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Hancock city council meeting 'heats up'

What started off as a normal, quiet city council meeting, ended in a heated discussion on Monday night. The August meeting began with normal reports by city employees and discussion on city finances but did not end normally.

The meeting had actually been adjourned when city Public Works Director Vern Christie asked to discuss his situation. The meeting was re-opened for the discussion. Christie has been out on medical leave since June 15 and underwent shoulder surgery. He told the Hancock City Council members that he was planning to come back to work this week but was told that because of restrictions he has following the surgery, he could not return to work.

The restrictions which included not lifting more than five pounds or lift above his head, were put in place by his doctor in Rochester. Christie said he was trying to get into Big Stone Therapy to get the condition of his shoulder analyzed but would like to return to work in the meantime. He stated that he felt there were many aspects of his job that he could still perform. His medical leave would expire on Aug. 31 and after that, the paycheck would be done.

However, the council members did not want him to come back until he was at 100 percent so that the city would not be looking at an injury down the road. The council members expressed concern that he might overdo something on the job and were concerned for his sake.

Christie became agitated when it appeared that he would not be able to return to work before, or possibly even after Aug. 31. He told the council that he had not filed his medical issue as a workmen's comp claim and felt he helped the city out in that way. He stated that he knew how his shoulder felt and would not do anything to re-injure it.

However, council members remained concerned that Christie would not be able to do his job safely and efficiently within those restrictions. They questioned things like getting on and off the tractor, pouring chemicals into the ponds and other things that require the use of lifting and pulling.

"All I want is three years, then I am out of here," Christie stated. "I'd like to know if you are going to tell me that I am done. You just want me out of here."

"Our hands are tied," replied Councilman Jeff Kisgen. "That doctor's restriction is what's holding you back. Until you get that piece of paper, we can't do anything."

Councilman Bruce Malo asked Christie to get the analysis from Big Stone Therapy and then come back to them about returning to work.

Before things escalated any further and after the police chief stepped in to calm things down, Mayor Bruce Schmidgall adjourned the meeting.

Other business

* The meeting started off with some good news for the city council. Steve Mattson of Northland Securities updated the council members on the refinancing of the city bonds and loans. After all was said and done, he was able to save the city $259,016 most of which came through three less years of payments.

Mattson also had a big compliment for the community. He told the council members that he travels to a lot of small towns but said that Hancock is one of the prettiest towns he has seen. "You have one of the nicest looking towns in the state," he stated. He said that it is obvious that people here take pride in their homes and yards and compared the town to a city like Edina with their beautiful homes and yards.

* The city council then heard an update on the sump pump inspections. Kent of Bolton and Menk said that of the 322 places to be inspected, 300 have been completed. Of those, only 23 failed inspection and only six have yet to be re-inspected. He recommended that for the 22 properties that they have not been able to get into to inspect, the city assess the $100 fine to try to move things along. This was approved by the council.

* Council members will be reviewing some new regulations that could be approved in the future regarding golf carts driven on the streets and vacant commercial property.

* Police Chief Matt Flogstad reported that the July 4 weekend activities went very well with no complaint or problems. He also reported on some of the city work he has been doing in the absence of Vern Christie and made some recommendations. One of these was for a trailer to haul city picnic tables instead of using the tractor and grapple hook. After some discussion, the council members decided that the city really didn't need to be moving the tables for people who rent them. If they are rented out, the renters will be responsible for moving them.

Flogstad also presented a plan for putting walls and concrete next to the city garage for storage of rock or gravel for the city. The dividers will come from Hancock Concrete and the site will be prepped before putting them down.

* Ryan Mogard reported on some of the work he has been doing in the city sewer and water department while Christie has been on medical leave. He recommended purchasing a couple new tanks but will attempt to clean the current ones first. He stated that he had to have a lift station near the school cleaned out and there was a lot of grease build up. The school will be contacted about using more degreaser in the future.

A special city council meeting will be held on Aug. 27 at 7 p.m. to discuss the budget for next year.