Amid the chilling backdrop of wind-swept Lake Como, St Paul’s City Council gathered at the outdoor Como Pavilion on Wednesday and held its first one-on-one meeting with constituents since March 2020.
Most of the evening should have been devoted to a public hearing on the mayor’s 2022 city budget proposal, a property tax levy and the potential use of $166 million in federal US rescue plan funding.
Instead, most of the hearing was conducted by some employees of St. Paul’s Parks and Recreation and St. Paul’s Public Works, which called for a pay hike and an employee vaccination mandate still under negotiation between City Hall and the city’s labor unions. There was strong opposition.
Tabitha Mitchell, Parks and RE worker, VP w/ AFSCME union, says everyday workers who lacked testing, PPE, were personally on the front lines: pic.twitter.com/SqmSyjMhbY
— Frederick Melo, reporter (@FrederickMelo) 13 October 2021
The tri-council, which represents the city’s heavy equipment operators, plow drivers, sewer workers and daily wage workers, has declined a two-year contract offer for a one-time bonus, but no pay hike in the first year. , thereafter 1.5 percent increase in the second year.
In a brief interview, Council President Amy Brendmon said that the council is still awaiting an update from the mayor’s office regarding the status of a vaccination mandate that the council convened on August 11.
“Showing hands, are any of you doctors here?” said a worker in an orange work vest, rhetorically addressing the council.
City employees said Wednesday that they have been told the city administration wants a fully immunized workforce by December 1, and the possibility of terminating non-compliant employees had surfaced during a labor management meeting the day before.
Ryan Wagner was among several firefighter-paramedics to take the mic and call for the option of frequent COVID testing instead of mandatory vaccinations.
“(For) persons who are opting not to take the COVID vaccine, I would request that this be done in lieu of shooting those who made the city blood, sweat and tears during the COVID-19 pandemic and civil unrest Huh. Last year,” Wagner said.
Council members observed a moment of silence for the victims of last weekend’s mass shooting at Seventh Street Truck Park, where a 27-year-old woman was killed and more than a dozen visitors were injured.
A proposal that would open the door to more drop-in facilities a day for the homeless within the city’s business districts will be reconsidered in three weeks.
Paul’s Planning Commission and some other public boards, the council has for the most part not hosted public hearings via Zoom or accepted live comments by other means since the early days of the pandemic. So far, in addition to raise-and-remove orders and other issues where live commentary is legally required, they have instead chosen to accept written comments on matters before them, while council members participate remotely.
Wednesday’s outdoor meeting was in-person only, but the council aims to move to hybrid in-person/remote meetings this winter, possibly by January, Brendmon said. He tested the technology last week with members of the Downtown Alliance. “We hope to move to hybrid as soon as we are in the chamber,” he said.