City attorney: Crookston City Council members shouldn't have voting power on other boards

Reynolds: Council members with voting power on boards like CHEDA, DCDP, CVB and other entities have a potential conflict of interest with their duties to the council/City and should only be liaisons

Mike Christopherson

The City of Crookston’s city attorney told the city council at a strategic planning session Wednesday evening that he’s not comfortable with council members serving as voting members of other boards and commissions because the business of those boards and commissions to varying degrees comes before the council and often that business involves money.

Given the floor to voice his concerns by City Administrator Amy Finch at the first of what could be several strategic planning sessions Finch has planned, Charles “Corky” Reynolds said there are actual conflicts of interest, potential conflicts of interest, and, from the community’s perspective, all sorts of things possibly wrong with having council members in a voting role on boards and commissions that have financial ties to the City, or receive funds from the City.

Whether it’s the Downtown Crookston Development Partnership, the Crookston Visitors Bureau or any other boards or commissions that have council members serving in voting roles, Reynolds said he’d prefer that council members serving on those boards do so in a non-voting liaison role.

That, too, includes the Crookston Housing and Economic Development Authority (CHEDA) Board of Directors, where, Reynolds said, not only do the two council members on that board vote, they take an oath, just as they do as council members.

“Certainly the council should be there, present and listening and understanding,” Reynolds said of the CHEDA Board. “But you take oaths to two different entities. My opinion is that that is a conflict.”

He said it’s one thing for the two council members to vote “your own thoughts at beliefs” on CHEDA matters, but when you add the fact that they swear an oath to “advocate” for and “support” CHEDA, they get deeper in the weeds.

“If you come back (to city council meetings) and if you’re going to be true to (their CHEDA oath), in my opinion, you’re violating your council oath,” Reynolds said. “You’re not acting as an open-minded member of the council.”

Reached by the Times Thursday for his thoughts on potentially having council members serving in a non-voting role on his board instead of as they do now, CHEDA Executive Director Craig Hoiseth said it’s an opportunity for Finch to learn more about how various boards and commissions “interface” with the City and how council members can best serve on those boards and commissions.

No matter the entity, if council members serve in a voting role, even if any actual conflicts of interest are minuscule or even non-existent, Reynolds said the perception of a conflict of interest in the community is something that must be avoided as well. 

“People talk,” he said.

Hoiseth agreed that it’s critical that not even a perception of a conflict of interest among people holding official appointed or elected roles exist among constituents, Crookston residents in general, or anyone else.

“I would suspect there is not a one-size-fits-all answer to these questions, but I am confident Amy will come back to the council with the appropriate responses,” Hoiseth said.

Council members who spoke at the session agreed that changes need to be explored. But it won’t happen swiftly, Reynolds and Finch cautioned, because the entities that have council members serving in voting roles would have to be asked to change their bylaws.