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The Spartan Speaks

The student news site of Orono High School

The Spartan Speaks

The student news site of Orono High School

The Spartan Speaks

Orono City Council Serves Community During Challenging Times

Orono+Mayor+Dennis+Walsh+led+the+city+council+meeting+Monday+night%2C+February+13%2C+2023+at+Orono+City+Hall+in+Orono%2C+Minn.
Jeff Wheeler
Orono Mayor Dennis Walsh led the city council meeting Monday night, February 13, 2023 at Orono City Hall in Orono, Minn.

As more students today become involved and interested in politics, it can be easy to overlook local governance in the grand scheme of how large national governments affect us. Despite being directly across the street from our schools, many citizens and students do not know what goes on in city hall and what the local government does to serve our city.

The Orono government consists of Mayor Dennis Walsh, the City Council composed of four other elected officials (Alisa Benson, Richard Crosby II, Matt Johnson, and Maria Veach), and two appointed committees, being the Parks Committee and the Planning Commission.

The Parks and Planning Commissions consist of seven or eight appointed officials, who inform the City Council on what to do when proposals or issues arise from citizens. If an application is submitted about a resident looking to modify their property, the City Council will either grant or deny a permit based on the Planning Commission’s decision. Similarly, the Parks Commission decides how city parks and the protected shorelines are managed throughout Orono.

Other functions of the government include paving roads, providing internet access, managing infrastructure, and funding social services such as the police.

The Orono City Council has made headlines this year with disagreements between council members and locals at board meetings.

Local author Laura Shaw has lived in Orono for nearly a decade and has raised concerns about the local government’s actions.

“When I asked, during a council meeting, how a council member purchasing ‘unbuildable’ property having the council change the zoning laws in order for him to profit wasn’t a conflict of interest, they answered: they were offended by the accusation of a conflict of interest. The discussion ended there, and the council voted to change the zoning laws so that the council member could develop the land and significantly profit. As a result, mine and my neighbor’s property value will plummet,” Shaw said.

Other members at city hall view the controversial issues differently.

“There’s always people who don’t agree with things that happen…whether they are just politically on a different spectrum, or they just don’t like people on the council, or they’re just angry in general. […] We’ve continued to move forward, we’ve done everything correctly for the citizens,” Mayor Walsh said.

Voters turned to the polls to voice their opinions in the 2022 election and elected Alisa Benson, a new voice on the council. Benson’s goal was to make issues easy for the public to access and to voice new perspectives from citizens, including students in the district.

“I don’t think it’s happened more than once in my first year here that I’ve seen young people at meetings. And that’s unfortunate because students are affected by all these decisions, especially those who live in the city of Orono. […] Come to meetings and also involve yourself in student government and certainly around the times of elections if you’re able to vote to be involved in that,” Benson said.

City Council meetings are open to anybody interested in attending and are held during the second and fourth Monday of every month, at the Orono City Council Chambers across from the Intermediate School.

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  • A

    Alisa BensonJan 25, 2024 at 4:23 pm

    Thank you for the opportunity to be interviewed for this article.

    The voices of young people are important. I applaud all student journalists at The Spartan Speaks for their ongoing service to the community.

    Reply
  • D

    Dennis WalshDec 15, 2023 at 5:03 pm

    If you would like to know more about City government & the inner workings of all the decisions we make, then feel free to reach out anytime. Mayor Walsh

    Reply
  • D

    Dennis WalshDec 15, 2023 at 2:02 pm

    A lot of untrue & misleading accusations

    Reply