Tempers flare at Marquette council meeting
By Audrey Posten
Tempers flared at the Aug. 13 Marquette City Council meeting, as some Marquette business representatives showed up to protest the council’s decision to cease funding the McGregor-Marquette Chamber of Commerce.
The council made the decision to withdraw the $8,400 in annual aid at its May meeting, contending that the chamber was no longer meeting the needs of Marquette. The council was also upset about the chamber’s decision not to provide Marquette with a part-time chamber staff position.
Mayor Norma Mason said she had hoped the Marquette business representatives would discuss the issue with her in a private meeting, but the group instead chose to speak at the meeting, citing the desire to speak to the entire council, not just Mason. Mason gave the group three minutes to state their case in order to save time for other meeting business.
The group of businesses, led by Cindy Halvorson, of Eagles Landing Winery, presented the council with a list of questions. Some of the questions included:
•Why weren’t the businesses informed of the decision to pull out of the chamber?
•Why weren’t the businesses asked what the chamber was doing for them before making the decision to cease funding?
•How much is the hotel/motel tax fund?
•How will the funds be spent?
•When will the funds be spent to help the businesses of Marquette?
Councilman Tracy Melver was confused about the group’s need to speak at the meeting.
“It’s not something that happened last month,” Melver said of the decision.
Mason addressed the group’s question about what the city was doing to help the businesses, mentioning that the city is building a website that will link to each business’ website.
Halvorson was not impressed, and said she was upset that the city was not listing business events on the city website calendar.
The group also sought information about the hotel/motel tax, learning that the fund, an estimated $13,000 to $14,000, went toward the construction of the parking lot under the bridge.
The group was unimpressed with City Manager Dean Hilgerson’s explanation of why the money went toward that project, and Halvorson said she did not appreciate the tone Hilgerson was using toward the group.
“Well, I don’t appreciate stupid questions,” Hilgerson fired back.
In an attempt to staunch the bickering, councilman Jason Winter suggested the group and the council schedule a special meeting, dedicated solely to the issue, in order to clear the air and fully answer the group’s questions.
Melver agreed, stating that, through the meeting, “There’s a good chance you’ll understand why that $700 [per month] won’t be distributed.”
The special meeting was scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 27, at 6 p.m., at the Marquette City Hall.
Hilgerson also apologized to the group.
“The council and the mayor work hard for the city, even if it’s sometimes unpopular,” he said. “It bothers me that we don’t get any city representation at the council meetings. No one came to see the new city hall. You only come when you don’t agree with something.”
Following the exchange, most of the audience members left, and the meeting proceeded. At the end of the meeting, the council once again brought up the issue, discussing how it would handle the upcoming special meeting.
“I know the meeting got crazy,” reflected Winter, “but we as a council should accept some of the blame for not going to the businesses. We’ll have to maintain our cool, listen and let them express themselves.”
Economic development plans
At the meeting, the council also considered establishing a revolving loan fund through which small, start-up businesses could receive a loan from the city of Marquette.
“It can be a good program,” Hilgerson said. “You just have to be careful how you structure it so the city’s not at risk.”
Hilgerson said Clayton County already has a similar program. The cities of Guttenberg and Boscobel, Wis., have also dealt with similar programs.
“I’m not saying it should be done, but it should at least be investigated,” said councilwoman Mary Jo Pirc, who mentioned that she proposed a similar program 15 years ago.
Other council members agreed it would be a good idea to pursue, and suggested that experts or other knowledgeable entities be brought in to provide more information.