Council was within its legal bounds, but it looks better to do it right a second time.

Despite the fact that they were advised by City Attorney Chuck Fitzgerald at their meeting this week that they really weren’t bound by any legalities or statutes when it comes to leasing city-owned agricultural land to private properties, the Crookston City Council did the right thing when it voted unanimously to go through the process of leasing land northeast of Crookston Sports Center from 2013-15 a second time.

    The easiest thing to do, at least on paper, would have been to simply approve the resolution on Monday’s meeting agenda, which awarded the lease of the ag land to E & L Reitmeier, Inc. Fitzgerald said such ag land leases don’t even require a bidding process, that it was the city’s choice to seek “proposals” from those interested in farming the land. The city could have simply found someone interested in leasing the land using any informal process if wanted to, and it would have been a legal, done deal.

    But the city’s always sought “proposals” when similar situations have arisen, so the decision was made previously to do so this time around, too, on the lease of the approximately 116.5 acres that remains in production from the 160 acres the city purchased a few years ago in advance of the construction of the sports center.

    But the process this time around was apparently flawed. Four parties submitted proposals and three of them apparently knew or assumed that if they showed up at city hall on the day the proposals were opened, they’d be given an opportunity to up their bids verbally. The fourth party, Andy Coauette, submitted the highest of the four initial proposals but, he told the council Monday, he found out almost by accident – from a text message sent by a friend who works at city hall – that he might want to get to city hall because he might be able to increase his bid if need be. He showed up, but didn’t increase his bid because he felt he should have been awarded the land because he submitted the highest written bid, and that opportunities to increase bids in person weren’t a part of this particular process. Had he known that going in, said Coauette, who said he’s been involved in numerous land-lease processes in the past, it would have altered his initial bidding strategy. He bid high going in, he said, to “get the land.”

    It would seem that nowhere in writing did it state that those who submitted proposals would have an opportunity to attend the opening of the proposals in person and then, potentially, increase their proposals verbally.

    That should have, and did indeed seal the council’s decision on Monday to seek proposals for use of the ag land a second time. The Crookston City Council, both the current version and previous versions, has always been highly concerned about setting precedents that could come back to bite them later. Although the law is on their side in this instance, OK’ing a transaction in which every detail wasn’t properly disseminated in writing to all concerned parties would have painted the council in a bad light.

    Would it set a bad precedent, too? Not necessarily. But it simply would have shown the city to be less thorough than it should be sometimes, or less careful. And we all want a careful, thorough city council more often than not.