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Weekend work: Donnelly City Council to meet Saturdays

Members of the Donnelly City Council at the March 4 meeting. From left, clerk Lola Smith, council members Jake Eystad, Lana Arnold and Gordon Lea. Rae Yost/Morris Sun Tribune1 / 2
The Donnelly water tower sits behind city hall. Rae Yost/Morris Sun Tribune2 / 2

While members of other city councils might be fishing, re-purposing furniture or biking on the first Saturday of each month, members of the Donnelly City Council will be working.

The Donnelly City Council had its first Saturday afternoon meeting March 4. It's the first Saturday meeting of a six-month trial run but more than one city official believes it could be permanent.

The Saturday meetings work better with the schedules of council members, particularly those of two new members, city clerk Lola Smith. The Saturday meeting replaces years of Monday council meetings.

"I work a full-time job," council member Lana Arnold said. "After work it gets hectic. (Saturday) fits my schedule better."

"It's the only day I can be here," council member Jake Eystad said.

Eystad ran for city council after he was asked to do so. Arnold was appointed to the council. Both started the job in January.

Eystad runs a trucking company. "He has a hard time being here on a Monday. You can't expect someone to give up an income," Smith said. "It's hard enough to get council members."

There it is. It's hard to find council members. Donnelly has a population of 234 with 111 households, according to data from the Minnesota State Demographer's office.. In 2010, 72 of its 241 residents were 65 or older or nearly 30 of its population. The median age was 50. The population grew older and fewer from 2000 to 2010.

If younger residents such as Eystad and Arnold are to get involved, the schedule needs to fit their lives.

"Someone's got to do it," Eystad said of filling roles such as city council. "The older generation is leaving," he said.

"We need the younger generation to (step in)," Smith said.

Arnold and Eystad are willing.

After a friend had been asked to join the council and passed, Arnold thought "I'll just do it. Why not? I'm young. And I think it would be good to have fresh eyes (on issues)."

"I know some of the younger generation have moved to town," Arnold said. "We have to start doing are part."

The council met March 4 in the shadow of the silver water tower in the WPA era city building.

Arnold, Eystad and council member Gordon Lea and Smith reviewed bills. Mayor Dale Ennen was ill, Smith said. Council member Howard Kill was not able to attend the meeting, Smith said.

The council did the typical bill review and more routine business but also handled a request that Eystad was anxious to have resolved. The council passed a Sunday liquor license for the Place to Be, a bar and grill in Donnelly, contingent on changes to the city's liquor license ordinance.

"That should have been done 13 years ago," Eystad said after the meeting. Donnelly doesn't have many businesses and the council needs to support those it has, Eystad said.

"The council can use somebody who knows business," Eystad said. That is a strength he said he brings to the council.

Lea said there are some concerns about Saturday meetings. City officials said during the summer some members may be gone, Lea said.

But, "we only need three people (for a quorum)," Lea said. Even if a council member is gone, the council can still meet.

"I think it's really kind of a positive thing," Jeanette Behr of the League of Minnesota Cities said of the Saturday meetings. Behr is the research manager for the league. The league doesn't track the days each league member city council meets but she's almost certain none meet regularly on Saturday.

When a city council has been under a deadline to meet, LMC staff have often said among themselves that the council could meet on a Saturday or Sunday as long it wasn't a holiday, Behr said.

The Saturday meeting could allow involvement from working residents, younger people and the general public, Behr said.

Smith is hoping that Saturday meetings also encourage the public to attend council meetings if residents have questions or concerns.

"It will be interesting. It's definitely something new," Smith said.