Council agrees to let CHEDA Board members speak at June 28 meeting

Reacting to feedback she's received and acknowledging HUD approval might be a slow process, Finch proposes a new option most council members seem to like that would change CHEDA but maintain HRA.

Mike Christopherson
After Monday evening's special Ways and Means Committee at city hall, people linger to chat. Left to right on the left are CHEDA Board President Kurt Heldstab, CHEDA Board member Leon Kremeier, and former city council member Bobby Baird. Obscured in that group is Robin Brekken. In the background, Crookston Police Chief Paul Biermaier, seated, looks on while CHEDA Executive Director Craig Hoiseth talks with Jeff Fagerstrom of the Northwest Minnesota Housing Cooperative. In the far right background, CHEDA Board member Betty Arvidson talks with Ward 6 Council member Dylane Klatt.

CHEDA Board members will have an opportunity at the Monday, June 28 Crookston City Council meeting to state their case for CHEDA remaining in its current form, or perhaps propose a compromise with City Administrator Amy Finch and council members who want to make major changes to CHEDA.

    That’s what a “consensus” of council members and Mayor Dale Stainbrook agreed to after a special Ways and Means Committee Monday evening, to give CHEDA Board members a chance to have their say after remaining mostly silent since Finch proposed in late May to dissolve CHEDA and replace it with a City-run Community Development Department at city hall run by a community development director, and an independent housing and redevelopment authority. (The CHEDA Board at a special meeting earlier this month did vote unanimously in favor of a resolution opposing the proposal being put forth by Finch.)

    After Monday’s meeting, it appears that CHEDA will not be entirely going away. Saying she’s responding to feedback she’s gotten since she first put forth her proposal and comments at a public hearing, most of it having to do with concerns about disruptions to housing-related services CHEDA provides if CHEDA were dissolved, Finch provided council members at the committee meeting with four options. (Finch also acknowledged Monday that getting approval from the federal Housing and Urban Development office to transfer HRA services to a re-established agency would likely not be a speedy process.)

    While not actually voting on any of the options – the council until Finch became administrator for years voted on agenda items at Ways and Means Committee meetings and then voted again on them at the next council meeting – a “consensus” of council members voiced support for the third option put forth by Finch.

    None of the four options proposes going forth with the status quo. The first option aligns with Finch’s initial proposal, to dissolve CHEDA and replace it with a Community Development Department and independent HRA. The three other options would each require council approval first before anything would go to CHEDA in order for CHEDA to exercise powers it might have in accordance with statute that the City through the council might not. Options 2, 3 and 4 also have different methods and timelines for potentially replacing CHEDA Board members with council members, and all three options eliminate City funding to CHEDA for economic development purposes and create the City-run Community Development Department. Asked about the fate of CHEDA Executive Director Craig Hoiseth’s position, Finch noted the elimination of City funding for economic development at CHEDA and said that the budget going forward would not be able to support director-level positions at both CHEDA and the Community Development Department.

    The third option, which Finch said she prefers at this juncture after weighing public feedback, would immediately replace CHEDA Board members with seven city council members. Exercising CHEDA powers only with prior council approval and replacing the CHEDA Board with council members requires the City’s resolution enabling CHEDA to be amended, which requires another public hearing.

    So after almost 90 minutes of often enthusiastic and sometimes testy debate Monday, the council agreed to give CHEDA Board members an opportunity to speak at the June 28 council meeting. While it was suggested initially to wait until the July 12 council meeting to vote on a resolution on the third option, the council eventually agreed to put the resolution on the June 28 council meeting agenda after CHEDA Board members have spoken. Finch stressed that the council at that point has the power to vote in favor of the third option, vote against it, modify their path forward, or table the matter. But if a majority of the council votes in favor of proceeding with the third option, the required public hearing would be scheduled for the council’s July 12 meeting, and it could theoretically draw a large crowd similar to the June 14 public hearing, which was held in the Crookston High School auditorium. Finch also stressed that the council vote June 28 would only be to call for the July 12 public hearing required to amend the enabling resolution. The council would vote again on the third option or whatever path it chooses to take after the July 12 public hearing.

    (City Attorney Corky Reynolds Monday evening also made a point of mentioning that it might be difficult, legally speaking, at the June 28 meeting, during the portion when CHEDA Board members are given an opportunity to speak, to prevent any non-CHEDA Board members who want to say something from having the opportunity to do so.)

Comments, questions, concerns

    Ward 1 Council member Kristie Jerde said the issues being considered are “very personal for a lot of people” and there’s “a lot of emotion involved.” But, she stressed, the City has a lot of “red flags” it needs to deal with, like growing child care and enticing families to move here, and that “someone competent” needs to hold the position that leads those efforts.

    “I’m not going to say that anything prior to this has not been competent; I’m not suggesting that,” Jerde said. “But it’s very important that we find someone well-versed to focus full-time on the needs we’re seeing in our (Crookston Comprehensive Plan). We can’t be willy-nilly and picking and choosing. It’s very important for us to find somebody that can focus on that and be transparent, sharing with the City on a consistent basis.

    “…It’s a small-town thing, I know, and everybody is in everybody’s business and that’s detrimental,” she continued. “It’s important to show that we’re doing these things and these are the outcomes. It can’t be these whispers, when things come to us and we shrug sometimes. I don’t think a public entity using taxpayer dollars should be that way.”

    Ward 2 Council member Steve Erickson and At Large Council member Tom Vedbraaten, participating remotely because he’s out of town, voiced strong support for giving CHEDA Board members a chance to speak. To not do so would be “very wrong,” Vedbraaten said, and Erickson noted that Finch has been given opportunities at meetings since she put forth her proposal to explain it and defend it, but CHEDA Board members haven’t been given the same opportunity.

    To that, other council members said CHEDA Board members could have spoken at the June 14 public hearing but they did not. Other council members also noted that the resolution opposing Finch’s proposal that the CHEDA Board voted unanimously in favor of essentially amounted to their feelings on the matter. At Large Council member Wayne Melbye, also a council liaison to the CHEDA Board, noted his “disappointment” over the fact that, since Finch’s proposal went public, no one on the CHEDA Board or no one else representing CHEDA has come forward with any potential offers to find a compromise.

    Dating back to a joint city council/CHEDA Board meeting held last year at the high school, a meeting called for by Stainbrook, Melbye said the council and the mayor that night brought up all kinds of issues and concerns with CHEDA and “no one came back with anything.”

    “What’s most disappointing to me is that when CHEDA had their special meeting, there was no talk of options or compromising,” he continued. “…Now here we are again and they want time to talk to us. I just don’t get it; I don’t know where that board is coming from. How they just wait and wait and wait and wait. Don’t they want to play a card? I don’t get it. Let’s change some things, but not all of it. The whole program’s not wacko.”

    Melbye said the City or the council have “never gotten any cooperation from CHEDA” to help solve any of the ongoing problems.

    Stainbrook said he was a “little nervous” about having another sit-down with the CHEDA Board because, he said, he was “scolded” by a couple CHEDA Board members after last year’s joint meeting.

    “You’ve got big shoulders,” Vedbraaten responded. “This is a whole different deal here.”

    Vedbraaten, one of two council members, along with Erickson, on the CHEDA Board, offered to resign from the CHEDA Board and let another council member fill his seat.

    Citing the CHEDA Board’s vote opposing Finch’s proposal, Melbye said he hopes the council isn’t wasting its time by giving CHEDA Board members a chance to speak on June 28.

    Ward 6 Council member Dylane Klatt, who voiced some of the strongest opinions Monday evening on making big changes at CHEDA but not necessarily dissolving it if doing so creates housing disruptions, said the “only path” he sees going forward that he would support is “putting CHEDA under the City.”