Council heats up over proposed ordinance

Authored by Jim Langham on Dec 11, 2013

A proposed ordinance that would require a “Swiss only” design approach to future businesses coming to Berne brought strong opposition from several council members and resulted in tabling the matter for consideration and further discussion at the next Berne City Council meeting on Jan. 13, 2014.
The proposed ordinance would establish a committee made up of two city council representatives, two representatives of the city planning commission, the mayor and two residents appointed by the mayor who have the authority to give final approval of future business design in the city.
The discussion began with Berne Mayor Bill McKean reporting that the planning commission had voted 7-0 to pass the ordinance on to council for approval.
Initially, city attorney James Beitler, in his last night as serving as council solicitor, said that the purpose would be to work out a balance for developers in a commercial zone to look at what it is hoped that all Berne businesses will do when they design their businesses.
“We are living in a computer world where businesses are asked to comply with something that has some type of law. We’re not dictators, we simply want to set at a table and talk over design,” said Beitler.
Beitler said that the purpose of the committee would be to explain that Berne will have this type of thing (required Swiss design).
However, discussion quickly heated up when council members Philip Provost and Mark Wynn emphatically expressed deep concern over the matter.
Provost said he was not opposed to a historical Swiss theme, but he feared deep inherent danger in the exclusiveness of the ordinance and committee concept.
“I see real danger with an ordinance that insists on a Swiss theme,” said Provost. “I fear that in the future it could work to the detriment of its own purpose.
“In order to achieve the most appropriate government, it must be achieved in a way for the good of the most people,” continued Provost. “Our job is to promote the general welfare of the businesses. What if a strong business would like to come to town but does not want to promote a Swiss design? That puts the general welfare of the development of our work community at risk.”
Provost referred to the fact that BP Johnson’s Junction and the First Bank of Berne have and are currently constructing major business undertakings without a Swiss design.
“Are these places hurting the future of Berne by doing this?” asked Provost.
Beitler responded by saying that the proposal is part of a police paver that all of the nation has developed.
“I have extreme fear, so much so that I am not prepared in any way to vote in favorite of this tonight,” said Wynn. “We do not know who will be on the (approval) committee now or in the future. There could very well be people who will say, ‘if you don’t have a Swiss design, I’m not voting for it.”
“You’re not going to get this,” Wynn said to Beitler. “We will never pass this.”
When asked again about the fact that the First Bank of Berne is not building a Swiss design into its new building complex, Beitler emphatically said to Wynn, “If this law would be in place right now, the First Bank of Berne would not be building what they are now.”
“This says that someone could leave because they don’t want a Swiss design,” responded Wynn.
Wynn said that like Provost, he is not opposed in any way to Swiss design, he simply has concerns about imposing that design on everyone at the risk of losing a good business that could have otherwise brought more jobs to the community.
McKean said that it is his idea that it won’t be imposed, but a strong suggestion will be made to incoming businesses that they build with Swiss design.
Council member Curt Wurster said that when they decided to give a Swiss design to their furniture business, they did so because they thought that the design would be an asset to the Berne business community.
“If we would have built outside the Berne city limits, we would have probably not used a Swiss theme,” said Wurster.
Beitler refuted the implication city officials were slamming the door on any non-Swiss business designs.
“We just want to sit at a table to talk it over with them,” said Beitler.
“And what if they say, no?” asked Wynn.
“If they say, ‘no,’ they leave,” said Beitler.
Council member Ron Dull said that in light of the disagreement at the table, he would rather not act on the matter at Monday’s meeting.
“Either we can vote on it in the future or tweak it some,” said Dull. “I’m not against it but I don’t want to see any businesses run away either.
“I make a motion to table the matter until the first night in January,” said Dull. “Whoever is working on this, hopefully there will be some discussion and ideas that will help us get together on this.”
“If we have to tweak this a little, hopefully we can do that to get something good out of this,” said McKean.
Incoming town attorney David Baumgartner advised that elements could be put in the legislation to safe guard against abuse.
“We need to put some teeth in it, but maybe we need to slow things down a little bit and work at it,” added Baumgartner.
McKean said that the matter will come up at the next meeting.
McKean said that he hopes that council members can come together on the matter, even if takes some time to do so.
As at all council meetings, residents of the city are always welcome to appear and express their concerns over matters.
The next meeting will be in the council chamber at the town hall on Jan. 13, 2014 at 7:30 p.m.


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