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Human Rights Commission works toward consensus on Barn Bluff, Ordinance 115

The Human Rights Commission attempted to tackle two hot topics — behavior at meetings addressed by Ordinance 115 and painting on Barn Bluff — at a workshop on Thursday, May 24.

Ordinance 115

Some community members spoke in favor of dismissing the ordinance entirely, believing it to be overly punitive and redundant, while others stated that having the ordinance in place would make them more comfortable and active participants in the council chambers.

The current wording of proposed Ordinance 115 states:

Section 10.30 Enforcement of Rules of Order and Procedure and Orderly Conduct at Government Meetings.

Section 10.30 Warning and Removal: The rules of order and procedure and orderly conduct at Red Wing City Council meetings and all other City of Red Wing boards, commissions, and public bodies are put in place so no person may prevent another person's participation in a meeting or interfere with the official record of the meeting. Those rules may be enforced in the following manner:

If a person breaches the rules of disorderly conduct, as stated in Minnesota Statute 609. 72 and Local Resolution 7070, that person can be removed from the meeting. The presiding officer shall first issue that person a verbal warning requesting that they be orderly and quiet. If, after receiving a warning from the presiding officer that person persists, the presiding officer may order that person to leave the meeting. If such person does not leave, the presiding officer may ask any law enforcement officer to remove the person from the meeting.

As stated in Minnesota Statute 609.72, any person who violates the rules stated herein can be found guilty of disorderly conduct, which is a misdemeanor.

Other cities, including Minneapolis and Rochester, recently adopted versions of this ordinance to help prevent major disruptions to public meetings. Minnesota cities were moved to consider such changes after Robin Hensel, an activist, was removed from the Little Falls City Council chambers in 2013 and charged with disorderly conduct. The state Supreme Court reversed her conviction in 2017.

Former Red Wing City Council member Peggy Rehder was in attendance Thursday, and she confirmed that the ordinance was not written and presented to council by Police Chief Roger Pohlman, as some believed, but the council charged him to work with the city attorney on developing language that could be considered by the council for adoption, following the Supreme Court's decision. She said, on two occasions during her tenure, she had felt physically unsafe — while discussing matters of the gun range and Mississippi National Golf Links.

"I think it needs to be in place, and that would be my recommendation," said HRC member Jeimmy Yusty Rojas. "I think we need something because they need to act and they need to follow something more clear than what they've got right now."

HRC members were generally unsatisfied with the original wording of Ordinance 115, which they deemed too vague and subjective for action. Specifically, the words "vulgar" and "boisterous" were concerning to the group. There was likewise concern over the "misdemeanor" penalty which could hinder employment and housing options for those charged.

"The courts have regularly stated that law enforcement officers are to have a higher level of tolerance when it comes to vulgarity and disorderly conduct that occurs in our presence," Pohlman said. "My thought is, what is the guidance that is provided to us out there to act when the instant may occur."

The ultimate goal of the HRC was to offer recommendations to the City Council, however, after discussing the matter and hearing from the public for an hour and a half, the group couldn't come to consensus. Ultimately, members decided to send their independent thoughts to the HRC staff liaison, community engagement specialist Michelle Leise, who will assemble them as a packet for their next meeting. The group still intends to present their firm recommendations regarding Ordinance 115 for the council's consideration on June 14.

HRC will likely suggest wording changes and may recommend conflict resolution and meeting management training for holders of the City Council presidency.

Barn Bluff

The HRC is one of three groups who will send recommendations to the City Council regarding graffiti on Barn Bluff. The Heritage Preservation Commission and the Advisory Planning Commission also will weigh in.

One issue raised is that Barn Bluff is not a "park" and, as such, does not have posted hours. Pohlman argued that having appropriate hours of use would make it possible for law enforcement to curb nighttime access, when much of the painting occurs.

Each time there is a complaint called in regarding graffiti on Barn Bluff, Special Projects Manager Brian Peterson said that it costs the city $500 to send up a crew of two workers to paint over it.

The group acknowledged that graffiti is an issue throughout the Barn Bluff recreational zone, not just on the large, visible face currently being disputed.

A top concern for the HRC was the bluff's significance to the Native American community. It was noted that the Prairie Island Tribal Council has made this issue a main priority for 2018.

A packet of information — including the results of a citywide phone survey from 2017, graffiti ordinances, public responses given at a recent City Council workshop and a cultural landscape analysis — was available for review Thursday. Cited in the packet was a brief Dakota oral history which stated "Barn Bluff, or Khemnichan Paha, is considered one of the original places to pray by the Dakota and hills like it are considered sacred as well."

Peterson said that the city is about to receive a $1 million grant to make our trails more sustainable. He indicated the city will be working with the Tribal Council to bring more Native interpretation to the bluff.

A new HRC member, RedHeart RedHeart, said, "(painting the bluff) has been a tradition and it's time for change."

HRC members will, again, give their individual recommendations to Leise, who will compile a packet for discussion at their next meeting, at which time a formal recommendation will be sent to the City Council. This method will prevent behind-the-scenes influence of the HRC's decision-making and keep all actions transparent and accountable through the Open Meeting Law, former staff liaison Pohlman reminded the group.