Political profanity topples tree carving project

Friday, November 12, 2021

A political slogan has brought down plans for tree carving at the City Park. The city government and the school booster club had hoped to have a series of dead tree trunks carved into a symbol of pride, with the Alta-Aurelia “Warriors” spelling out in letters across the line of trees, with the final tree carved in the sword-and-shield symbol.

The artist retained for the job decided to end his carving service, and recommended a replacement artist. That second artist started the work on the symbol tree, but after the city became aware of a sensitive decal on the artist’s truck reading “F--- Joe Biden”, the situation came to a head.

A city employee asked the artist to cover the slogan, or lower the truck tailgate to hide it, while working on the project in the elementary school area. The artist then left and did not return.

The city street superintendent said he could deepen the symbol on the one tree that was started. The other trees remain blank, and the city is not aware of any other artist who could complete the job.

After going through two artists without getting the job done, the city council was not in the mood to continue wrestling with the project. Members said the trees should be cut down.

Also, the council discussed the traffic situation on Veteran’s Drive that circles the park. The section from the 7th Street entry to the swimming pool is supposed to be one way, and has been for many years, but the sign signifying the one way zone and went missing long ago,. While some members of the public still follow the one-way directive, others do not or are unaware of the zone. City officials felt the council had never acted to end the one-way zone, and want a sign put back up.

In other Alta City Council business this week:

* LAND SALE - A public hearing was held on the sale of land in the 8th Addition to a developer. With no public comment, the sale was approved, involving the last six lots on Cyclone Drive.

* HOUSING REHAB - A public hearing was held on the housing rehabilitation program. City officials felt the program has been successful, with at least six homes currently involved - two completed, three underway, and one waiting for a rebidding. No vote was necessary.

* SEWER PROJECT - The council heard a report on the upcoming sewer project, from consulting civil engineer Amanda Goodenow. The project will require the removal of seven trees, and Goodenow suggested that instead of replacing them, the city give a stipend to the involved property owners who could choose their own replacement to plant if they wish. The mayor asked if the project can be expected to solve the lingering flooding and home damages, noting that with volatile climate, it seems like a “100 years rain” can come every other year. Goodenow felt the project will relieve issues. She said the plan has been submitted to the DNR, and should be able to go out for bids in February with construction starting after mid-May.

* EMPLOYEE REGULATIONS - Attorney Gary Armstrong advised the council to make several changes in the city employee handbook, saying that some of the current provisions are illegal. The city cannot punish workers who quit with short notice by taking away their earned vacation time, he said. Under the Family Medical Leave Act, the city must continue to pay health insurance premiums for employees while they are gone on family leave. The city also needs to address American Disabilities Act provisions in its policies. A draft of a policy with necessary corrections and updates is expected to be available to the council to consider in December.

* PARKS BOARD MAY CHANGE TO APPOINTMENTS - The county elections commission has asked the city to consider changing its method of choosing parks board members. Alta is the only community is the county with election for the members, and the suggestion is to go to appointments. In the November election, there were no declared candidates, leaving positions to be decided from over 80 write-ins.

* TRAFFIC TICKETS - The sheriff’s department that provides patrol service by contract to the city recently changed policy to write traffic tickets for the city to collect, rather than the state. Attorney Armstrong notes that he now has to prosecute tickets that are contested each month, and wants to check whether the city is coming out financially better despite the court time.

* STRAY DOGS - The mayor noted that the city is getting calls on vicious dogs running loose. The sheriff’s department does not transport animals, and if they have no tags, it is difficult to track down owners, the department and city officials said.

* PROPERTY ISSUES - The code enforcement officer was encouraged to begin rental property inspections. The officer has begun writing tickets for some municipal infractions. A condemned house was also discussed, as efforts to contact the owner who lives in Storm Lake have been unsuccessful. The council felt the matter should be turned over for legal action to get the house demolished. The long-time effort to deal with a vacant church building was also discussed. The city learned the church has recently been offered for sale by the owner, in hopes someone will move the building away so the lot can be sold.

* WATER TOWER LIGHTING - The mayor suggested that the city consider placing lights to illuminate the water tower at night. The tower has been repainted, and Walsh felt it would be a good investment in community pride to light the image. He said two LED lights could be had for $1,200 or less, and could last 20 years. The lights will be placed high off the ground, so should not effect neighbors, he said. The council approved unanimously.

* ATM MACHINE - The council considered purchasing an ATM machine for the Community Building. Bartenders for facility rental events like weddings have requested the addition, as some who attend do not have cash for purchases. Cost was estimated at $2,600, and a fee of $1 could be charged, with 25 cents charged by the machine provider, and 75 cents to the city for ongoing building needs, the city clerk suggested. Council member Willie Lang volunteered to research the situation further to see if the city could get a better deal.

* GROWTH - The mayor reviewed some positive developments in Alta, including three ribbon-cutting events for new businesses in recent weeks, and the railroad crossing replacement with safety improvements.