City council votes in favor of calling July 12 public hearing on CHEDA, vote on resolution

Mike Christopherson

The Crookston City Council Monday evening voted 6-2 in favor of calling for a public hearing that will take place when they next meet on July 12 at which making major changes to the Crookston Housing and Economic Development Authority (CHEDA) will be discussed. After that hearing, it’s anticipated that the council agenda for that evening’s meeting will include a resolution calling for a council vote on the major changes being proposed.

Voting in favor were council members Kristie Jerde, Clayton Briggs, Don Cavalier, Joe Kresl, Dylane Klatt and Wayne Melbye. Voting against were council members Tom Vedbraaten and Steve Erickson, both of which also serve on the CHEDA Board. Melbye is a “council liaison” to the CHEDA Board.

The council vote came after CHEDA Board President Kurt Heldstab asked the council to give him more time to convene a special meeting of the board to discuss concerns about CHEDA voiced by the council, community, Mayor Dale Stainbrook and City Administrator Amy Finch. It was Finch, who started as administrator last October, who in late May proposed dissolving CHEDA and replacing it with a City-run Community Development Department run by a community development director and re-establishing an independent housing and redevelopment authority. After listening to concerns about her proposal, mostly having to do with possible disruptions in local housing programs during the transition that could potentially leave some people vulnerable, Finch at a special council Ways and Means Committee last week gave the council four options to choose from regarding changes to CHEDA. At that meeting, a consensus of council members picked the third option, which Finch said she preferred, 

The third option would 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. It’s that proposed change which would necessitate an amendment to the City resolution enabling CHEDA, which requires another public hearing.

The third option would also eliminate City funding to CHEDA for economic development purposes, would still create the City-run Community Development Department and independent HRA, and would immediately replace the current CHEDA Board with seven council members. 

No board comments beyond Heldstab

At last week’s special Ways and Means Committee meeting, the council agreed to let CHEDA Board members have up to 30 minutes at Monday evening’s council meeting to address concerns about them as a board or CHEDA Executive Director Craig Hoiseth, and offer possible options or compromises going forward. But, although the CHEDA Board was well represented in the almost-full council chambers and other CHEDA supporters were in attendance, only Heldstab spoke, and at the podium he only asked for more time to address what’s being proposed.

“CHEDA has heard clearly the complaints of the council and citizens and we take them seriously,” Heldstab said. But since last week, he said he’s been unable to find a special board meeting date that works for the entire board. If given more time, he said there was a strong chance he would be able to get the board together for a special meeting sometime next week. “I see no reason to rush this process as all things are still moving forward, in my opinion,” Heldstab continued. “Thank you, and we are looking forward to working for and on behalf of the City of Crookston.”

If the council chose to grant Heldstab and the CHEDA Board more time, Finch said the soonest the next public hearing could be held, as well as a vote on amending the CHEDA enabling resolution, would be July 26.

Klatt, saying he appreciated Heldstab’s comments, noted that the CHEDA Board held a special meeting in early June but the lone resolution on the agenda was to oppose “everything” the City was proposing. That would have been an opportunity, Klatt contended, for the CHEDA Board to discuss potential options or compromises.

To that, Heldstab noted that options beyond Finch’s initial proposal to simply dissolve CHEDA didn’t emerge until last week’s committee meeting, well after the CHEDA Board’s special meeting. And, he continued, the resolution on the CHEDA special meeting agenda included language indicating that the CHEDA Board looked forward to an opportunity to have a dialogue with the City.

“Now, hearing what’s going on in the community, I’ve got to get my board together to meet and discuss options and get approval,” Heldstab said. “Then I can bring it here to visit with the council. I haven’t had time to do that.”

Stainbrook recalled the joint council/CHEDA Board meeting he convened last year in the high school auditorium as another missed opportunity for CHEDA Board members to state their case, or at least speak up.

“We said the council was willing to work with the CHEDA Board, but we heard nothing from your board,” the mayor said to Heldstab. “You want to sit down and work out our differences, but didn’t we try to do that a year ago?”

Stainbrook and Heldstab then went on to voice different recollections of how the agenda for last year’s joint meeting was put together, before the call for the council vote was made.