The Free Press, Mankato, MN

January 22, 2013

North Mankato city code review gets heated

By Mark Fischenich
Free Press Staff Writer

NORTH MANKATO — Accusations of unneighborliness and racism, an indignant denunciation of the city’s firearms ordinance and warnings that the council was participating in a methodical march toward totalitarianism marked North Mankato’s updating of the city code Tuesday night.

Often a routine annual adjustment of city ordinances, the public hearing at Tuesday’s City Council meeting was far-reaching and lengthy. The changes involved how quickly newly annexed properties must hook up to municipal water service, what constitutes illegally discharging contaminants into city sewers, how often a resident can hold a garage sale, what can be planted on city boulevards and a few other items.

But the discussion quickly grew to the city’s sound ordinance and whether the Las Fronteras Mexican Grill and Cantina was illegally playing its Saturday night dance music at sleep-interrupting levels.

“All I’m asking is that we enforce one that’s already on the books,” one resident said, with others joining a call for cranking down the sound at the Belgrade Avenue business — particularly the bass.

That prompted a response from the restaurant’s owner, who said she’s tried to address concerns and accused at least one opponent of being motivated by racism.

Mayor Mark Dehen offered to attempt to mediate the dispute, with the assistance of city police, in coming days or weeks.

Resident Mike Johnston used the city code update as an opportunity to make another effort to get the council to remove plastic air soft guns from North Mankato’s ordinance prohibiting discharge of firearms in city limits. Johnston’s 12-year-old son was prosecuted for firing one of the guns, which propels plastic BB-like balls at about half the speed or less than a BB gun, and Johnston was annoyed that the issue hadn’t been addressed in the proposed ordinance changes.

“It wasn’t discussed,” he said. “It was thrown under the rug.”

The council agreed to discuss potential changes to the firearms ordinance at a future meeting, possibly as soon as next month.

Finally, Councilman Kim Spears — who has a strong libertarian streak — suggested the city was joining other levels of government in regulating virtually every aspect of people’s lives. Spears was on the losing side of 3-1 votes on the boulevard planting rules (only grass for the first 5 feet), the rules regarding discharge of contaminants into sewers, which he thought were too vague, and a new rule restricting garage sales.

The latter stemmed from a Belgrade Avenue homeowner who had a yard sale — which he called an “occasional store” and neighbors called an eyesore — more or less from March to mid-summer of last year. The new rules restrict sales to three days at a time and four times a year.

Spears said each rule and regulation added to hundreds of thousands already in existence makes it a nearly impossible task to be a law-abiding citizen, results in arbitrary enforcement  and leads to disillusionment.

“This type of activity goes against everything it means to be a citizen of the United States and is more appropriately the action of a totalitarian society,” Spears said. “And it happens more and more.”

Councilman Billy Steiner disagreed: “Kim, I think you’re too paranoid. I think (yard sale problem) is what the ordinances are for.”

But Spears implored the Council to show restraint.

“Every law which is passed is another grain of sand through the hourglass of our remaining freedom,” he said.