Baird, Fee and Vedbraaten cast votes against adopting it
The Crookston City Council’s Ways & Means Committee Monday evening after a fair amount of debate approved implementing a council member “code of conduct” recommended by the League of Minnesota Cities. The vote was 6 to 3. Voting in favor were Mayor Wayne Melbye (the mayor casts votes on matters on the committee level), and council members Bob Quanrud, Steve Erickson, Clayton Briggs, Dennis Regan and Dale Stainbrook. Voting against were council members Bobby Baird, Jake Fee and Tom Vedbraaten.
Taking action on the proposed code of conduct had been delayed twice in the past month, first, so Vedbraaten could be in attendance to participate in the discussion, and, second, because some council members thought the document could be trimmed and made more specific to the Crookston council.
The LMC recommended adoption of the code of conduct at a recent session it hosted in Crookston focused on improving communication and teamwork among the mayor and council. A few days after that session, Melbye called out Fee at a Ways & Means Committee for some actions and other behaviors on Fee’s part that the mayor and some other council members said were inappropriate for a council member representing the City, and said he wanted the code of conduct added to a future agenda for potential adoption.
Vedbraaten took the strongest stance against adopting the code of conduct, saying that the city charter exists to handle issues relating to council member conduct when they arise. If the council wants more language on the books in regards to council member behavior, he said the council should call on the City Charter Commission to hold a special meeting to consider such additions.
“All we have to do is be nice to each other; I don’t know why we’re going through all of this,” Vedbraaten said, adding that he thinks that adopting the code of conduct is “foolish” and a “waste of the council’s time.”
Countered Regan: “We still seem to be having a lot of troubles, so I’m in favor of it.”
Although there were suggestions that council members sign the code of conduct, it doesn’t appear that is going to happen. How it will work is that if a complaint from someone in the community or another council member or official is made, the city attorney will be consulted with and if the complaint is deemed credible, a public hearing may be scheduled within 30 days of the original complaint. The council member who spurred the complaint would have an opportunity to state his or her case at the hearing, and if the council determines a code of conduct standard has been violated, the council member may be censured, referred for criminal prosecution, removed from a discussion or removed from a board or commission.
Regan made the motion to adopt the code of conduct and it was seconded by Briggs. It’ll be on the council’s July 23 agenda for consideration.
Before the vote, Fee said he was concerned about people with an ax to grind against a particular council member coming forward with frivolous complaints, but that he also saw merit in adopting the code of conduct. “I’m kind of for it but at the same time I’m kind of hesitant,” Fee said. When Melbye called on him during the roll-call vote, Fee paused for several seconds before voting “nay.”
Vedbraaten, noting that he’s been on the council for 16 years and that a code of conduct was never considered until now, wondered if a “lack of leadership” was behind some of the council’s current troubles. “This should have been stopped before,” he said, adding that the code of conduct amounts to a “Band-Aid” that isn’t necessary.
If “something comes up,” Regan said, the code of conduct with give council members and the mayor another resource to work with. “I don’t see how it’s a problem to have something more to work with if something comes up,” he said. “The idea is that we shouldn’t have to use it.”