By Emily Bialkowski
A lean agenda didn’t keep the county board from healthy discourse on setting term limits for Houston County Planning and Zoning commissioners. The topic has been brought up several times by residents during the public comment portion of county board meetings, and almost a dozen letters have been recorded on the topic.
The board is considering a limit of two, three-year terms (six years total) but only after debate on how quickly the public hearing should be scheduled.
“I think we should take this to the plan commission and get input on the numbers,” Commissioner Judy Storlie said. “I’m not opposed to it, but I don’t want to see this rushed. I think there needs to be conversation from both sides.”
But Commissioner Justin Zmyewski, who spearheaded drafting language on the matter, said he saw no reason to delay a public hearing. “Isn’t that the fox guarding the hen house,” Zmyewski questioned.
Enough of the board felt differently to push a hearing out until Monday, Sept. 30 at 6:30 p.m.
“I think we have a lot going on with budget meetings in August,” Commissioner Teresa Walter said.
Commissioner Steve Schuldt agreed and added that the Houston County Fair is another big event and time consumer in August.
Zmyewski pressed, “Do we really have so much going on? I think you’re put in this position – elected – to make these decisions.”
“I see nothing wrong with term limits at all, but I’d like to do some calling or asking,” Schuldt responded.
Zmyewski continued to press and said, “You’re either for it or against it.”
Storlie insisted, however, that open discussion is worthwhile. “I think we need to make sure we don’t alienate everybody. I think discussion is very important,” she said.
In an effort to include all opinions the board scheduled an evening hearing; hence, the 6:30 p.m. Sept. 30 date and time.
Other counties in the region do impose term limits on plan commission members:
• Winona – maximum of six years (two-year terms)
• Goodhue – maximum of nine years (three-year terms)
• Mower – maximum of nine years (three-year terms)
Also during the July 23 meeting, the board entertained a presentation from Houston County Historical Society President Shirley Johnson, who shared a yearly report on the society’s activities.
As always, striking figures about museum usage were recorded and include welcoming visitors from 30 states, 86 researchers and over 5,000 hours of volunteer service.
“That’s really good,” Johnson said “because a lot of our volunteers had serious illnesses this year.”
The pièce de résistance or crowning achievement this year was moving into a 10,000 square foot museum addition in April. Although work on specific installations is still being done in the new structure, its availability was 15 years in the making.
“We feel we will have a real destination, and it will be a good educational tool for schools,” Johnson said.
“It’s amazing the amount of research you can do there, and it’s interesting to see all the resources you’ve got to fall on,” Schuldt said.
The addition will not likely be ready for public viewing during the Houston County Fair, but the society continues to have the old museum open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Wednesday and Saturday afternoons.
Each year the board allocates a portion of county funds to the society and museum, which is run entirely by volunteers. The appropriation for 2013 is $42,500, which is a $5,800 increase from the 2009 through 2012 appropriation of $36,700
“We are not asking for anymore funds – if we can keep it constant we appreciate it,” Johnson said.
In other news, the board made the following decisions:
• Approved allowing Linda Bahr to sit on the Semcac Transportation Advisory Committee.
• Approved spending approximately $4,500 on justice center lighting improvements to save on the cost of metal halide lamps.
• Approved a $16.50 per month contract to stay in compliance with state emergency response laws.
• Approved a resolution to sell a tax forfeited property in Brownsville for a minimum bid of $21,000 on Aug. 19 at 9 a.m. in the commissioner room of the Houston County Courthouse. A small, dilapidated cabin currently sits on the only buildable portion of the parcel, and the new owner will be responsible for the cleanup of the structure.