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Council talks tribal relations, pickleball and PLAs

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Cloquet City Councilors met with Tribal Council members for an informal discussion during Tuesday's work session, a move that both groups agreed is the beginning of a more collaborative relationship.

"We don't want to walk with blinders anymore," said Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Chairman Kevin DuPuis. "We want to take the blinders off and look at everything that's out there. And most definitely have good neighbors, because it allows everyone to work as a collective."

Items discussed were adding a Fond du Lac flag to the Council Chambers, along with scheduling regular meetings between the two elected bodies. This could help with collaborating on mutual issues, such as efforts to control drug abuse and related crimes in both Cloquet and on the Reservation. Band members have talked with Cloquet Library Director Mary Lukkarila about adding Ojibwe elements into the library. FDL District 1 (Cloquet) Representative Vanessa Northrup said she would also like to see the Band participate in more of the events in Cloquet.

Ward 2 Councilor David Bjerkness said he really liked seeing Fond du Lac veterans be part of the dedication of Veterans Park during the annual Memorial Day ceremonies.

"It's not just our membership on the Reservation, we have residents all over in every city (in the region)," said District III (Brookston) Rep. Roger Smith, noting that the Reservation also reaches into St. Louis County. "We can collaborate on grants, police, resource management, health and human services, planning."

When asked about businesses on the Reservation, Smith listed off several businesses, but noted that the primary growth of Fond du Lac has been through gaming.

"I think our payroll is $65 million," he said. "That's huge for the whole area."

Northrup suggested maybe the Band could help some of the Jarden Home Brands employees find work at Black Bear Casino Resort.

The informal meeting ended with both sides agreeing to decide on regular meetings either quarterly or twice a year.

"Tonight was a big step," said Cloquet Mayor Dave Hallback.

PROJECT LABOR AGREEMENT IN QUESTION

In the second session of Tuesday's work session, City Attorney Bill Helwig strongly advised the council to reconsider the resolution passed May 2 requiring Project Labor Agreements (PLA) on any city project or private project (using any city funds) with a total project cost greater than $175,000. A PLA is a pre-hire collective bargaining agreement with one or more labor unions that establishes the terms and conditions of employment for a specific construction project.

Helwig recapped his initial advice that the real problem lies with the city council's decision to extend PLA requirements to private projects that have any amount of city funding, adding that he based his opinion on case law from the Supreme Court of the United States, the Minnesota Court of Appeals and the Attorney General.

"PLAs are allowed to be required by cities on city-owned projects where the city is the purchaser and owner of the project," Helwig said. "The city can justify it based on economic benefit to the city, but the city cannot require PLAs just for the sake of regulation. When you go out and say 'if there's any any gap financing, these private projects also have to have PLAs,' the city is stepping outside of its authority. Because at that point, there's no economic benefit to the city. There's simply regulation of those private projects for the benefit of union labor."

Helwig added that that type of regulation is pre-empted by federal law.

"I guarantee that's why you don't see any other cities requiring PLAs for private projects," he added.

Cloquet Community Development Director Holly Butcher said research revealed there is not a city in the entire state of Minnesota that has a PLA that applies to private projects, although many places have PLAs that apply to city projects. Her staff report noted that four projects have either been downsized, pulled or are uncertain because of the PLA requirement.

An attorney for the Duluth Trades Union argued that Duluth has required PLAs on private projects, but Butcher said she talked with their city planner and attorney and Duluth had strongly recommended, but not required, PLAs on some projects with city funding attached. The attorney also argued that the city has an economic interest in the private projects "as an investor."

It was a contentious discussion, but civil. No one suggested the entire PLA ordinance (No. 465A) be repealed, but rather the EDA commissioners had voted 5-0 at an earlier meeting to suggest the ordinance be amended so it does not apply to city-assisted private economic development projects.

Councilors Adam Bailey and Steve Langley, as well as Mayor Dave Hallback argued in favor of keeping the requirement for a PLA on any private projects over $175,000 that are receiving any kind of city funding.

Several EDA members spoke against the requirement, including Sappi Cloquet Mill Manager Mike Schultz. Schultz said the mill used a PLA in the 1990s and hasn't since, because they feel it ties their hands too much. But since Sappi is unlikely to ask for funding from the city, it's a moot point.

"But from what I've experienced, as a developer coming into town, a PLA creates too much red tape and I'll just go on down the road to the next town," he said.

A letter from EDA member Shelley Peterson reiterated her previously expressed support for PLAs, but Peterson did not touch on the subject of extending the PLA to private businesses in her letter.

In the end, EDA member Steve Micke — who said anything that hampers growth in Cloquet is not a good thing — suggested the city send its current ordinance to the Minnesota Attorney General's office for an opinion whether it is legal or not.

Helwig said he would do that, and figured he could get a reply within 30-60 days.

PICKLEBALL PLAYERS UNITE

During the relatively short formal Cloquet City Council meeting, Bill Hoffman addressed the council to request the city build a pickleball complex at Wentworth Park in West End Cloquet, at the site of the former tennis courts and one-time skatepark.

Hoffman and his wife, Juanita, are members of an active pickleball group that plays Tuesday and Thursday from 9-11 a.m. at the Cloquet Armory and Saturday mornings at Churchill, where the city striped the tennis court for pickleball.

City Engineer Caleb Peterson gave a rough estimate of $200,000 in costs for putting in new pickleball courts at Wentworth, based on the cost of installing the new tennis courts at Pinehurst Park last summer.

Bill Hoffman pointed out that pickleball is one of the fastest growing sports in the U.S. and is gaining in popularity here.

However, because there are not permanent nets at Churchill, people are less likely to play because they either have to buy their own or go to the Community Education office to get a net, set it up, play, tear it down and take it back.

Juanita said the dual-use court isn't ideal.

"It's like playing tennis on a basketball court with no nets set up," she said.

Ward 1 Councilor Jeff Rock expressed support for the idea.

"It's no secret I use the parks with my family and we're at Sunnyside a lot," he said. "This sport has exploded this summer. Everytime we're there, the court is occupied by pickleballers and it's not just one age group, grandparents with grandkids, it runs the gamut.

"Maybe this is important enough we address this now, instead of 10 years down the road."

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