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March 5, 2013

Nappanee council gets schooled in 'Government 101'

NAPPANEE —

NAPPANEE — With new Nappanee City Council member Jake Dermott joining the council and other members being fairly new, Clerk-Treasurer Kim Ingle thought it was time for a little “Local Government 101” education.

So, after the departmental reports at Monday’s council meeting, Ingle gave a presentation, taking the council through the basics. She informed them that the city’s code would need to be re-codified this fall so she recently sent them copies to review.

She explained that Nappanee is a third class city, one of the smallest cities in the state. The state used to have five classes of cities and the broad classification of “town,” but now has three classes. Fort Wayne and South Bend would be examples of second class cities and the state has only one first class city — Indianapolis. The biggest difference between cities and towns, she explained, is that a city has a mayor and a town has a town board that operates the city with the town board president assuming some of the duties of a mayor.  There are towns that are bigger in size than Nappanee.

Ingle took the council through the three branches of city government: executive, legislative and judicial.

She explained the mayor and council’s duties.

Municipal Utilities

Ingle explained that while they may consider all the departments in Nappanee as “the city” — the state thinks otherwise. The municipal utilities are actually two separate entities, as required by state statute and is revenue producing — they receive no tax monies.

The city of Nappanee has the water utility and the wastewater utility, which includes the stormwater utility. The utilities are owned and operated by the city but they must be fully vested—operating on their own with no tax revenue and in fact, they pay taxes to the city — annually close to $100,000 combined.

Ingle said for that matter, the state considers each department a separate entity so that’s why the city budget has each department listed with its own budget.

“When I came in 1980 I realized I ran 26 separate businesses and two revenue-producing businesses — that’s how we have to think of it,” she said.

The Board of Works directs, supervises and administers all the necessary items to operate the utilities. The council fixes the compensation of the employees and supervisors. The Board of Works recommends rates and charges to the council for approval.

Open door law

Ingle took the council through the “open door law,” which comes straight from Indiana code.

She said it changes a lot and can be open to interpretation, but the council had better be sure they’re interpreting it correctly. The Open Door Policy basically states that all meetings and business conducted is open to the public.

“It’s important — we never should forget that we are here to do the duties for the public,” she said.

Anytime a majority of the council is present it can be construed as a meeting and subject to the open door policy so that is why no more than two council members or one board of works member can be present at a time without inviting the public to attend.

She explained the city can hold executive sessions — closed door meetings, but only for specific purposes, including collective bargaining, initiating of litigation pending or threatened in writing, implementation of security systems, purchasing real property — up until a time a contract is executed, interviews with prospective employees, alleged misconduct of employees and job performance.

But she said any final action must be taken at a public meeting.

“No decisions are made in executive session. EVER,” Ingle said.

Future ‘Problems’

Ingle outlined for the council what upcoming challenges they will have to make decisions on, including the city’s refuse collection which has been paid out of County Economic Development Income Tax (CEDIT) funds but in 2014 that will no longer be the case. The cost for the city’s refuse has been $350,000 a year.

The new wellfield project the city has been preparing for — land has been purchased already but the cost could be $500,000 to $750,000. The current wells are aging so this has to be addressed. Water Superintendent Gale Gerber said the city has two wells and one is currently down for maintenance, a situation he is not comfortable with in a city the size of Nappanee.

And the unfunded mandates from the federal government of the Combined Sewer Overflow, which the council will hear a presentation on March 18 and American with Disabilities Act compliance. Ingle said the city complied with streets and curbs about a year ago and now has to address public buildings.

She said the solution to all of these problems is teamwork. She pulled out Mayor Larry Thompson’s first state of the city address from 18 years ago when he’d only been in office for two days. He spoke repeatedly of the need for teamwork among departments and elected officials. The speech concluded with “Remember there is no ‘I’ in Nappanee — there is two of everything. As a team, together we can continue the heritage of Nappanee.”

Ingle said, “His words are still as pertinent today.”

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