After more than a month without an appointed mayor, the City of Newton took a step forward Monday night with the swearing in of 2nd Ward councilman Mike Hansen as mayor during the Nov. 5 city council meeting.
Hansen was the lone applicant for the position, which was decided by city council appointment, and had served as Newton’s mayor pro tem following Chaz Allen’s resignation in September.
The council unanimously passed a resolution appointing councilor Steve Mullan as mayor pro tem to preside over Hansen’s appointment as mayor.
In being officially sworn in as mayor, Hansen forfeited his seat on the city council, leaving a 2nd Ward seat vacant.
Following Hansen’s formal appointment, the council outlined the timeline for filling Hansen’s vacant seat. According to a calendar compiled by City Attorney Darrin Hamilton, the seat could be filled as early as Nov. 30, but no later than Dec. 15. Parties interested in vying for the seat will be invited to submit letters of interest throughout the week of Nov. 25.
In addition, the city’s vicious dog ordinance was brought into question following a handful of incidents involving aggressive dogs over the course of the past few months.
“I was asked to take a look at the vicious dog ordinance to strengthen it or see if there’s any changes we need to make,” Newton Police Chief Jeff Hoebelheinrich said.
Hoebelheinrich asked the council whether they’d like to simply refine the current ordinance or look at banning certain dog breeds that are typically considered vicious, such as pit bulls.
“I think the research shows that it’s not the dog that’s the problem, but it’s the owners and how they train the dog that’s the problem. We could easily ban any breed ... but I don’t think that’s the course of action we should take,” Mullan said.
Councilor Dennis Julius added that there are certain breeds of dogs with a propensity to be more aggressive and suggested that the city determine a way to make owners of such animals more responsible for their pets.
“I do think we need to hold these people accountable that are not registering these animals, especially ones of those certain breeds.”
“Realize that everything you’re saying only applies to vicious animals,” Hoebelheinrich said. “The fact is, I think I’ve declared three vicious animals in the last three and a half years.”
Hamilton suggested that the council target the “behavior rather than the breed” in refining the city’s current ordinance, with a focus on repeat offenders who “don’t know how to manage a pet.”
In addition, various measures were suggested for improving the ordinance, among them were requiring “vicious dog” signage at homes with aggressive animals, suggested by Mullan, and additional insurance required of pet owners, suggested by Hansen.
Furthermore, the council discussed being able to designate a dog as “vicious” after just one incident, essentially eliminating the current ordinance’s “free pass” provision for first-time incidents. Hamilton outlined the council’s comments, adding that he’d compile a revised proposal to review at the council’s next meeting.
The council also discussed the possibility of contracting the city’s legal services out to a firm rather than relying on the in-house counsel of a City Attorney. Newton is one of just two cities in its demographic range that operates with a full-time attorney.
“This is not an indictment of our current city attorney, and I want to make sure that the public is aware of that, this discussion is about budgeting,” councilor Noreen Otto said.
Newton’s current per-capita expenditure for legal services exceeds that of many surrounding communities; contracting with a legal firm to meet the city’s needs would perhaps save taxpayer dollars in the long run.
“The public needs to know why we are taking a look at this,” Julius said. “Would we be better off or not? This issue came up strictly because of economics to see, could we be better stewards of taxpayer money by contracting out legal services rather than having a full time attorney?”
“This is a significant amount of money were talking about,” Councilor Jeff Price added. “Maybe we should be more responsible with how we go about our services.”
Although issues in choosing a firm to contract with while avoiding conflicts of interest arose as a point of concern, the council agreed to look further into the discussion.
In other business, the council:
• Adopted a resolution approving an engineering services agreement with Clapsaddle-Garber Associates Inc. for the Apron Expansion Project — 2013 at the Newton Municipal Airport. The resolution will provide for additional apron space for safely parking aircraft and to accommodate for additional aircraft on busy weekends. This improvement is currently being considered for an Airport Improvement Program grant under which the FAA would reimburse 90 percent of the project costs. In order to be eligible for the AIP grant, the city must select a design consultant by Dec. 15, 2012, complete the majority of the project’s plans by March 15, 2013, and have bids for the project opened by May 1, 2013.
• Adopted a resolution approving quotes for prohibited sanitary sewer discharge removal work, in turn also approving financial assistance payments toward the lowest bid of $3,020.00 from Jeff Seals Construction of Newton for work at 712 S. 2nd Ave. W.
• Adopted a resolution accepting the completion of the 2012 Structure Demolition Project, which included the demolition of the structure at 302 S. 3rd Ave. E. As the demolition has concluded, the Council approved the final payment of $10,000 to Van Ryswyk Plumbing and Heating of Monroe.
• Adopted a resolution entering into an agreement with the Weekend Pitstop Inc. organization for event purposes on the Newton Square known as Thunder Nites in Newton. The Council approved the addition of a fifth Thunder Nite, a series of events which will now run from May through September.
• Adopted the revised Snow Removal ordinance and authorized the Public Works Director to have signs installed in the Downtown Snow Removal District advising no parking from 2:00 to 6:00 a.m. from Nov. 1 to April 30.
• Approved a Class C Beer Permit, Class B Native Wine, and Sunday Sales for the Casey’s General Store at 1200 W. 18th St. S.
• Adopted a resolution accepting the completion of the N. 19th Ave. E. Railroad Crossing Surface Repair Project, authorizing the final payment of $477.93 to the Iowa Interstate Railroad.
• Adopted a resolution accepting completion of the 2012 Citywide Sidewalk Ramp Improvements Project, authorizing the final payment of $9,464.77 to Precision Concrete.
• Adopted a resolution accepting the completion of the U.S. Highway 6 HMA Resurfacing Project, authorizing the final payment of $57,765.94 from the City Road Use Fund to the Iowa DOT.