served as its’ mayor for 7 years. This is a city which I truly cared for in my past, care for in my present, but more importantly for the future.

I truly hope this council can go forward in a more professional manner, but I am not convinced it can.

Thank you for taking the time to allow me to share my concerns and frustrations.

Dale Larson

 

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Winter parking in effect


The Cedar Springs Police Department has been placing red warning cards on vehicles during the month of November regarding where to park overnight, and may soon be starting additional enforcement.

The Cedar Springs City Council voted in July to approve Ordinance No. 180 Section 36-86, which reads: no parking 3 a.m. to 6 a.m. from November 1st to April 1st on streets and areas that have a curb, such as Main Street and connecting side streets, and no parking within a distance of 20 feet of the center of a street for all other areas.

For snow removal reasons, City Council has approved this language, which does not allow someone to parallel park along the edge of the paved roadway. Other City ordinances cover vehicles parked in a front yard, so simply moving your vehicle further than 20 feet from the center of the street may still be in violation of a City Ordinance.

 

 

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Voters choose two new city councilors


N-Election

When the Cedar Springs City Council convenes on Thursday, November 14, two new faces will be sitting behind the council desk.

Two seats were up for grabs in the Tuesday, November 5 election. Daniel Clark, Director of Operations and Maintenance at Creative Technologies Academy, received 139 votes, while Jerry Hall, former DPW Superintendent for the City of Cedar Springs, received 131 votes to win the seats.

They were followed by incumbent Pamela Conley with 111 votes, and Mark Laws with 65. The other open seat belonged to Mayor Pro-tem Charlie Watson, who decided not to run for another term.

According to Cedar Springs City Clerk Linda Branyan, 235 people voted—just under 11 percent of registered voters.

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Are fireworks allowed in Cedar Springs?


The Cedar Springs City Council passed the second reading earlier this month of ordinances that regulate when residents are allowed to use fireworks in the city.

People may only use consumer fireworks in the city if it’s on the day before, the day of, or the day after a national holiday, but not between the hours of 1 a.m. and 8 a.m. The national holidays include New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King Day, President’s Day or Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day.

If residents want to use fireworks any other day of the year, they will need to purchase a permit, but must do so 15 days prior to the event. In order to receive a permit, the applicant needs to show proof of financial responsibility by a bond or insurance for possible damages to property or personal injuries resulting from the fireworks. They also must not be within 15 feet of another person’s property except with permission.

Cedar Springs Police Chief Roger Parent said that residents should call if there are fireworks going off in their neighborhood. “We’ll take a look around and educate people about the ordinance,” he said.

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City Council clips


Mayor tells city’s side of story

The City Council chamber was packed with spectators at the regular Cedar Springs City Council meeting last week Thursday, many of them there to speak on behalf of the Red Flannel Festival. Post photo by Judy Reed

Cedar Springs Mayor Charlie Watson read a letter at last Thursday’s City Council meeting, saying it was time for the silence to be lifted and for the city to defend itself against false accusations and half truths regarding negotiations with the Red Flannel Festival. (click here to read letter) He offered three solutions to the problem: that the city and RF board agree to the last proposal sent by the city; that the city stop using the RF logos and create their own; or they put it on the ballot and let the voters (who have to pick up the bill) decide.

The City’s proposal to the Festival stated that the city would cease use of all logos except the Red Flannel Town USA and round Red Flannel Town, Cedar Springs, Michigan logos, and that they would use them for identification purposes only. They would agree not to use them for commercial purposes without payment to the Festival. And if the city did profit from the sale of any items bearing the RFF trademark, they would waive city-incurred expenses associated with the Festival in that particular year.

What do you think? Are any of these solutions feasible?

DPW Director resigns

Roger Belknap, DPW Director for the City of Cedar Springs, is resigning as of June 30. Cedar Springs City Manager Christine Burns said he resigned for personal reasons. He’s been a phenomenal DPW Director,” said Burns. “He’s been a great addition to the team and I’m going to miss him.”

Mayor Charlie Watson echoed a similar sentiment. “He’s done a wonderful job, and I hate to see him go.”

Belknap offered to come back on a contracted basis as needed to help with projects until a new director is found. The city is having a going away party for him on June 26. He was hired about a year and a half ago.

Red Flannel Festival

The Cedar Springs City Council approved a motion to waive parade fees for the children’s parade and grand parade, and the application (excluding the beer tent) for holding special events that impair the use of streets and public ways. A special meeting will be held on Friday, June 29 at noon to approve an amendment allowing temporary or seasonal uses in any district on issuance of a permit. The RF beer tent, which is being planned for the American Legion parking lot this year, would fall under this ordinance amendment. The Festival’s lawyer has also sent the city some revisions they would like made in the ordinance before it is adopted.

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Festival orders city to stop using logos


By Judy Reed

 

The Red Flannel Festival sent a cease and desist letter to the Cedar Springs City Council last week, which ordered the city to stop using the Festival’s trademarked logos.

“The 8-member, all volunteer board voted unanimously to pursue this as a last resort,” said Festival First Vice President, Nick Andres. “We firmly believe, as the trademarks are the only real asset of the Festival, it is our fiduciary responsibility, as officers of the corporation, to protect the Festival from this infringement.”

The City of Cedar Springs does not agree that they should have to give up the Red Flannel town logos, however, due to the fact that they have used the term “Red Flannel Town” to describe themselves since the late 1930s, early 1940s. It is shown on City letterhead as early as 1941.

Trouble between the Festival and City began about this time last year, when the City told the Festival it could no longer offer $5,000-plus in city services to the Festival for free, due to falling revenues. The Festival asked for an estimate of the fees so they would know what needed to be covered, and the city gave the Festival a final list with an estimated total of $7,716.29. They then waived the parade fees, equipment rentals, and police fees for one year, ($2,491.64), which brought down the number to $5,224.65. The Festival then came to the city with a proposal to pay $5,224.65 in fees, with a “do not exceed” amount of $8,000 between the City and the Festival through 2015. A donor had come forward with the money, and the City accepted the Festival’s proposal.

However, when the final bill was sent to the Festival after this year’s event, it showed an actual cost of $8,064.30, $348 over the original $7,716.29 estimate. Hourly DPW and Police costs were lower than estimated, but fees for Police Reserves and hanging the crosswalk banner were added in. Salaried employees were not included in the fees. After waiving the parade fees and equipment rentals, the bill came down to $6,383.59. The city then waived the overage of $1,158.94, due to the contract between the City and the Festival.

Mayor Pro-tem Christine Fahl said they estimated the costs the best they could. “We never used to keep track,” she explained. “The workers just did it.”

The Festival, however, was surprised at the cost. “We know the agreement was for $8,000, but thought it would go up incrementally over the next few years,” Festival President Michele Andres told the Post.

In a press release issued last week, Andres said those costs threatened the sustainability of the Festival. “This drastic increase in costs from the City at $8,000 threatens the future of the Festival. It simply won’t survive this doubling of the fee structure.”

Then, in December, the Cedar Springs Library Fundraising committee began selling license plates and frames with the Red Flannel Town logo. When Fahl was told by someone on the Festival board that it was infringement because the logos were trademarked, she reacted immediately. “Within 20 minutes we spoke and pulled the license plate announcement off Facebook and stopped selling them,” explained Fahl.

The Festival decided to pay the city for the license plates and frames, then offered them to the library to sell. The library needs to turn over any plates not sold and cost of the plates to the Festival in August, so they can cover their costs.

The two entities decided to meet to discuss the issue of the City using the logos. While previously the City had used them on letterhead, street signs, etc., this new use was different. “The license plates changed the game because now they were trying to sell goods and services,” explained Andres.

When the two ad hoc committees finally met in late January or early February, the City committee, made up of Mayor Charlie Watson, Mayor Pro-Tem Christine Fahl, and Councilor Pat Capek, offered the Festival a proposal that the city would pay $4,000 a year for a license to use the Red Flannel trademarked logos, and told them to write up a proposal.

The Red Flannel Ad hoc committee, made up of Michele Andes, Nick Andres, and at the time, Rand Ruwersma, who has since been replaced by Rose Coonen, took the proposal back to their board of directors. “We wrote up the agreement, but our board said it should be $8,000, because that was the bill,” explained Andres. “To us it was like a first draft. We expected them to make changes, but they didn’t.”

Instead, the City ad hoc committee, who was surprised to get a proposal double of what they had offered, consulted with their attorney, who brought in a trademark attorney. According to Fahl, the attorney advised them not to connect usage of the logos with a fee, because they should be able to use the logos, as they have for years. So on, March 23, the City sent the Festival a letter, outlining their position. They detailed the city’s usage of the logos “Red Flannel Town” and asked that the parties “live and let live” as they have for years, in relation to the usage of the logos. They then offered $4,000 in fees to help offset Festival expenses.

The two committees met on April 4 to try to work out an agreement. “We told them it had to be two separate agreements,” said Fahl. However, as budget time grew closer (the budget meeting was April 14), discretionary funds looked meager. “We didn’t want to respond until after the budget,” explained Fahl. “We then decided it might not be feasible to offer them the $4,000.”

The Red Flannel Festival then responded on April 18 with a letter disputing that the City has any common-law rights to the trademark, since the Festival has trademarked all of them through the state, and several federally. They noted that the City had recently begun promoting its own branding, using the license plates, and then additional logos on Facebook, business cards, and new park benches. The letter said this put the City in direct competition with the Festival, and that it caused more confusion to the public as to whether the Festival is affiliated with the City. They rejected the city’s offer to live and let live, but said they were willing to work with the city to assist in reducing overall Festival service costs to the city. They then directed the city to direct future correspondence to their attorney.

With talks shut down except through their attorneys, things seemed to be at a standstill, until last week. At the same time that the City ad hoc committee was preparing a proposal, the Festival sent the “cease and desist” letter.

The City’s proposal to the Festival last week stated that the city would use the trademarks, logos, etc. for identification purposes only, and they would agree not to use them for commercial purposes without payment to the Festival. They would also cease use of all logos except the Red Flannel Town USA and round Red Flannel Town, Cedar Springs, Michigan logos. They also added an addition to the current agreement with the Festival, that if the city did profit from the sale of any items bearing the RFF trademark, they would waive city-incurred expenses associated with the Festival in that particular year.

Fahl said that the intention is not to sell anything, but that the provision is there in case another City Council or group makes the same mistake they did with the license plates. “We won’t be here forever,” she said.

What was missing from the proposal was the prior $4,000 offer. “Services have been cut, our people aren’t getting raises. We just don’t have any money to contribute,” explained Fahl. “The ironic thing is, if they had jumped on that $4,000 right away, we’d be done with this,” she said.

The Festival did not formally respond to the content of the City’s proposal. “The Festival very much appreciates the City’s proposals. Although some of the terms and conditions are not currently acceptable, the Festival looks forward to further negotiations without the need for legal action,” said Michele Andres.

For Councilor Pat Capek, who spent 20 years on the Red Flannel committee, the disagreement between the two entities has not been easy. “What’s heartbreaking is what it’s done to the city,” said Capek. “There’s no way to separate the city and the festival. To have a breach is a terrible thing. I’m still optimistic that when it’s all over, we will have reached an agreement that has everyone smiling.”

The two committees and their attorneys are scheduled to meet today, Thursday, June 7 to try to come to an agreement.

 

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Parking ordinance put on hold


Under a parking ordinance in the city of Cedar Springs, only guests, and not residents are allowed to park in the areas between the yard and the roadway. The ordinance has been put on hold pending further review by the planning commission.

By Judy Reed

 

The Cedar Springs City Council voted Thursday night, May 10, to send a controversial parking ordinance back to the planning commission for review, and ordered a halt to its enforcement.

The ordinance came under scrutiny last month, when resident Beth Karafa complained that she was not allowed to park in the gravel area between her yard and the road, in the city’s right of way, although she had been doing it for 16 years. Officer Nick Barbour, the city’s code enforcer, has paid her several visits and ticketed her on at least two occasions.

Guests are supposed to be allowed to park in front of a home, whether in the roadway or on the grass. However, Becky Powell, of S. Linda Street, told City Council Thursday night that she had received a warning from Barbour when her daughter-in-law visited. Powell said her daughter-in-law had all four wheels in the yard because she had to get her grandchildren in and out of the car. “He said two tires had to be on the road and two in the yard, and that he would be watching me, and if I continued, I would get fined,” explained Powell.

She said he then went across the street to talk to a sickly neighbor, whose husband had just died, about the need to mow her ditch. “I just think he needs to have a little sensitivity, kindness,” said Powell. “He was a little cocky, I guess.”

Police Chief Roger Parent made it clear that when Officer Barbour is working on Wednesdays enforcing codes, Barbour reports directly to City Manager Christine Burns. But Parent did say that all streets are wide enough for two-way traffic, and that temporary guests should be able to pull off into the grass. He also said that you do have to park with the flow of traffic, however, and not facing the wrong direction. “It’s a matter of are you impeding traffic?” said Parent.

Another resident asked about whether she, as a homeowner, could park on her own lawn.

Mayor Charlie Watson told council members, during their workshop before the meeting, that he was going to suggest sending the ordinance back to the planning commission. He said that he has had phone calls from people about it, even before the latest complaints.

He told the public during the council meeting that he has always had difficulty with the ordinance. “I think at the time it was the best ordinance that we were able to come up with. However, in hindsight, I think there may possibly be some changes we need to make to the ordinance,” he said. “I’d like to ask the City Manager to put a hold on any enforcement action while this ordinance is sent back for review.”

The council passed the motion, which related to only a specific section of the parking ordinance, then later rescinded the action and voted to send the entire parking ordinance back to the planning commission for review.

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