Four Wahpeton public works employees, including director Dennis Miranowski, will not have their positions revised or eliminated.
A public works restructuring, proposed in April by Mayor Steve Dale, would have eliminated the director position and have created both city engineer and public works operations manager positions. The Wahpeton City Council vote cast Monday, Aug. 19 defeated the proposed restructuring.
With a 7-1 vote, council approved removing a revised organizational chart for city employees while keeping the current organizational chart. Councilman Brett Lambrecht, 3rd Ward, made the motion. Councilman Rory McCann, 1st Ward, was the dissenting vote.
A subsequent 6-2 vote approved removing an unfavorable February evaluation of Miranowski from his personnel file. Dissenting votes were from McCann and Councilwoman-at-large Tiana Bohn. The February evaluation was made by Mayor Dale, Bohn and McCann.
“I, along with all the public works staff, would like to thank the council for their continued support,” Miranowski said following the votes. “In addition, I would like to thank all the kind residents that came to all the meetings and supported staff during this matter. We are forever grateful and are very blessed to have their support.”
Mayor Dale was not present at the council meeting, which was presided by Councilman-at-large Lane Wateland. Dale, unavailable for comment following the votes, requested the restructuring discussion be tabled in his absence.
“I don’t understand why we have to keep leaving 4-5 families in limbo here after five months,” Lambrecht said.
Citing an e-mail sent by the heads of city departments, Lambrecht said he thought leaders reached a conclusion that current operations are working.
“I agree with Mr. Lambrecht on his analysis, to put this to rest,” Councilman-at-large Perry Miller said. “But I agree with the mayor when he talks about looking for efficiencies. I’ve said it before: it’s something we should be doing all the time.”
Miller provided a second for Lambrecht’s motions, which were initially presented as a single two-part motion.
“I do honestly still feel that we have some very capable people in our organization that are doing a great job of delivering service,” Bohn said. “But we just have to make sure that we keep that level up.”
Criteria in Miranowski’s February evaluation was judged on a 1-5 scale. He received several “2” grades, which Lambrecht questioned. Low evaluations are among the factors that could result in a city employee’s termination.
She, McCann and Dale examined the public works director job description, Bohn said. They took note of how Miranowski was recording public works activity, informing the city council and how he handled other duties.
“Overall, you have to look at does this person do this every single day and are they doing this above and beyond what you expect. That gets a 5. Personally, I don’t give out 5s a lot,” Bohn said.
Councilman Don Bajumpaa, 4th Ward, said he did not believe department head evaluations were given in 2018. The last one he recalled were in 2017 and were given by himself, former Wahpeton Councilman-at-large Chris DeVries and former Wahpeton Mayor Meryl Hansey.
“At that point in time, I do not believe a 2 would have been merited in any case,” Bajumpaa said.
Miranowski was the only department head to receive a 2 grade in 2019, Lambrecht said.
The idea of removing an evaluation received some opposition.
“If you remove one, do you just remove them all?” McCann asked.
“That’s not in my motion,” Lambrecht said.
Therese Gast, Wahpeton, was among the 12 residents attending the council meeting. While no residents formally spoke Monday, previous meetings included strong comments supporting Miranowski.
“I think it’s a witch hunt,” Gast said in July.
Wahpeton City Hall will be closed Monday, Sept. 2 in observance of Labor Day.
City committee meetings are held at 12 p.m. on the second and fourth Monday and Tuesday of the month. Open to the public, they are held at Wahpeton City Hall and are not broadcast.
The next council meeting, which will be broadcast, is scheduled for 5 p.m. Tuesday, Sept 3 at City Hall, 1900 Fourth St. N. in Wahpeton.
Although Wahpeton Public Schools start classes up this week, Breckenridge still has two weeks to go before welcoming new students. Floors and classrooms have been cleaned and set up, and concrete work at the north side of the elementary school has been completed.
Open houses are being held this week for parents and students, and a new $100,000 fitness center at the elementary school will have its grand opening Oct. 1.
Superintendent Diane Cordes shared at Tuesday’s board meeting that as of Monday, preliminary enrollment figures are at 635 for pre-kindergarten through 12th grades. The district ended last school year at 628 students.
Kindergarten enrollment is up substantially, from 33 last school year to 44.
The district is still working through contract negotiations with the teachers union, but has completed other group contracts.
The custodial contract agreement is for three years, with a 4 percent increase the first year, 3 percent for the second year and 2 percent for the third year. The contact includes a $50 increase per month in health insurance in year three., and an increase in clothing allowance from $150 per year to $200 per year, which can be used for jeans and/or shoes. The average total package increase per year is 4.05 percent.
The confidential secretary contract settlement is for three years and includes and adjusted agreement to be “full time” as 2,080 hours per year, a salary adjustment of 4.15 percent increase the first year, 3.5 percent the second year and 3 percent the third year. The 403(b) match was increased to $2,000, effective with the 2018-2019 school year. A personal day was removed from the agreement and vacation days were increased by two. The average total package increase per year is 4.32 percent.
Cordes requested approval for participation in the Rural Minnesota Education Policy Fellowship program. The cost to the district would include the program fee of $2,200 plus travel and lodging costs of approximately $1,500. The board approved the request.
The board heard reports from the elementary and high school principals, as well as the business/facilities manager.
A partnership with Solutions to provide a practitioner for one day a week, depending on identified need, paid for by the children’s mental health grant was approved. The school’s responsibility would include office space, computer and phone access along with mileage for the practitioner. The administration has secured grant funds to pay for the district’s costs.
New high school, elementary and faculty handbooks were also approved.
The board approved a request by St. Mary’s School to adjust the fee schedule in the event that their seventh and eighth graders attend Breckenridge for math and science classes. The request was that St. Mary’s middle schoolers pay the same activity fees as the public school students.
The hockey, gymnastics and swimming activities part of the agreement would not change, and is not part of the fees agreement.
Housekeeping items including dairy bids, fuel bids and the bread contract were approved. The dairy bid went to Cass Clay, the fuel bid went to Farmers Union of Southern Valley and the bread contract is with Lakes Country Service Co-op.
Board member Marc Hasbargen was absent from the meeting.
The next regular board meeting changes back to evening meeting times, and will be at 6 p.m. Monday, Sept. 16.
A camper is considered a total loss following a Monday, Aug. 19 fire.
Law enforcement was paged at 6:53 p.m. to a portion of North Dakota Highway 13 located approximately three miles west of Wahpeton. The highway’s west-bound lane was shut down for about an hour.
“The fire was controlled within 20 minutes of the page,” said Chief Wade Griffin of the Dwight Fire Department. “No injuries were reported and the fire’s cause is unknown at this time.”
The camper is owned by David Witkowski of Gwinner, North Dakota. It was being pulled by a pickup truck at the time of the fire.
“The only vehicle affected was the camper,” Griffin said. “The owner was able to disconnect the pickup from the camper.”
In addition to firefighters from Dwight, North Dakota, the Richland County Sheriff’s Office and North Dakota Highway Patrol responded.
“Law enforcement shut down the west-bound lanes to allow fire crews to extinguish the blaze,” the sheriff’s office stated.
1 Vintage vehicles: Wilkin County Fair organizers report there were 55 entries into the Antique Car Show over the weekend, a record for the Breckenridge, Minnesota-based event.
2 This Day in History: In 1959, Hawaii was admitted as the 50th U.S. state. Read more about it on page A4.
3 Music in the Park: Loran Hudson and the Three C’s perform at Music in the Park, band shelter at Chahinkapa Park, 7:30 p.m, free. Wednesday, Aug. 21.
4 $5 Concert: The Todd Holdman Band performs 7-9 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 22, at Crooked Lane Farm in Colfax.
The new water treatment plant in Breckenridge, Minnesota, has been up and running this week. Until all training is complete, chemicals run out at the old plant and the water treatment plant operators are comfortable with the new plant, the old plant will continue to run on weekends, Public Services Director Neil Crocker shared with the Public Utilities Commission this week.
A 10th change order for the new plant was reviewed by the commission which recommended its approval by the city council.
The changes total $49,257, recommended by Ulteig Engineering, and will be paid for out of the contingency fund. They consist of:
• construction of a small building underneath the water tower, $11,605
• cameras at the new water plant, $5,675
• door access for new water plant, $5,623
• motion security for new water plant, $2,371
• master telemetry panel move, $9,766
• camera system electrical work, $8,717
• PKG Contracting, Inc., fees, bonds, insurance, $4,044
• VPN security firewall controller, $1,333
• PKG fees, bonds, insurance, $123
At the Monday, Aug. 20, city council meeting, a resolution to approve the request to pay the change order out of the contingency funds was passed.
The resolution explains the small building to be erected under the tower will house existing electronics that currently are located in the old water plant. The installation of a security system will help the city ensure safe drinking water the community.
The original contract price of constructing the new water treatment plant was $8,131,900. An additional $180,455 in change orders were approved prior to Monday’s request. Incorporating all change orders to this date, the project’s contract price is at $8,361,612.
In other council action, a resolution approving a donated property policy was passed. City Administrator Renae Smith explained the city has never had such a policy but from time to time receives requests to accept various property from individuals, groups or businesses.
The Public Works Committee met and reviewed the policy and recommended its approval. It outlines what types of property can be donated, who is responsible for the property once its donated, and the procedure on how to donate the property. A property donation agreement is part of the policy which will need to be filled out and signed by the donor before the city can accept the property.
Bills and claims through Aug. 15 for public utilities, totaling $193,548.15, were reviewed and approved. Bills and claims for the city through the same period, totaling $136,505.52, were also reviewed and approved.
Mayor Russell Wilson read the September is Library Card Sign Up Month proclamation, encouraging the public to sign up for the “most important school supply of all,” as it is the “first step towards academic achievement and lifelong learning.”
Breckenridge Library Branch Manager Erin Gunderson then shared statistics of library usage locally as well as throughout the Lake Agassiz Regional Library system.
The next council meeting will be held at 5 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 3. City offices will be closed Monday, Sept. 2 in observance of Labor Day.