BUZZ Duluth: Makeshift council chambers make for confusion
By: Peter Passi, Duluth News Tribune
Peter Passi and Brandon Stahl cover issues related to the city of Duluth. Follow BUZZ on Twitter.
As the Council chambers at Duluth City Hall receive an overdue overhaul, meetings have been moved to a room just down the hall. But the new space has presented certain challenges, as evidenced by Monday night's meeting.
The sound system is finicky. Unless councilors get up close and personal with their microphones, it's difficult to hear them. A good example of the confusion that can result occurred Monday, when the council took up a resolution that would limit scheduled bridge lifts for recreational watercraft to two per hour.
Councilor Jay Fosle proposed amending the resolution so as to exempt commercial charter fishing boats and provide them with the same lift-on-demand status that would be granted to larger commercial vessels, namely lakers and salties. Anyhow, when a voice vote on the proposed amendment was called, it appeared from my perspective that the measure had passed. I wasn't the only one fooled either. Both Councilors Fosle and Todd Fedora had the same impression. Fosle said he believed that only Councilors Tony Cuneo and Sharla Gardner initially voted against the amendment.
But when a roll call vote was called, the motion failed 5-4, with Councilors Patrick Boyle, Kerry Gauthier and Jeff Anderson also voting against it.
When contacted today, both Anderson and Gauthier assured me they had not changed their votes but said they might not have been close enough to their mikes to make their voices heard.
Anderson, who serves as council president, agreed that it has sometimes been difficult to hear in the temporary council chambers, making him lean on roll calls more heavily than usual.
"I think we probably had more roll call votes at last night's meeting than we ever have before," he said.
The sight lines in the makeshift chambers also are challenging. Councilors all sit in a straight line and don't have buttons they can push when they wish to speak. Instead, they are left to wave their arms and gesticulate in hopes of catching the council president's eye.
The smaller space also is not large enough to handle large crowds. On Monday, with seats in short supply, Council President Jeff Anderson advised an overflow audience that additional seating was available in the cafeteria downstairs, where people could keep tabs on the action via public access television. Anderson pre-announced when people who had signed up to provide public testimony would be heard, giving them time to rejoin the meeting in person.
Anderson is eager for the council to return to its old digs, but he said the space definitely was in need of an updated sound and video system. Anderson remains optimistic the improvements will be worth the wait.
We'll see, but no matter how modest the improvements, the old council chambers will be an improvement from what Duluth is using now.