City Council Strategic Planning Session: Liaisons vs voting members on non-city boards

Jess Bengtson
Crookston Times

    During the Crookston City Council’s second Strategic Planning Session, they revisited the subject of “liaisons versus voting members” on non-city boards and standalone entities, and will continue discussion on the matter in the near future. City Attorney Corky Reynolds provided answers for the questions asked by the council at the year’s first planning session held in February and concluded that each non-city board presents its own “different and unique issue.”

    “Voting board members on which the city deals, whether it be the CVB (Crookston Visitors Bureau), Downtown Development (Downtown Crookston Development Partnership) or CHEDA (Crookston Housing & Economic Development Authority), all present a different and unique issue,” Reynolds explained. “With respect for the CVB they present a unique challenge as they receive tax dollars directed to them by statute and the city has a corresponding duty where the city has to make sure they’re spent for tourism and convention duties.”

    Reynolds suggested there could be a conflict because being a member of that board means there is also a responsibility to that entity, but also to implement the particular policy that the money spent needs to adhere to for the statute.

    “Could there be a conflict? Could be,” he added. “It’s in their bylaws now (with two council members set as voting board members) and it could be changed. The city should be aware, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they have to be voting members.”

    He reiterated that a council member who is appointed as an ex-officio and non-voting member could still participate and be “actively involved” in the organization and come back to the council with a report whether that be quarterly or monthly.

    Ward 6 council member Dylane Klatt suggested the appointed council members of the CVB, Ward 2’s Steve Erickson and Ward 5’s Joe Kresl, don’t necessarily have to be voting members of the CVB as the City of Crookston “doesn’t really provide oversight of the CVB.” At-Large council member Tom Vedbraaten asked Reynolds if he personally doesn’t have any “skin in the game” on what a board is voting on why that would be considered unethical.

    “You have a duty to the city and it could be opposite to what the CVB decides on how to spend the money, that’s the potential conflict ethical dilemma,” answered Reynolds.

    Vedbraaten added that he thought they were “throwing way too much into this.”

    “We need to look at what the city needs to be involved in, it’s beneficial to know what’s going on,” said Erickson.

    City Administrator Amy Finch reminded the group that this was a topic that was added to the planning session agenda after being approached by council members, and that the CVB was “one example.”

    “If we are voting on non-charter mentioned boards when we vote as a council member do we vote as a council member personally or voting as a council?” Ward 1 council member Kristie Jerde posed. “Just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s right. I want us to be transparent, like one of our buzz words across the last election.”

    “What is our role and responsibility to the council?” she added. “As a council member I’m truly trying to remember and know our roles, be fair to the city and constituents; it’s not my personal opinion but it’s the council member making that decision.”

    Jerde also admitted that she was one of the council members that brought up the topic of liaisons versus voting members to the city administrator who then added it to the planning session agenda.

    Ward 4 council member Don Cavalier said that he was in favor of the council acting as liaisons or ex-officios and not voting especially if the city gives money to that organization.

    “I’ve been on many boards like Tom (Vedbraaten) and we’ve had board discussions and I’m willing to bring it back to the council and champion it, but it doesn’t always work that way,” At-Large council member Wayne Melbye added. “It puts a bend on you and then there are folks that vote you down when they haven’t done their feedback.”

    Kresl threw in that council members on some of the mentioned boards are just there to “do their best.”

    “In a lot of cases, voting on these boards, you’re voting on something that wouldn’t come back to the council,” he explained.

    “There’s a big difference where the CVB money comes from and where CHEDA’s does,” Melbye pointed out.

    Jerde interjected and said voting can look like an “endorsement” and “perception versus reality sometimes gets translated to automatic endorsement.” She repeated her comment from earlier in the conversation saying “just because it’s legal doesn’t make it right” and said logistics are a “whole different story.”

    Erickson suggested if the council members on the boards “do it right” and come back with a report for the council then they’ll have an idea of what’s going on with that organization. He also brought up the fact that the Chamber of Commerce has an appointed council person as a liaison, but “there’s no money” coming from the city and thought they should discuss it.

    Reynolds reiterated that the council has to figure out what’s best for them and the city, yet, when it comes to CHEDA, there’s a state statute that requires city council representation.

    “The city council can decide how many they have (on the economic development board); as far as the statute the entire council could be the board,” Reynolds explained. “If you work with a CHEDA type organization the council could be there, could be 3,4,5 or all 7 board members which indicates the state places a big importance with council members being involved.”

    Reynolds added that he understands CHEDA is more of a governmental function “like the airport” and the other two (CVB and DCDP) are private nonprofits and “don’t get their power from governmental units.”

    Melbye said more discussion on the topic would “probably be for another night” but suggested some sort of support for the nonprofits to change and re-register their legal documents “if we’re going to put that burden on them, if we’re changing the rules of the ball game.”

    “Obviously this is needing a lot more time and energy,” Jerde suggested. “I feel sometimes these outside entities, a lot of times, we’re just taking their word; not saying the council member’s word is not good. If someone asks me ‘why did you vote that way’ so I can make an articulate decision so maybe that person doesn’t portray it (differently.) With any liaison it’s important to find better ways to find information about things on our agenda.”

    The council seemed to agree that bringing back board/committee reports, and, as Cavalier put it, “doing a better job”, so that the council gets the information they desire was what they should strive for.