Two weeks after approving an ordinance that would have raised the legal age to purchase tobacco and e-cigarette products to 21, the Litchfield City Council did a unanimous about face.
The Council, on a 7-0 vote, approved a resolution offered by Mayor Keith Johnson Tuesday to reject the second reading of the ordinance that had passed on a 5-2 vote Aug. 26.
“I just feel we have a lot of questions to ask,” Johnson said in the lead-up to his resolution.
That echoed concerns voiced by other council members about not having enough time to consider the ramifications of the ordinance. Most also mentioned that they had heard from many people on the topic, including convenience store managers who could be affected by the ordinance.
Johnson originally asked City Administrator David Cziok if the ordinance could be tabled, allowing time for the City Council to convene a workshop to go through the ordinance in more detail.
Tabling would be acceptable, Cziok said after consulting with City Attorney Mark Wood, but if during the work session Council members decided the ordinance needed changes, it would require starting the process again.
On that advice, Johnson resolved to simply kill the ordinance and start over. As part of the resolution, he asked that the staff schedule a work session for the Council’s next meeting, at which the ordinance can be reviewed “line by line.” That meeting will be Monday, Sept. 16.
Council members Ron Dingmann and Vern Loch Jr., who voted against the ordinance at its first reading, maintained their objection to it Tuesday.
“There are a lot of good things in this ordinance,” Dingmann acknowledged. “but the one issue … changing (the purchase age) to 21, I personally don’t feel it’s going to be effective.
“We, as a council, I don’t think it’s our duty” to regulate tobacco sales, Dingmann said.
“I’m hoping the state (legislature) does something next year,” Loch said. “I’m wishing and hoping that happens (but) I’ve got reservations about that….”
Betty Allen, who voted for the ordinance originally, actually kicked off the retreat from it.
“It snowballed into so much,” Allen said. “I’m not sure I’m ready to vote on it yet.”
The lone Council member who continued to voice support for the ordinance, Sara Miller, said that her daughter told her before the meeting, “The people sell the products that kill people and they do it only for money.”
“So, I’m still on the process … that we need to make the change,” Miller said. Though she understood the idea offered by some that a tobacco sales ordinance was better left to the state, she said, “sometimes the smaller groups have to be the ones to make the change. That’s just my opinion.”
But after several more minutes of discussion about compliance checks, e-cigarettes and vaping, Miller went with the majority to reject the ordinance.
Chris Olson officially started in the role of Lake Ripley’s new elementary school principal Tuesday.
Olson was an English teacher at Litchfield Middle School for 16 years, after he graduated from Bemidji State University with a bachelor’s degree in arts and literature in 2003. Olson also coached the boys hockey team, middle school softball and junior varsity softball.
“I absolutely, 100 percent, will miss coaching,” Olson said. “I mean, it’s a huge part of who I am. But there again, what I’ll miss most about it is the relationship piece of it. You know, the relationship with players. The relationship I had with my coaches that I coached with, that’s a huge piece of why I did it for so long. And so, to be done doing it is different, but at the same time the experience that I gained as a coach, as a teacher and teaching multiple abilities, and coaching multiple abilities, you learn a lot of how to be around all kinds of people – as a principal here.”
He obtained a master’s degree in education and his administrative license from St. Mary’s University in 2006. And after many hours of internships and further coursework, he received an administrative degree from Concordia University in July 2018.
Initially, Olson thought it might be too soon to become principal.
“To be honest, I didn’t expect to be a principal this quickly,” he said. “The opportunity, the timing of it was something that I didn’t necessarily expect, but at the same time it was something I was ready for. … When this door opened, I knew that I really needed to consider it and it just felt right.”
Olson said he’s very fortunate to work with the existing staff, whether it’s people in the office or teachers, because they are supportive, hardworking, and they want to excel in everything they do.
“And that makes coming into a position like this much easier,” Olson said. “I know a lot of the staff personally … so that transition piece was fairly smooth.”
During the next several years or more, Olson wishes to create a space for working with the social and emotional learning of students and “just genuinely educating the whole child,” he said. Greater access to the use of technology for elementary students is another element he considers important, which – as a principal – he’s determined to create.
“When you have technology at your finger-tips all of the time, I think we have to utilize that,” Olson said. “I don’t think something like this should just replace a worksheet. I think it becomes much more interactive. I mean, you’re connected to the world if you want. And how can you do that, how can you change learning? I mean, some kids learn by having stuff in their hands. Some kids learn by seeing it on a screen. Some kids learn by hearing it. So trying to touch all learning styles is something that we can definitely do, and we have the technology in front of us.”
Cindy Geislinger of Watkins, Lake Ripley Elementary School secretary, said communication among staff and teachers has improved after Olson joined the team, which makes her job easier.
“Yes, it directly affects me,” Geislinger said. “Mr. Olson will get information out to teachers via email or whatever. Information like a schedule change, scheduling (or) if they get a new student in a classroom... Instead of having a teacher having to say, ‘Is the schedule changing next week?’ And then I get lots of those questions… (Olson) already gets that information to teachers.”
“It’s been quite a journey,” Olson said. “But (I’m) continually learning, and continually trying to figure it out as I go.”
Properly communicating and educating voters about the November referendum was an issue that emerged during a Litchfield School Board discussion Monday.
The School Board will place three questions on the ballot Nov. 5. One question will deal with an operating levy to provide additional funding for classroom instruction. Meanwhile, two questions will focus on bonding, which involves building construction or improvements.
A great deal of social media communication via Facebook and Twitter is ongoing, said Ryan Hoffman, program manager for ICS Consulting, the company assisting the district with the project.
“Along with a variety of things on the paper,” Hoffman said, “and the radio, website, posters, flyers, as you see here, we have fast facts out in all the buildings at this point, in the main entry, so people see that, and understand that something’s happening, and ask questions. And that’s really what it’s all about, to make sure that when they see or hear something that they’re asking questions to the appropriate people. And the website is kind of a host for all that different information.”
Early voting begins Sept. 20, from which the School Board hopes to gauge residents’ level of participation and overall voter turnout.
Board member Greg Mathews asked Hoffman what the grand strategy is to reach voters who might be hard to reach via social media.
“The strategy I think, kind of, whether it’s now or when we started was … making the correct decision,” Hoffman said. “So that’s pushing the right information to the right people that need it. So that’s what we’ll be continuing to do. As the district standpoint, it’s not (to) sway people. It’s not to argue or to justify. It’s to inform them of what the need is, and what you’re doing to solve the needs. So that’s basically, that is the strategy. We know that the people that it’s going to affect the most are the kids in the buildings.”
“How do we know that our message is getting to the public?” Mathews asked, voicing concern about a poor voter turnout and participation during the November election.
“It isn’t uncommon to not hear a whole lot until a couple of weeks prior (to the election),” Hoffman said, “and that’s not scary. You might actually have those anxieties as we move closer to November, that ‘you haven’t heard anything,’ ‘why aren’t people talking about it?’ … When you have a storm maybe, or a lot of volatility, that’s when you start to hear some things earlier. So again, it’s just to make sure that we’re getting the people the information that they need to make an informed decision. And if they don’t like what they see or disagree with it, that’s their prerogative…”