Resolution will be on council’s Aug. 14 agenda
A week after a Ways & Means Committee meeting at which seven council members – Ward 2’s Steve Erickson abstained – and Mayor Wayne Melbye voted in favor of awarding a contract to Century 21 Red River Realty to work with the City on marketing and selling 11 construction-ready home lots in Crookston, some council members at Monday evening’s Ways & Means Committee meeting expressed strong reservations about last week’s vote.
Some said they felt the process of putting the request for proposals together and vetting the submitted proposals was flawed, while others said, after having a week to reflect and dealing with negative blowback, that the committee last week simply made the wrong choice.
But after Melbye reacted in somewhat strong fashion to all of the second-guessing and finger-pointing, by the end of Monday’s debate it appeared that the council would still likely be on track to approving a resolution at their Monday, Aug. 14 meeting awarding the contract to Century 21 Red River Realty. City Administrator Shannon Stassen said that because last week’s vote was essentially unanimous, the resolution had initially been placed on the consent agenda for Aug. 14’s meeting, which typically results in a vote without further discussion. If the resolution remains on the consent agenda, it’s likely that a council member next Monday will ask that it be added to the meeting’s regular agenda so it can be discussed further before a vote.
City wants help
City officials and council members routinely say that they don’t want to be directly involved in the “housing business” and they don’t want to compete directly with private developers who are trying to sell home lots. But with the City having home lots available and wanting to sell them and see homes built, officials and council members know they at least have to dabble in the housing business.
But they also know they aren’t realtors and would prefer to not have to establish appropriate prices for the lots and market the lots, so last month the council green-lighted Stassen’s request to put out a request for proposals for realtors to bid on a one-year contract to help the City market and sell three home lots on Hoven Lane and eight on Pirate Drive.
Three realtors responded with proposals. Last week, Stassen said the proposals from Century 21 Red River Realty, LeBlanc Realty and Greenberg Realty were essentially identical, with the same 6 percent commission. But Century 21 Red River Realty in its proposal waived a $1,000 minimum fee and Stassen, saying that could potentially save the City a few hundred dollars, recommended the approval of Century 21 Red River Realty’s proposal.
That spurred a sometimes enthusiastic debate a week ago, with council members debating what makes one realtor more “local” than another. Century 21 Red River Realty’s two local realtors, Dave Hennings and Kalie Normandin have offices at their homes in Crookston, as does Shirley Iverson, the local realtor for Greenberg Realty. LeBlanc Realty, owned and operated by Denny and Sherry Coauette, has an actual business office on Crookston’s north end.
Erickson abstained from the July 31 vote, saying he has a brother-in-law who works for LeBlanc Realty. But it was Erickson who voiced the strongest reservations Monday about awarding the contract to Century 21 Red River Realty, saying he doesn’t even know who Hennings is. (Hennings ran unsuccessfully for the city council in the November 2016 election.)
It was clear that several council members in the days since last week’s vote had been subjected to a significant amount of negative feedback, much of it from representatives of Greenberg Realty and LeBlanc Realty.
“You have two (realtors) that are very qualified and very involved in Crookston and we preach and preach and preach to keep everything local and keep everything in Crookston,” Erickson said. “And then the first thing we do is go with a realtor that…I don’t even think they have a lot (for sale) in town. We have two (realtors) who are very, very involved in the community and community service.
“I think we’d get better bang for our buck (if the City went with either LeBlanc Realty or Greenberg Realty),” Erickson continued. “We’re worried about a couple hundred bucks, but it’s about the money.”
To that, Melbye stressed that the information disseminated to realtors who wanted to submit proposals was identical, and everyone had the same amount of time to consider the information, research it, ask questions and submit proposals. “Everyone had their time to do their homework and were given all the information they needed,” the mayor said. “When you’re bidding, there’s always going to be winners and losers. …If we wanted to just give this to someone, then we should have just given it to them.”
At Large Council Member Bob Quanrud said he wanted nothing to do with circumventing an appropriate bid process when the City is looking to conduct its business. “That would be like us buying a tractor for Public Works and saying, ‘Titan, you can’t bid, but John Deere and Ziegler, you can,’” he said. “I just don’t think you can do that.”
Melbye said every realtor who submitted a proposal had an opportunity to leave out the minimum fee. “Are you going to pick who donates more to the community or serves on more committees?” he wondered.
At Large Council Member Bobby Baird said all interested realtors should have been “brought in” to ask questions about what the City wanted and get useful answers as they formulated their proposals. Ward 1 Council Member Jake Fee said he was concerned about “rubber-stamping” too many things.
Melbye said Stassen, with the help of Finance Director Angel Weasner did what the council directed them to do. “Do you want to micromanage everything? Do you want to put out bids?” the mayor said. “That’s their job.”
Melbye said having reservations and a spirited debate is completely acceptable. But, he added, no one after last week’s discussion voted against awarding the contract to Century 21 Red River Realty. “Then you turn around and you want to ditch it,” Melbye said. “You get two, three people talking to you; I think you need to get some thicker skin.”
The mayor, who said he, too, had been subjected to some negative feedback over the past several days, noted that it comes with the territory when you work with the City or are an elected City representative. “I hope this doesn’t affect any relationships for any of you, but it all comes down to we are the City, we followed the rules, we put this together, we discussed it and we made a decision,” Melbye said. “How are you going to turn around now and say you’re not going to give it (to Century 21 Red River Realty)?”
Ward 4 Council Member Dennis Regan essentially echoed those sentiments.
“I think Shannon did his job and did what we asked of him,” he said. “There will be hard feelings, no doubt, but we can’t point the finger at Shannon.”
Erickson, who also questioned the amount of time council members had to digest the realtors’ proposals before voting on July 31 – he said he received his information on July 29 – said he’d be willing to “let this one go,” but that he has a bad feeling about the negative repercussions over the long-term. “For a couple hundred bucks I think we’re making a huge mistake here,” Erickson said. “We’re going to lose some personal relationships in this community over 200 bucks.”
Regan and Quanrud said the time for council members to voice stronger concerns and for them to potentially vote against awarding the contract to Century 21 Red River Realty was on July 31.
“You bring up your questions then, not later,” Quanrud said. “It’s not ‘oops I forgot’ or ‘oops it backfired.’”
“We’re meeting every week now, we have time to talk about this more,” Erickson said.