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City’s no-pictures policy questioned

Man ordered not to take pictures of displays at recent open house

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2012 1:15 a.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2012 12:55 p.m. CDT

MORRISON – The city put an engineer’s renderings of a proposed sewer plant on display at an open house last week – for all to see.

But a city official banned at least one person from taking photos of the displays.

David Jindrich, a candidate for Morrison mayor, wanted to take pictures during Thursday’s open house at Odell Public Library. He said he asked Carl Fischer of the Baxter & Woodman engineering firm whether he could.

“[Fischer] said he had no problem. We walked over to Mr. [Jim] Wise [city administrator] and I thought he told me yes. Then I took some photos, and he said he didn’t want any photos taken,” Jindrich said. “He said it was a proprietary type of thing.”

Wise said it’s a “touchy legal situation.”

“In our agreement, they [engineering firm] retain possession and the right to give the city permission for the possession of reproducible copies,” Wise said. “As we continue to work through the project, they will release the information to us.”

He said Fischer’s superiors are responsible for approving the release of the material.

Fischer, who is on vacation, couldn’t be reached for comment.

Jindrich, who opposes one of the proposed sites for the sewer plant, disagreed.

“They [engineers] were paid for their services. They have been paid for with taxpayer dollars, which means [the materials] are available under the Freedom of Information Act,” he said.

In the last month, the city has paid more than $15,000 to Baxter & Woodman.

The current sewer plant is in Waterworks Park, which is next to the backyards of Jindrich’s house and others. One proposed site for the new plant would be north of the current one in the same park, much closer to the houses.

Jindrich, his wife, Pam Pickens, and other residents have expressed concerns about moving a plant so close to their homes.

Pickens said her husband complied with Wise’s order because they didn’t want to be escorted out.

Last year, Wise got a police officer to order a resident out of a city committee meeting. The city said that although the resident wasn’t disruptive at that meeting, he had been rude to city employees earlier. The resident denied the accusation, and the city never provided details on how he was rude.

The attorney general later found that Wise violated the state Open Meetings Act by removing a nondisruptive person from a public meeting.

Alderwoman Marti Wood, a candidate for mayor, said she and other council members attended the open house. She opposed Wise’s no-photos policy.

“I wished I had my camera. I would have liked to have taken some pictures,” Wood said.

When Wood reviews city records, Wise has an employee watch her do so in a basement meeting room. In one instance, Wise barred her from taking any notes.

Alderwoman Sarah Thorndike, another mayor candidate, said the proprietary issue would be up to the engineering firm.

“I tend to think that something in a public meeting is public,” she said.

 

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