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Council session clash

February 10, 2012
By JOHANNA BOYLE - Journal Staff Writer ( , Journal Ishpeming Bureau

NEGAUNEE - Negaunee's handling of city business led to raised tempers at the city council's Thursday meeting between council members and a former council member.

Speaking during public comment, former council member Peter Dompierre, whose term ended in November, raised concerns over the council's actions. Dompierre also spoke about his concerns with the city at the January regular meeting.

"I think it's pretty obvious that my common theme through all these meetings has been the charter, its requirements and your responsibilities as elected officials," Dompierre said.

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Discussion between Dompierre and council members deteriorated into an argument in the second public comment section of the meeting, with Mayor Michael Haines finally threatening to have Dompierre removed from the meeting.

"Why didn't you do this when you were on the council? You didn't do nothing," Councilman Richard Wills said to Dompierre.

During his portion of council comment comments, Wills commented on Dompierre's absence from a number of meetings during his term.

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"I'd like to thank Mr. Dompierre for all his nice suggestions and I wonder why he didn't do any of these things when he was on the council himself... I suppose part of the reason was is he didn't attend the meetings," Wills said.

During those comments, Dompierre approached the public comment podium.

"I will not allow personal attacks from this council during city council comment," Dompierre said. "That's improper."

Haines then ordered Dompierre back to his seat.

"I will remove you from this chamber if you don't sit down. I want you in your seat, sir, or out of my chamber," Haines said. "You will remain in your seat or you will leave my chamber this moment or I'll have you taken out by the police. Now sit there."

Specifically, Dompierre raised concerns over requirements set out by the state through the Economic Vitality Incentive Program, and his concern that the city had not met the deadline for two of those requirements, including a consolidation of services plan, which he said could result in the city not receiving its full funding from the state.

Haines countered Dompierre's statements, saying the city had met two of the three requirements - for an online dashboard containing city financial information and the consolidation of services plan - with the third deadline involving changes to city employee benefits coming later this year.

Another of Dompierre's concerns, as addressed during the public comment section of the meeting, included the approval of city contracts, such as those with the city's bargaining units and with contract employees.

"There are a number of contracts that I'm aware of that I don't know have been approved officially by this council," Dompierre said.

Specifically, Dompierre mentioned what he thought was a consulting agreement with a former employee at the city's wastewater treatment plant that he said had never been approved by the council.

"Those are serious charter flaws," he said.

Following the meeting, City Manager Jeff Thornton said while such a contract had been discussed in the past, it has not been needed and hadn't been drafted.

In addition, Dompierre questioned the handling of contract negotiations with the city's various bargaining units, which he said he didn't think had been approved at a public meeting.

Thornton said those contracts had been approved via a letter of understanding with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees at the council's December meeting after the council voted to exempt itself from the state's Public Act 152, which requires the city to chose either an automatic hard cap on the dollar amount it can spend on employee health care or an 80-20 split with employees paying 20 percent of their health care costs. The city instead chose to opt out of the requirements, with city bargaining units agreeing to a lesser health care package in which they will still pay 20 percent of their health care costs, but retain some bargaining leeway.

The city's minutes for the December meeting state that a motion was made and carried to "exempt ourselves from the requirements of Public Act 152, contingent on successful agreements with all collective bargaining units by Dec. 31."

Johanna Boyle can be reached at 906-486-4401.



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