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City Council splits vote on OSHA policy regarding testing, masks

Mayor Mike Kuhle breaks tie to side with approving policy.

Worthington City Hall
Worthington City Hall. (Brian Korthals/Daily Globe)

WORTHINGTON — Worthington Mayor Mike Kuhle broke a tie vote among council members Tuesday night, resulting in a 3-2 split approving a COVID-19 vaccination and face-covering policy for all city employees. Council members Amy Ernst and Alaina Kolpin supported the policy, while Chad Cummings and Chris Kielblock were opposed. Councilman Larry Janssen was absent from the meeting,

The policy is in response to OSHA language that remains in battle in the court system, but if approved will require all employers with 100 or more employees to require employees to show proof of vaccination against COVID-19 or submit to weekly testing and wear a facemask while at work.

City Administrator Steve Robinson said an employee is classified as anyone who receives a W-2 from the city of Worthington . That includes not only full- and part-time employees, but temp and seasonal workers, firefighters and election judges. The definition puts the city at more than 200 employees.

“We’ve been advised that OSHA Minnesota is planning to implement (the federal OSHA requirements) as soon as Jan. 3 — provided the legal action is determined,” Robinson said.

With the potential implementation less than a week away, city staff prepared a multi-page policy that spans everything from testing to reporting and who will pay for the tests.

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“At this point, we don’t know how many employees may or may not be vaccinated,” Robinson said. “The only ones we know are those that have shared that information with us.”

Without a policy, Robinson said the only option would be to terminate employees unless they are vaccinated, “which is a foolish thing to do — we need all the employees we can get,” he added.

The Supreme Court is supposed to hear the case on Jan. 7.

“I’m hoping they see the folly of this and throw it out,” Robinson said. “If they don’t, we have to have a plan for testing.”

Complicating matters is determining who would do the testing, tracking and reporting — something Robinson said could be a full-time position.

“We don’t think we could be responsible for all of those steps,” he said.

As of Tuesday, the city had received information from one organization that would charge $10 per test, per employee, per week — and that’s with city staff doing a lot of organizational work.

“The full service, which includes everything, is $29 per test (per employee, per week),” Robinson said.

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As for masking, Robinson said many employees at city hall are in enclosed offices and wouldn’t have to wear a mask if alone. Employees who work outside also may be in situations where mask wearing would not be required, he added.

Kielblock said he appreciated staff’s work and wanting to be prepared, but opposed the policy, while Cummings said there were too many unknowns, including costs. He also didn’t support a policy that would require people to give up health information.

Kuhle said people are giving up one piece of their health information, and encouraged council members to separate the policy from the fact that the city is being forced to put it into place.

Ernst said non-compliance could result in a $10,000 to $14,000 fine per person, per day, and that OSHA would likely look to make an example of someone.

“I think our hand is being forced here; I think it’s a wise policy,” Kolpin said.

“We’ll put the city in a dire position if we don’t (approve it),” Kuhle added.

Redistribution of Prairie Holdings Group property approved

A split among partners of Prairie Holdings Group resulted in a requested reallocation of property assets, which the council approved Tuesday night.

As a result, the city will receive a portion of one lot back, while the remaining parcels will be divided between two different partnerships. The redistribution required termination of the existing loan agreement and contract for deed, and development of a new loan agreement and contract for deed. As originally specified, the new loans — now written to Southwest Real Estate, LLC (PHG Real Estate, LLC) for the purchase price of $123,772.68 amortized over 148 months at 5% interest; and with BCRS Real Estate, LLC for the purchase price of $62,675.85 amortized over 148 months at 5% interest — will be forgiven as long as both entities abide by the terms spelled out in the original contract regarding job creation. PHG met those job creation goals several years ago.

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In other action, the council:

  • Accepted a $142,218 grant awarded to the Center for Active Living from the Minnesota River Area Agency on Aging. The grant will be used for programming, education and technology training, health promotion and other items, including funding a portion of the director’s salary. Director Jill Cuperus said she hopes the CAL can renew the grant from year to year.

  • Approved a three-year contract with the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 49 (non-salaried water, wastewater and public works employees, as well as engineering technicians). The new three-year contract represents a 3.5% cost of living adjustment each year through 2024. In addition, compensation was adjusted for employees serving on stand-by duty from 10.5 hours of regular rate pay to 14 hours of regular rate pay for each week they are assigned to stand-by duty.

  • Authorized engineering firm SEH to provide design services for trail improvements and a new, eight-foot-wide handicap-accessible pedestrian bridge at Olson Park, as well as improvements to the boat landing and parking lot at Sunset Park. The design work is anticipated to be completed in the spring, with plans for the projects to be finished sometime next summer.

    Public Works Director Todd Wietzema said there will be a slight realignment of the trail in Olson park, as well as areas where guard rails are installed, similar to those between the Lake Street pedestrian bridge and Ehlers Park. In addition, the city plans to do some drainage work in the campground, including tile and catch basins.

  • Approved water, wastewater and electric budgets as proposed by Worthington Public Utilities. Water and wastewater budgets will increase by approximately 4%, with the electric budget up 1.4%. Electric rates will not increase for customers in 2022, however, the increases in the water and wastewater budgets will result in a rate increase of roughly $4.19 for the average residential utility customer, reported WPU General Manager Scott Hain.

  • Approved changes to a city-owned parking lot behind the Thompson Hotel, including an increase in the number of stalls designated for residents of the Thompson from 25 to 35. Thompson management will lease the stalls and then rent them out to tenants. As a result, the number of stalls available for two-hour parking will be reduced from 15 to five.

  • Accepted a $1,000 donation from the Kern’s Christmas Cash endowment, which was distributed through 10 $100 cash gifts to people by Worthington Police officers the week leading up to Christmas.

  • Approved a six-year fire protection contract between the Worthington Fire Department and Lorain Township, with a 3% rate increase per year. Chief Pat Shorter said fire protection rates were stagnant for years, and increases are needed.

  • Accepted a donated minivan, valued at $1,000, from Mick’s Repair for use by the Worthington Fire Department to train in emergency medical response and extrication.

  • Approved summer rec program fees for 2022 at a 5% increase.

Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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