Baxter City Council meets in 1st electronic session

In a grid of small windows, council members and staff appeared in a Zoom meeting from their distant locations and others participated via a call-in feature.

A screen shot captures the Baxter City Council and staff in the first Zoom electronic city council meeting. Screen shot Renee Richardson / Brainerd Dispatch

Meeting for the first time using technology to connect them even as Baxter City Council members and staff remained apart was a mixture of the familiar and the face of the moon.

After a brief delay in getting everyone connected, Mayor Darrel Olson welcomed everyone to the electronic council meeting Tuesday, April 7.

“We are in uncharted water here tonight, my table looks like Mission Control in Houston here and trying to get used to all of the technology so if you’ll bear with us,” Olson said.

In a grid of small windows, council members and staff appeared in a Zoom meeting from their distant locations and others participated via a call-in feature.

The council set up a process to take public comments in writing prior to the meeting. The changes are all part of the altered landscape that has become life in the presence of the coronavirus pandemic. The public comments centered on a topic of discussion that began long before the virus overtook nearly every facet of life — a street, water and sanitary sewer project in a developed neighborhood. City Administrator Brad Chapulis read the emails, which split in sentiments. John Ward asked the council to suspend the Forestview Drive project along with all other capital improvement projects due to the coronavirus crisis.


“Baxter residents, like the rest of the country, are going through very difficult and stressful times right now,” Ward wrote. “None of us know what the future will look like. This virus crisis has taken a toll on all of us. Many have lost jobs or had their hours cut. Many are concerned about their personal health and the health of loved ones. Many are following the stay-at-home order of our governor that has rightfully engaged the state of Minnesota.”

Ward said no one knows how long this will last or what the future will look like but everyone knows the effects of this crisis are going to last for a very long time. Ward noted other local governments have suspended capital projects. Steve and Alissa Kuepers, who have lots affected in the project's first phase, stated in light of the pandemic they also wanted to contact the council to restate their support for the project.

“Economic good times and bad times come and go, but a solid community with proper investment in infrastructure will always hold up over the long run,” the Kuepers’ letter stated. “The streets are currently in shambles and the sanitary services are long overdue. Making decisions that might not be popular to some, but are for the betterment of the community as a whole is what the council is asked to do.”

The Kuepers noted the city’s earlier report of putting $1 million into the project already and the votes that have moved this project forward in each step along the way. They asked the council to move forward with the project and not put it aside for another council.

“We support your actions to do the same on the last vote,” they stated. “Finish this project the right way.”

The city received two more written statements divided into one that was in favor and one against. Olson thanked the people for writing in. The council did not discuss the matter. Later in the meeting, Chapulis reported while Brainerd and Crow Wing County did suspend capital projects, those elected bodies were also moving forward with several infrastructure projects that came with assessments.

To close out the first electronic meeting — which was not without a few glitches for sound and video and adjustments to roll-call votes and monitoring mics, among other changes to make it work — council member Connie Lyscio thanked Todd DeBoer, the city’s information technology director, for his work behind the scenes.

Council member Zach Tabatt also thanked staff for the extra work and noted the police department particularly as personal protective equipment was not as flush as desired. Tabatt noted the extra risk in the workday for the department and he urged people to continue to incorporate social distancing, adding he appreciated Minnesota as a whole for doing a good job in that department.


Council member Todd Holman concurred. And Holman, an avid biker, noted he appreciated the large picture visible behind the mayor at Olson’s home, which featured a host of bicycles lined up, getting a chuckle from the group.

Council member Mark Cross, the sole member of the group joining the meeting from an outside location, echoed the earlier comments. Olson thanked the residents of Baxter for participating and doing the best they can.

“It is important and I appreciate the way that everybody is hunkering down and helping out,” Olson said.

Olson said there have been a few complaints of gatherings in the parks but by and large people are doing a good job and he encouraged people to stay the course.

“I know in this time, it’s been interesting in the challenge of working from home and keeping the social distance from everybody you come reasonably close to,” Cross said. “But I know it’s a lot of work. I definitely thank staff and everyone for doing it. It is going to make a difference. And, hopefully, it will be over soon and we can just look back on it as a trying time we all got through.”

Renee Richardson, managing editor, may be reached at 218-855-5852 or Follow on Twitter at
Renee Richardson is managing editor at the Brainerd Dispatch. She joined the Brainerd Dispatch in 1996 after earning her bachelor's degree in mass communications at St. Cloud State University.
Renee Richardson can be reached at or by calling 218-855-5852 or follow her on Twitter @dispatchbizbuzz or Facebook.
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