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Fifty Lakes: Council, staff discuss communication, other city issues at public workshop

After calling the city highly "dysfunctional," Gary Buysse, president of the Minnesota Municipal Beverage Association, gave Fifty Lakes City Council and staff members tips to improve communications and get rid of the atmosphere many have referred to as "toxic."

With recent arguments over issues at the 50 Lakes Bar and Bottle Shop, Mayor Tim Anick called Buysse in to help moderate discussion between council members and bar employees, solve ongoing problems and promote better communication overall during a public workshop Tuesday, Feb. 20, according to audio records of the workshop.

"Why I'm here is to hopefully be a little bit of an objective party that can offer suggestions of how you can change your liquor department and make it profitable," Buysse said. "This is a community issue. ... What is happening over at your liquor department has blown up to the point where I'm not really sure what the solutions are."

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"This is a community issue. ... What is happening over at your liquor department has blown up to the point where I'm not really sure what the solutions are."Gary Buysse, president of the Minnesota Municipal Beverage Association

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Some of those issues include theft allegations, till shortages, trespass orders and council members feeling "out of the loop" with happenings at the bar.

Buysse told council members they have to set aside their differences and work together with the common goal of serving the community. If residents see a unified government, they may have more faith in city officials, Buysse said.

The council agreed that adding a second liaison to the liquor department could help unify the group. Council member Linda Steffen will now work alongside current liaison Jay Weinmann. Because Steffen and Weinmann often have differing opinions, having both of them simultaneously communicate with Liquor Manager Steve Maeger and other bar employees could help solve problems, Buysse said.

Steffen's new appointment will be made official at the March 13 council meeting.

When some council members expressed concern about not being made aware of what's going on in the liquor department, Buysse suggested Maeger - and other department heads - email council members a weekly bullet point list of what happens in their respective departments so everyone is on the same page. Council members agreed that was a good idea.

As other issues - brought up by council members and bar staff - were discussed and some disagreement arose, Buysse said the solution relies on the city's trust in Maeger, who took over as liquor manager last spring.

"If all of you don't have faith in your manager, then I don't know where to start," Buysse said.

As a way to help restore the faith that some may have lost, Buysse suggested giving Maeger another probationary period of sorts by providing him with a list of tasks that need to be completed by a certain date. Council members seemed to agree that could work, but no concrete decisions will made. The subject will likely come up at the regular March council meeting.

When the workshop was opened to public comment at the end, one resident said the window of opportunity for many patrons to accept Maeger as the new manager had closed and asked how to re-open that window.

Anick said all staff need to be accepting of Maeger first, which will help set a good example for residents.

Buysse said everyone should try to have an open mind as the city works through these issues and added that the bar could offer deals on food or drinks to gain back some of the patronage it might have lost in the last few months.

Another resident asked what was accomplished through the workshop, as many of things said had already been said before.

Council member Jodie Schrupp said the information sounded better coming from someone like Buysse, and Steffen said she believes communication will improve with the weekly department reports.

Ultimately, Buysse said the council needs to limit its interference in the bar and liquor store and let Maeger and the other employees do what they were hired to do.

"The liquor store is an enterprise fund that should run on its own," Buysse said. "It's an enterprise fund that should be allowed to do what it's supposed to do or make the changes in order to do so and give people the opportunity to either run or fall down."

Theresa Bourke

I started at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and the Brainerd School District. I follow city and school board officials as they make important decisions for residents and students and decide how to spend taxpayer dollars. I look for feature story ideas among those I meet and enjoy, more than anything, helping individuals tell their stories and show what makes them unique.

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