By Mike Kruzman /

The next time Brighton residents are free to attend an in-person City Council meeting, they’re likely to not recognize that the room they’re sitting in is the same room as before.

By a slim 4-3 margin, Brighton City Council approved a complete makeover of council chambers, Thursday night. Clerk Tara Brown presented the plans as recommended by 3 members of the council that included Mayor Shawn Pipoly, Mayor Pro-Tem Susan Gardner, and Councilwoman Renee Pettingill.

Clerk Tara Brown described a general feeling of accessibility with better ADA compliance, security features, and audio-visual equipment. The dais will be a half-circle with bullet-resistant panels recommended by police Chief Rob Bradford. New AV equipment will give the City more remote options and allow them to bring back their 9am replays of council meetings. Lighting improvements will be made along with the installation of multiple screens for council and audience members to view presentations on. New chairs, both behind the dais and in the audience, will be brought in, along with fresh carpeting.

A couple of arguments against the project were brought up by some members of City Council. Most re-occurring was the project’s $130,625.83 price tag, as first mentioned by Councilman Jim Muzzin.

Councilman Jim Bohn also felt the bullet-resistant panels send the wrong message to other city staff and the audience. Chief Bradford liked the panels and mentioned two active shooters in the U.S. early in the day. He said you “never know when it will happen and everyone’s safety is paramount.”

Muzzin said he was in favor of the panels, and pointed to a pair of shooting incidents at public meetings in Minnesota and Missouri over the past couple of decades.

Developer Piet Lindhout, whose firm will handle the job, took time to explain that these were bullet-resistant panels made at a level for public buildings, to repel commonly available firearms. He said that no product will be promised to be “bulletproof” due to constantly advancing technology in firearms and ammunition.

Councilman Kristopher Tobbe, who is also the county’s Chief Information Officer, spoke in favor of the broadcasting upgrades but also hesitated at the price.

The project will be paid for through PEG money paid to the City from cable providers, with around $21,500 borrowed from the Capital Improvement Fund to be repaid with future PEG money. Due to the limitations on how PEG money can be spent, City Finance Director Gretchen Gomolka said they didn’t really have other options for using it other than on a project like this.

Mayor Pro-Tem Gardner pointed at the cost of materials rising and said that while they looked at how they could lower the price they best they could, she believes this is the best they can do.

Mayor Pipoly addressed the dais panels and said that if Chief Bradford was recommending it, then that was good enough for him.

Resident Susan Backhaus was concerned about the price of the chairs and the carpeting, as the council room had new carpet put in in 2017. The chairs are $7,333 of the project cost, with $5,876 being dedicated for the council’s seats.

Mayor Pipoly defended the price, saying it was competitive and he had no issues with it. As for the new audience seating, that seemed to go hand-in-hand with why the carpeting had to be replaced after only 4 years. Councilwoman Pettingill said the seats were beginning to rust and that was transferring to the carpet. The way the carpet was laid was also done in a way where frayed ends are coming up, giving it a messy look. Lindhout described the new carpet system as one that has random tiles for ease of changing out if they become soiled.

Mayor Pipoly said that if they are going to do this, they should do it right, and not halfway where they just pick parts of it. He said in the future they can look at upgrading other parts of city hall, but they have to start somewhere.

City Council ultimately voted 4-3 in favor of the renovations. The 3 subcommittee members and Jon Emaus voted for it. Bohn, Muzzin, and Tobbe voted against it.

With its approval, Clerk Brown said the project should take 90 days to complete, nearly lining right up with when the City’s state of emergency declaration expires.