Blair council confirms police chiefÕs retirement, officer resignation

Blair Mayor Ardell Knutson confirmed the retirement of city police chief Tim Wheeler, effective Feb. 20, at Monday's city council meeting. Wheeler has been with the city's department for 20 years. In addition to Wheeler's departure, full-time officer Mark Spaeth is to resign effective Feb. 9 after three years with the city. "Officer Spaeth resigned to take a job somewhere else; the city is short on Police," Knutson said. Emily Lee was present to represent the office of Trempealeau County District Attorney John Sacia to "convey a brief message that the city is an essential part of the community and that the police department here handle a disproportionate amount of violent and drug cases and offense. The district attorney believes it is imperative that the community have a very strong police force, given the communities needs. I personally believe it is necessary to have a strong police force to address the community's problems before these issues get worse."

The city's only other full-time officer, Jordan Pride, was present and addressed the council. "As the last remaining full-time officer, I do want to get more involved with the community and I have ideas to do so," Pride said. "Being this understaffed, it is difficult to implement these ideas with my primary duties taking up most of the time; another officer would obviously allow for further community engagement." Pride acknowledged that he has received administrative support from a volunteer office, but that more officers are needed. Council member Mike Lisowski encouraged residents to attend the next police ordinance meeting, which was held on Wednesday of this week at 7 p.m.

City clerk Susan Frederixon reported to the council that the city had received $187,784.24 in annual royalty from Source Energy Services, which she said was "well over the minimum amount of $100,000."

The council took action on multiple recommendations from the city's police ordinance meeting last month, including approval of ordinance revisions further prohibiting the purchase and possession of tobacco products for persons under the age of 21; the ordinance revision includes "tobacco product or vapor product." City attorney Allen Robertson said that the ordinance is intended to address a "very serious health concerns that have even resulted in hospitalization and even death."

Also in action; the council approved the adoption of a parking restriction ordinance. Section 37.1 states that any vehicle parked on city streets in excess of 24 hours except for recreational or camper vehicles is prohibited. RVs and campers may park for five continuous days on city streets.

Landlords in attendance sought clarification on the ordinance committee's recommendation draft ordinance chapter 46.04 which would restrict the street level dwellings for apartments in the business/commercial district; "apartments as a secondary use permitted on upper level only." The public was allowed to comment on the recommendation. "We are trying to revitalize the downtown business area and that there are different opinions related to the district," council member Wanda Cartrette said. During the public comment portion for this item; landlord and former business owner Calvin Richards said that "as a former business owner it's difficult to run a business here. I'm not interested in being anything but a landlord; I'd be happy to rent the restaurant to somebody to run but as far as getting any aid from any programs, I can't do that because I won't be the business owner and the same goes for the business owner as they do not own the property. It's a great idea and I hope it works but it's a difficult situation." The owner of two commercial buildings including the A to Z Store and what was described as the former chiropractic building said, "it's hard to get people in there, the rent you have to charge to get people in is ridiculous. Blair is not booming at this moment and with this [ordinance] I would lose at least three to four apartment buildings right away. So what am I going to do with that? I think it's great to increase commercial interest and I'm trying but we are such a small town. This is my livelihood and my business." After public comment council member Chris Ekern said that while he "valued input from business owners" but clarified that "there are no plans to kick any tenants out, right now the subject on hand is to prevent anymore because it goes against developing the whole community." Ekern encouraged business and property owners to attend a joint meeting with the city's ordinance and business development committees to further discussion. The council motioned to permit the city attorney to draft conditional use ordinances related to street level apartments.

The council approved a motion to close city offices to the public on Wednesdays in order to allow city staff to fulfill clerical duties. The offices will be closed on Wednesdays for a three-month trial basis. The council also approved the purchase of iPads for city council members for a cost of $3,440. It was reported that the purchase would save $800, the cost of printing.

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