Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

EDITORIAL: An out-of-control city hall

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In the vast majority of small cities in Minnesota, whether they operate under an independent charter or per state statute, governing authority resides almost exclusively in the city council— at least on paper.

But a council’s authority can quickly erode if council members are unwilling to assert the inherent powers they hold to provide direction, guidance, and oversight of city operations.

That’s the situation we’ve been experiencing in Tower for some time as a city clerk-treasurer who openly refuses council direction now wages an internecine battle to undermine a mayor intent on restoring the city council to its rightful place at the top of the city’s chain of command.

From Day One, the clerk-treasurer has refused to accept the decision of the voters of Tower who made Orlyn Kringstad their new mayor. She refused to give him the same key to city hall that other mayors had received for decades, regularly refuses his requests to add items to the city council agenda, and most recently nixed his call for a special meeting earlier this week to appoint two new members of the council. That’s despite the fact that the city charter gives the mayor an absolute right to call a special meeting.

On April 29, following the announced resignations of two council members, the city council directed the clerk-treasurer to advertise the vacancies and post them on the city’s website so appointments could be made at the council’s May 13 meeting. The clerk did not comply with any aspect of that directive and then actively obstructed new appointments on May 13. Unfortunately, no one on the city council called her out for it.

Similar examples abound.

But it isn’t just insubordination. The clerk-treasurer now appears to be actively working to push the new mayor to resign. Indeed, just last week, her union representative, Erik Skoog, called on Kringstad to do just that after he indicated that he’d cite the clerk for insubordination if she failed to abide by his recent call for a special meeting.

Skoog’s email was derisive and clearly implied his disdain for the voters in Tower who chose Kringstad for the city’s top post. Among other things, Skoog stated: “…to say that your leadership is a complete facade is an understatement and you should do the entire city a favor and resign before you expose your inabilities. With this said, I look forward to receiving a copy of your apology to Ms. Keith and a copy of your resignation.”

The council has already had experience with Mr. Skoog, and it hasn’t reflected well on him or the Teamsters union he represents.

Mr. Skoog has made false accusations and used profanity and other abusive language toward the council. He accused the mayor of leaking information from a closed meeting when, in fact, it was Mr. Skoog who inadvertently leaked the information by shooting his mouth off publicly without thinking.

Mr. Skoog and the clerk-treasurer might like to think they run the city of Tower, but that’s not how it’s supposed to work. The council, elected by the residents here and operating under the provisions of the city charter, are supposed to represent the actual authority within the city. Mr. Skoog, through his sophomoric attack, is the one exposing his own lack of knowledge as well as the lack of a temperament to be effective as a union representative.

In our experience, most union representatives try to present themselves in a professional manner, because that is the image that most unions endeavor to uphold. Unions have, for decades, helped protect workers from abusive employers. In this case, however, it is Mr. Skoog, no doubt speaking for the clerk-treasurer, who is engaged in the abusive conduct.

There is no question that Mr. Skoog and the clerk-treasurer he represents wish to run roughshod over the city council and, by extension, the voters of the city of Tower. The city council needs to ensure that doesn’t happen. It can start by reasserting its authority over the affairs of the city of Tower and holding an out-of-control clerk-treasurer accountable for her insubordination, incompetence, dishonesty, and falsification of city records.

The council derives its authority from the charter, but that’s just a piece of paper. Until the city council consciously asserts its control, by paying attention and speaking up and taking action when the clerk-treasurer ignores their directives or misleads them, the current power struggle will continue and the city’s dysfunction will only worsen.

The city of Tower can no longer afford this. A clerk-treasurer who refuses to take direction, or who actively obstructs or acts abusively toward a newly-elected mayor, is not serving the city’s interests.

There certainly is a need for a resignation at the city of Tower. But it’s not the mayor who needs to go. If the current clerk-treasurer isn’t willing to work with Mayor Kringstad, there’s just one solution— and that’s a new clerk-treasurer. If she can’t see that, the council should provide her with the necessary instruction. It is instruction that is long overdue.

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