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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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All Marinette Residents To Vote At NWTC

Issue Date: January 8, 2014

There were four committee meetings before the Marinette City Council meeting Tuesday, Jan. 7.                 

In a six to three vote Tuesday, the Marinette Council accepted the gift of a sign for the Menekaunee Heritage Park on recommendation of the Public Works Committee which met earlier that evening to accept the design, one of two considered. The new sign will include a list of donors who gave funds to improve the park, and will include several small designs at the top describing Menakaunee’s history and heritage. 

Some of the designs, such a fish, caused no controversy. At the Council meeting Alderpersons Martha Karban and Dorothy Kowalski objected to the inclusion of a beer mug as one of the designs because they believed it unwise to highlight a culture of consuming alcohol. Alderperson Dennis Colburn joined Karban and Kowalski in voting against the design.

 Water Utilities Administrator Tim Peterson, who planned to retire on Feb. 14, has been placed on paid administrative leave effective Jan. 3 for the remainder of his employment with the city. 

Mayor Denise Ruleau reported to the Council that she, Water and Wastewater Commission Chairperson Jeff Zeratsky, Utility Office Manager Dana Weber and Finance Director Kathy Cleven are meeting daily to oversee the utility’s work until the Council makes a decision on hiring new administrative leadership for the utility. 

The four have been assigning overtime hours to utility workers to deal with broken water mains resulting from the cold weather, with a goal to using overtime as effectively as possible in emergency situations. In recent months, the use of overtime hours at the utility has become a contentious issue between the Council and the utility.

The Council accepted a recommendation from the Personnel and License Committee to wait until Mike Rau from City Water LLC of Mequon examines the Water and Waste water utility, its management and its needs. Rau will be in Marinette to study the situation on Jan. 9 and 10. After Rau’s visit, the Personnel and License Committee plans to decide whether to hire an interim administrator, an outside firm as interim management for the utility, or a new permanent administrator. Members have also considered the possibility of reshaping the job description of the Utility administrator.

At the Committee meeting, Alderperson John Marx shared his concern about the expense of hiring an outside firm to manage the utility for a few months. Alderperson David Buechler believes that the fresh eyes from outside might be worth the cost. Kowalski wondered if there is anyone in the area, inside or outside of the staff, who has the qualifications to work as Interim Administrator. 

Alderperson Ken Keller insisted that the process of seeking candidates should be posted publically to avoid the impression that the good old boys are running the utility and existing problems remain unaddressed.

Keller and Alderperson Brad Behrendt shared their concerns that the Water and Wastewater Utility commission had not met and that Commission members had received little notification about utility management in recent weeks. Mayor Ruleau reported urgent decisions had to be made before the proper notice of a meeting could be posted. Keller was emphatic that the Commission should meet.

The Marinette Council voted to annex a 35-1/2 acre parcel of land on West Frontage Road and temporarily zone it as a B-2 neighborhood Business District. The Town of Peshtigo land, owned by Richard and Lynn Dettman, is located approximately across Highway 41 from the Aurora Clinic and the Marinette Shell Convenience Store. A small parcel consisting of a drainage ditch that is now owned by the Town of Peshtigo would be included in the annexed land and connect it to the city. The Council voted to take this action at the meeting on the recommendation of the Plan Commission, which considered the motion at its meeting earlier that evening.

Rich Otradovec of Rodac Development and Construction in Green Bay spoke to both the Committee and the Council about his plans for the parcel. Rodac said he plans to build a Medical Clinic on the parcel with outpatient services, a physical therapy unit, and offices for physicians and other staff. Otradovec has been working with the Town of Peshtigo and the City of Marinette on this project, and reported that Rodac’s offer of purchase is contingent on annexing the land into the city and the zoning change to B-2.

Alderperson Karban asked why the request for temporary zoning was included in the motion. Otradovec stated that such zoning would give his company more confidence that they could proceed with their plans for the newly acquired land. City Attorney Jonathan Sbar reported that a similar action was taken in 2002 when Menard’s sought to build a retail store on Old Peshtigo Road.

Otradovec added once the annexation and sale were complete, he and his company would work with Marinette planning officials to create a site plan for the new building that meets existing building codes.

The Marinette Civic Affairs, Cemetery, Traffic and Lights Committee decided against placing an advisory referendum on the April 1 spring election ballot asking for voter input on establishing a quiet zone for train horns in the city. The Committee chose to do this at its meeting, and the Council agreed with the Committee at its meeting later that evening. Several concerns informed the decision against having a referendum.

A low voter turnout is expected at the April 1 spring election, because only one aldermanic seat has a contested election. Alderperson Shirley Kaufman challenged this thinking that such a referendum would draw voters to the polls.

City Attorney Sbar doubted that the complex question of establishing the zone and spending public funds to make it effective could be turned into a cohesive question in time for inclusion on the ballot. The deadline for all ballot items is Jan. 21, which is 70 days before the election.

Three citizens spoke to the Committee about the Quiet Zone and the proposed referendum. Homeowners Betsy Jaeger and Dan Everson, along with business owner Connie Hass of Marinette Farm and Garden support the quiet zone but vigorously oppose the referendum. Everson noted that the decibel level on train horns has doubled during the past 10 years as the quiet zone has been considered, and he also stated that 72 Wisconsin towns have established similar quiet zones for train horns. 

Hass reported on the difficulty of talking with customers at the outdoor retail area of her business while the train whistles are blowing. Both Jaeger and Everson emphasized to the alderpersons they were elected to make decisions on these complex issues.

City Engineer Brian Miller will set up a Power Point presentation for Council members and the public that will be narrated over the phone by a staff member at SRF Consultants of Minneapolis, which has been working with the city on this issue. Miller will work to find a date in February where the highest number of people can attend.

The Marinette Council decided to consolidate all its polling stations for the April 1 election into one place. All Marinette voters will cast their ballots at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College (NWTC) at the corner of Pierce and University Avenues.  Should a primary be needed in February, voting for that election will also take place at NWTC. The Civic Affairs, Cemetery, Traffic and Lights Committee voted Tuesday to recommend this action to the full Council. The Council then accepted the recommendation at its meeting later that evening.

Marinette City Clerk Jim Anderson said he predicts a low voter turnout because of the lack of contested elections. Only one aldermanic election will be contested, and there are no contested statewide races or contested County Board races in the city of Marinette.


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