Marquette Council agrees to hire part-time Wetlands Centre director

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By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor

The Marquette Council approved hiring a temporary part-time director for the Driftless Area Wetlands Centre at its Nov. 17 meeting, but not without some discussion.

Council members Cindy Halvorson and John Ries were leery of hiring a staff member now, at the start of the slower winter months.

“I just can’t see heating the Wetlands Centre,” Halvorson said, fearful of the expense of heating the building for one person and fewer events. She wondered if shuttering the doors for the winter, and re-opening in the spring, would be better.

Events are scheduled for the coming months, though, countered councilwoman Rinda Ferguson, who’s also a Wetlands Centre board member. She said someone is needed to run already-planned events, organize new ones and also keep up communications with Wetlands Centre partners and contacts.

Ferguson has helped with those aspects since the end of summer, when Katrina Moyna, who held a full-time position as Wetlands Centre Director and Marquette’s Business and Tourism Director, left due to illness.

“I’ve kept the wheels on, but I’m not doing it anymore,” she said. Closing down following a busy fall, which included a visit from two Russian citizens through the U.S.A./Russia Wetland Center Exchange Program, would curb that momentum, she added.

“Connections have been made with Effigy Mounds, Osborne and Fish and Wildlife,” Ferguson said. “All the things [the Wetlands Centre] was built to do are starting to occur.”

The city also has a commitment to those who made the Wetlands Centre possible, explained mayor Norma Mason.

“It was funded by donations from a lot of people,” she said. “They expect to have it open and to have activities.”

She and city manager Dean Hilgerson worried closing down for the winter would tarnish the city’s reputation and lead some donors to demand a refund of their money.

The part-time position, said Ferguson, would consist of 20 hours per week—Wednesday through Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day. However, that could be flexible depending upon activities, she said. Duties would include managing all activities and administrative duties associated with programming and marketing of the Wetlands Centre. The director would also be responsible for the operation of the facility and its overall strategic direction.

When the city posted the part-time position last month, there was one applicant, Alicia Mullarkey, whom the Wetlands Centre board felt would be a great fit, as she has a master’s degree in biology, noted Ferguson. 

If people are worried about the cost of the position, Ferguson said having it as 20 hours is a cut-back from what it was, at full-time.

Ries and Halvorson said they still had a sour taste in their mouths from how the full-time position went, feeling not enough attention was paid to tourism and the city’s businesses.

“We, as businesses, did not get what we expected,” said Halvorson, who is an owner of Eagles Landing Winery.

“The businesses got short-changed this year,” Ries added.

Ferguson felt that argument did not relate to the current position.

“The ad was only for the Wetlands Centre, not tourism,” she said. “You can go wherever you want with tourism, but if you think these events [at the Wetlands Centre] are not tourism, then think again.”

Ferguson encouraged those on the council and in the community to visit the Wetlands Centre to see what it’s about.

“Unless you come, you’ll never know,” she said.

Mason said using solar panels to generate heat at the Wetlands Centre might someday be an option. She said there are also plans in the works to develop a campground at the site, which would generate funds for the facility.

“That will pay for fuel, having it open and employment,” she said. “There’s a bigger vision, but we have to keep it open to get to that point.”

“This is a facility people marvel at. There will be a benefit to the community if we keep it open,” added Hilgerson.

When it came down to the vote, Halvorson voted against filling the position while Ferguson and Ries voted “yes.” Councilmen Galen McShane and Jason Winter were absent. The position will be reviewed in March regarding making it a permanent, part-time position.

Although Ries voted “yes,” he said he’d like the city to consider housing the director at city hall during the week, when events are not scheduled, to conserve heat at the Wetlands Centre during the winter. 

“We also need to look at options to make the Wetlands Centre more efficient come budget time,” he said.

Casino agreement

The council also agreed to pursue the fourth amendment to the dock site agreement with Lady Luck Casino. With the agreement, the city would see a net reduction of 33 percent, or around $222,000, in revenue, which would take effect four years from now, in 2019.

City attorney Jim Garrett said the proposal is for 10 years with five-year automatic renewals, for a total of 25 years. However, he said, there is a provision, like there is now, that says the casino can terminate it any time on 180 days notice, with a penalty.

Garrett recommended that the council take action on the amendment that night so it can be put on the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission’s January agenda. Having just received the latest amendment that day, Ries and Halvorson said they would have liked to review the information for a longer period of time. Ries said he also would have liked to see other casino agreements, but Garrett said they would likely not relate well to Marquette’s unique situation.

Mason said the city was getting what it asked for in the deal, and that it was even more favorable than originally anticipated when negotiations began.

“It is what we asked for, and it’s probably comparative,” Ries said, “but I don’t like this hurry-up attitude.”

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