Council, EDA meet to improve communications

GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE Spring Valley's City Council and EDA held a joint work session last Wednesday evening as a means of coming to an agreement on how to proceed with economic development direction services. At the council table are, from left, Luan Ruesink, Chris Danielson, Mayor Tony Archer, John Dols, Mike Hadland and city administrator Deb Zimmer. In the chairs facing the council table are Chris Giesen of CEDA, left, and EDA member Jason Runck.
Gretchen Mensink Lovejoy

Spring Valley’s City Council and Economic Development Authority (EDA) held a joint work session last Wednesday evening at City Hall to attempt to iron out communication problems between the city councilors and the EDA’s membership.

The City Council had abruptly dismissed longtime Community and Economic Development Associates (CEDA) economic development director Cathy Enerson earlier this spring without notifying the EDA directly of any concerns about her performance for the city of Spring Valley.  Enerson had served Spring Valley for 11 years in a contract that allowed her one day a week, and she spent some of her time serving the cities of Preston and Eyota through CEDA, but apparently, there has been some unspoken and longstanding community concern about her allegiances and commitment to carrying out tasks to advance initiatives for Spring Valley.        

Mayor Tony Archer addressed the councilors and EDA members, saying, “It comes down to communication.  Don’t be afraid to talk to each other.  Open up communication and be more active…I think the council wanted to take a new direction.  The EDA does a lot of work, and I think we need to move on and do what’s best for Spring Valley.” 

EDA member Jason Runck inquired of the councilors, “What’s your vision of the EDA?  If there was anything wrong, nobody spoke to me about it.” 

Councilor Chris Danielson answered, “My campaign – part of it was about changing the EDA.  It was out there already, and it was at a forum.  There were probably two or three people there, but it was out there.  Second of all, I’ve talked with people who are not happy with the way things were happening.  Someone called CEDA and was told that it would be taken care of, but it wasn’t, so somebody’s lying here.” 

Runck posited, “So you campaigned on that, but…?” 

Danielson went on to refer to the state veterans’ home that was being considered for construction in either Spring Valley or Preston. “If it was suggested that she remove herself from the veterans’ home, then she should have been removed from the veterans’ home,” Danielson said. “This was not addressed.” 

EDA member Steve Himle countered that the matter was brought up to the EDA – Enerson had offered to recuse herself from the project — but that the councilors and residents never expressed their concerns, so the EDA didn’t ask her to remove herself. 

Danielson continued, “It was not taken care of.” 

EDA member David Phillips, who was also a member of the veterans’ home committee, noted that Enerson also brought up to the committee the possibility to recuse herself from the veterans’ home project because she knew there was potential for conflict, but the committee, led by Bill Rohe, felt she could provide assistance to both communities. 

Danielson said, “It doesn’t matter now – it’s in Preston.”

The Fillmore County Board voted 3-2 to locate the home in Preston after receiving proposals from the two communities. The vote for the home, which could provide the opportunity to employ workers from neighboring communities, fell along geographic lines with the commissioners on the eastern and central parts of the county favoring Preston while the two western commissioners voted in favor of Spring Valley.

Councilor Jon Dols pointed out the consequences of focusing on the effects of stalled business development related to community sustainability as he interjected, “We’ve got to get past that.” 

Councilor Mike Hadland stated, “I’ve had several business owners come up to me who wanted her to work with them, and she wouldn’t.  Her working in Preston, it’s so close together that I felt that there was conflict with the same businesses trying to locate here.” 

“Concerns like that would be very valuable to bring to the EDA board,” Himle said. “She was giving us updates, and we thought she was doing a very good job.” 

Hadland remarked, “I don’t know if she was pushing businesses to Preston, but I’ve not seen any new businesses come to town.”

Himle inquired, “What’s a comfortable distance (for an EDA director)?” 

Hadland replied, “I hate to say that I want somebody from as far away as possible, but I want businesses to grow here.” 

Dols registered, “I’m sure that Cathy is a great lady, is professional, but somebody representing the biggest thing that could come to town…we need someone without conflict. And we need someone who does their best to make the rounds of businesses.”

EDA members speculated that the lack of communication between the EDA and the City Council results from the EDA not having proper representation of the City Council at its regular meetings and annual workshop plus the council not hearing monthly reports from the EDA during City Council proceedings. 

“That’s probably where the disconnect is,” Himle said. “You’ve all heard stuff, but I’m guessing you never talked to Cathy.”

Archer spoke up next.  “There are supposed to be two EDA board members who are city representatives, and I’ve put that out there, but I’d also like to see some EDA minutes to keep us apprised.” 

Himle suggested that having an EDA member or the director speaking at City Council meetings would be more effective than simply submitting minutes that are included in the council agenda packet and likely to be overlooked; the group discussed how to bring representation to the EDA and the council without using more of the director’s time, as it is a single day a week contract. 

Runck said, “We’re all in this together.” 

Archer agreed, “We all have the same passions, we want to see our town grow.  We should push forward, get out there, be there for the businesspeople of the community…I encourage you go talk to the City Council members, to the EDA members.  I was hoping that we wouldn’t be here to rehash everything.  How will we grow?  How will we communicate?” 

Dols cited that he felt that a quarterly EDA/council workshop would foster inter-panel conversations on new business and projects. 

Himle asked if CEDA’s director, Ron Zeigler, had had any suggestions for the council and EDA, and while it was concluded that he had made no specific suggestions during his attendance at the most recent City Council meeting, Danielson observed, “I thought he said that there was potential here, that things could happen if we move forward, find a new direction and ideas.”

Zeigler had sent a new CEDA economic development consultant, Chris Hahn, to the council meeting to introduce himself and hear what each side had to say about needs and hopes for the city’s future.  Councilors asked Hahn where else he works for CEDA and if he had any loyalties to other cities. 

Hahn, a St. Charles resident who is proposed to replace Enerson in Spring Valley, replied that his only other contract is in LeRoy, where he just started. Although LeRoy is nearly as close as Preston, councilors expressed some relief because it is across the county line with a different board of county commissioners. 

Topics of debate followed, including how many people should be on the EDA and who would be eligible to vote on actions the EDA takes.  City administrator Deb Zimmer pointed out that the state requires two council representatives to the EDA and that the EDA should be comprised of three, five or seven members, all of whom are to have votes.

The EDA had two council members at one time, but dropped down to one when Jeff Vehrenkamp left because there was difficulty in schedules of the other council members. The mayor has always served on the EDA; previously that was Jim Struzyk and starting this year it has been Archer.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Danielson volunteered to be the other council member, giving the EDA two council representatives as required by the state. However, that brings the number of EDA members to six, meaning either one has to go off or the board needs to expand to seven.

Phillips and EDA President Kim Brown jovially brought up that they’d be willing to step down from their roles on the EDA because they’d served for at least two decades or more, each finding that they might like to make way for newcomers. 

The councilors and EDA members agreed that they’ve both given more to the city in those years than is easily replaced by new EDA members, or that their wealth of knowledge would take just as many years to acquire. 

Dols addressed Phillips and Brown, “First of all, if you’re seriously going off, you need to tell us because (otherwise) it’s a seven-member board.” 

Hadland expressed concern about finding another community member to bring the EDA to seven because it can be difficult to find volunteers to fill boards.

Chris Giesen, of CEDA, who was attending in Zeigler’s place, cited that a public hearing would have to be held to make changes to the EDA’s bylaws and its voting membership.

The EDA attempted to tentatively set a meeting for the coming weeks but found that further calendar review will be necessary since the regularly scheduled meeting of July 3 is too close to a holiday, which brought concerns about attendance. 

Lastly, Archer thanked the councilors and EDA members for attending and hearing his requests for greater communication.