Council considers benefit of banning marijuana sales downtown Rockford

Council at work - City Manager Thad Beard, councilpersons Terry Konkle, Ed Ross, Mayor Cheryl Scales, Tammy Bergstrom, and Jeff Lewis.

‘We are looking not to regulate but prohibit’

by BETH ALTENA

Among other issues, the newly elected Rockford City Council considered banning marijuana sales in downtown Rockford at the regular meeting on Monday, November 12 following a state-wide vote approving recreational use.

The meeting began with the swearing in of the two highest vote-getters in the previous week’s election, Tammy Bergstrom and Ed Ross, who took the vacated seats from former Mayor Steve Jazwiec and former Mayor Jerry Coon. Cheryl Scales was unanimously chosen as current mayor and Terry Konkle was chosen as mayor pro tem.

Thad Beard offered his city manager’s report at the start of the meeting, bringing council up to speed on the progress of the renovation of the Visitor’s Center womens’ bathroom after being closed for awhile. Beard implied there were complaints about the lack of a public womens’ room. “Last year when the guys’ was under renovation we didn’t hear much about it.” The plan was to have the restroom open in time for holiday open houses.

Rockford Clerk Chris Bedford swears in new council members Ed Ross and Tammy Bergstrom.

The demolition of the home on S. Monroe Street south of Krause Library is mostly complete. Beard said demolition crews showed up at 1 p.m. Friday, November 9 and by 5 p.m. the home “was mostly gone.” Beard said he has been in contact with township officials about the future joint ownership of the future expanded library. Letters of intent have been provided to township supervisors, some of which are in transition after the November 6 election.

New councilmembers will have gone through orientation Tuesday, including a tour of the city, introduction to city staff members and community leaders, they will learn some of the history of the city and end the day with a special meeting that evening that should only last ten minutes or so.

Beard mentioned the Sustainability Committee. He also thanked Rockford Department of Public Service and the police, noting they were very active during Halloween. He said kids at his house saw a Rockford cruiser going by and chased it, thinking it was DARE officer Ian Graham.

Holiday decorations are going up now.

Beard said, thankfully, the street projects are wrapping up now. He thanked the community for their patience, noting the process was dirty and intrusive. Now the streets look great and there is only one small project on tap for next year, a resurface of North Main Street.

The meeting opened up to public comments and a resident expressed concern over a sewer condition that causes exploding toilets at his house. Department of Public Service Director Jamie Davis said the condition isn’t as bad as first thought and steps to avoid exploding toilets have
been taken.

The Rockford Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Linda Southwick stood to express her thanks to Jamie and the rest of city staff who are preparing the downtown for Holiday Open Houses, and for other holiday events which are upcoming, including the Lighting Ceremony at the dam on Friday, November 30 at 6 p.m. (anyone who hasn’t attended this event needs to go, it is magical) and the Santa Parade, Saturday, December 1 at 11 a.m.

Tammy Bergstrom asked some questions about expenses the city incurs from the Tamarack Run condominium development are billed back to the developer.

She also asked about a $1,000 expense toward the legal funds for the City of Escanaba. “I am really glad we are doing this,” she said. Beard said Escanaba sent Rockford a thank you note for the donation and that city is facing a legal battle that could happen to any municipality. Apparently, when a big box store closed there, the ownership of the building is trying to change the tax status of the property and thereby avoiding paying the tax on the retail structure, costing the city a lot of tax dollars.

Beard told council that councilwoman Melissa Young has resigned and moved out of the city, so the board had to vote to accept her resignation, which they did reluctantly but unanimously. Beard suggested appointing the third highest vote getter, Jeff Lewis, to complete her term.

New Mayor Cheryl Scales took over the rest of the meeting,  following up on Beard’s suggestion to have Jeff Lewis take Young’s seat. Ed Ross, who earned twenty more votes than Lewis in the election, said he approved of the move, as people voted as much for Lewis as they did for him (almost).

Scales agreed. “We know he wants it, he’s right here in the back row.”

Chris Bedford shakes hands with new councilman Jeff Lewis. Tammy Bergstrom is in the background.

The board voted unanimously for Lewis to be appointed and he was the third person that evening to be sworn in by Clerk Chris Bedford.

Council discussed a preferred provider contract with Everkept Waste Services, who the city has worked with since 2012 when they bought out Duncan Waste. Everkept has had a five-year contract within the city limits with the agreement of no cost increase to users. They are now experiencing increased costs of recycling and have informed the city they need to increase their rates by 37 cents a month for waste removal and 31 cents a month for recycling for one year and additional charges in the second year.

Beard explained that disposal service prices are going up because China is no longer buying American recyclables.  He called the increases “very modest” and praised the progressive idea of having a preferred contract. “This is the best of both worlds. It allows others to come into the market knowing they have to compete with these rates.”

Bergstrom questioned the value of the preferred provider format when residents ask why there are so many trash removal trucks in the city. “If it is preferred but not exclusive, why not have it exclusive?”

Clerk Chris Bedford said the city tried to implement an exclusive trash provider in the city and residents didn’t like it. “They got upset, they thought we were telling them what to do.”

Lewis asked if the city promoted the idea of a preferred contractor and was told no. “Not well enough,” Beard said. “You’re not using them?” Lewis said no, he didn’t know about it.

Beard suggested the concern could be addressed by designating specific days for the trash removal.  Bergstrom noted that that would still be the same number of trucks on the road. The board unanimously supported extending Everkept’s contract for another five years.

The council also voted to adopt the Kent and Ottawa county’s hazardous material plan, which Beard said is required for being the beneficiary of some grants or funds and in case of national disasters or emergency events. For an example, he said in his former job, the town suffered from a tornado, which caused the incurment of costs.

Mayor Scales brought up discussion of an ordinance to prohibit marijuana use in public and to ban establishments in the city. Beard said there was a draft from the Planning Commission prepared in advance in cast the recreational marijuana use proposal passed. He said once the ballot initiative is certified by the state, which can take two to twenty-eight days, municipalities have ten days to act if they want to prohibit sales.

He called the ordinance an emergency ordinance because of the specificity of timing. Ordinarily ordinances take effect ten days after their publication in the newspaper, but in this case it would take effect immediately after it is adopted.

Bergstrom asked why the ordinance came to council from the Planning Commission, is that because it is a zoning issue? Beard said in this case, there was no wheel to adopt, they had to invent it, but used the same language as was drafted by their attorney. He said if municipalities do not act within ten days to ban the sales, they are then unable to act. “You have to opt out. We are looking, not to regulate but prohibit.” Beard said he does not believe marijuana sales would not be beneficial to the downtown business district.

Bergstrom asked, “Is it detrimental?”

Beard said, “It depends on who you ask. Those who were for legalization would say it is a benefit. Those who were against it would say no.” Bergstrom said there are a wide variety of dispensaries that are awful, but others would fit in better. She said the city has had a former council member that used medicinal marijuana due to an injury. She asked council to keep an open mind about it.

Scales said that from polling people, she got the impression people don’t want it next to Aunt Candy’s Toy store. “You can still buy it and use it at home.” She said once sales start, people will come here to buy it. “Maybe I’m being stereotypical about users.”

Lewis pointed out the saying that “Pioneers die young.” “I don’t know if its right or wrong, but there is no rush to get into this.”

Bergstrom wanted to know what happens if someone gets caught with it in public. Chief Jones said it would be a misdemeanor, similar to having alcohol in public.

Council spent a little time hearing about and approving minor machinery purchases.

Next was some complicated discussion of well-monitoring sites that Wolverine World Wide was seeking permission to install. Of the four sites, only one turned out to be city property, near the gazebo on the west side of the Rogue River and dam. The others turned out to be on property that Wolverine actually owns, near the former tannery site.