New Hope City Councilmember Jonathan London walked out of thea March 20 council work session, after arguing with Mayor Kathi Hemken regarding the discussion about the capital improvement plan agenda item. London did return to the meeting a few minutes later.
Leaders from the city parks and recreation and public works departments were presenting their five-year capital improvement plans to the council.
“Just remember, all of these are just staff ideas,” said City Manager Kirk McDonald earlier in the meeting. “All of the projects need to be brought forward to the council for formal approval.”
Hemken told the council members she only wanted the council to listen to the future project ideas.
“If we have comments, we can discuss that at a later time,” she said.
After the directors presented improvement ideas for the golf course, ice arena, city parks, pool, central garage, sewer, lift stations, street lighting and storm water, London began asking questions.
He questioned the future of New Hope’s tax rate, how to determine if the city was “going off the rails” regarding taxes, how much the city will receive in franchise fees and whether or not the city is capturing any of the depreciation from the ice arena.
“I’m kind of surprised at the other things that need to be fixed (at the ice arena),” he said. “So we did this big project but there’s still a lot to go. The more challenges that start to come up financially for the ice arena, the bigger it becomes. It becomes more contentious for the city.”
McDonald admitted there is a problem with not putting away enough money for the ice arena’s debt, but that the issue would be discussed in May.
“We really just wanted to hear the capital plan for the five years from you guys (the department directors) and you did, thank you very much,” Hemken said. “So, those questions are going to be answered as we come (to future discussions). This is not really the place to (ask those questions).”
London responded saying the council was discussing expenses from the ice arena, which is why he brought up the depreciation.
Hemken thanked the directors again, hinting that the council would move to the next agenda item.
The following dialogue has been transcribed verbatim from the audio recording of the meeting.
“OK, good,” London said. “Then, the trails. One second.”
“Come on,” Hemken said.
“Come on what?” London said in a raised voice. “Madam Mayor, this is the taxpayers’ dollars.”
“Is this where I roll my eyes at you?” Hemken asked.
“Roll my eyes? This is out of line,” London responded.
“You do it all the time,” Hemken said.
“This is out of line because you don’t care!” London shouted.
“Oh, good grief,” Hemken said.
“How are you paying any attention here?” London asked loudly.
“Good grief, Jonathan. Settle down,” Hemken said.
“I’ve got questions and you’re just saying forget about them,” London said.
“I’m not saying that,” Hemken said.
“Yeah, you are! You just said thank you, get out of here. That’s ridiculous,” London responded.
“She’s saying basically what’s going to happen … this is coming up later on,” said Councilmember Andy Hoffe.
“That’s asinine,” London said. “I understand the depreciation but that’s not what I was talking about.”
“Thank you very much you guys,” Hemken said, dismissing the department directors.
“That’s not OK,” London said as he left the room.
“Oh, go to hell,” Hemken mumbled. “I’m sorry if that all got on tape.”
Hemken and London were contacted several days after the meeting for comment on the exchange.
Hemken reiterated that all the ideas from the capital improvement plan will come before the council in further detail in the coming months.
She had nothing further to say regarding the dialogue.
London did offer a comment.
“This is repeated behavior that I’ve seen from her in terms of cutting me off in other meetings,” he said.
According to London, the issue dates back to his years on the Citizen Advisory Commission, which he joined in 2008.
“I didn’t get renewed on the Citizen Advisory Commission because I didn’t agree with Kathi,” he said.
London said Hemken does not like when he asks tough questions.
“She is not one for dissension,” he said. “She wants to package everything as we’re a great team and everything. That’s fine. I don’t have a problem working as a team. But there’s some serious issues.”
According to London, if the city leadership is aware of an issue, months go by before it is addressed.
“I’m one for sunlight and accountability,” he said. “I’ve brought more accountability to this council since I was elected than anyone else.”
London said he does not believe asking questions of city staff members is wrong.
“That’s my job,” he said. “I don’t answer to Kathi. I answer to the citizens of New Hope. That’s why I’m here.”
Contact Gina Purcell at [email protected]