Indifference not a council trait [UPDATED]Published 9:31am Monday, August 20, 2012 Updated 11:38am Monday, August 20, 2012
When it comes to politics, I’m all in favor of a spirited debate. I believe that if you disagree with the policies established by the current group of elected officials — from federal government to township — then you should, by all means, run.
But when it comes to the upcoming Fergus Falls City Council election, there has been a trend that I find disturbing.
What I have been hearing from residents looking to get on the board among others, members of the Fergus Falls City Council are power-hungry, and fail to listen to their constituents.
I would beg to differ.
Of the eight serving council members, I personally know five, the majority, pretty well. I have either served on community committees with them, played golf, hockey or fantasy football with them, or simply gotten to know them by being in the position I’m in.
If I were to run into any of them at the grocery store, I’d typically strike up a conversation with them.
All of them, of course, have flaws. I’m sure that my views on how city government should be run, and yours, differ from theirs.
But I’m certain that a quest for power and an indifference to the concerns of constituents are not their top priorities.
For one thing, being on the Fergus Falls City Council is hardly a road to riches. A council member makes $7,800 per year.
That involves 10 to 12 hours per month for official meetings, not to mention dealing with constituents, doing research on issues and, of course, campaigning. While it’s a nice chunk of income, it’s certainly not enough to live on without a full-time job or retirement savings.
In exchange for that income, council members who are still in the workforce have a lot to risk, especially those whose job depends on providing services to local clients.
After all, there are plenty of residents who, if they disagreed with a decision their council member would make, are likely to either not consider using that council member’s business, or if they already use that council member’s services, dropping them and going to someone else’s.
I also have to question those who say that council members aren’t “listening to the people.”
This seems to be the theme when it comes to issues of the now-vacant Regional Treatment Center and the community ice arena.
On the community arena, many residents felt that a “true” referendum was needed. In other words, the sales tax referendum was held after the council had already committed to spending the $4 million on the arena.
Residents who feel that way have a good point.
Members of the council and I were probably wrong in not trusting the public to understand that an arena was desperately needed, and it really came down to an issue of whether Fergus Falls wanted ice hockey and figure skating or not. Maybe residents would have, maybe not. Council members weren’t willing to take that chance, and probably felt if it meant they didn’t get re-elected, so be it.
On the RTC, preservationists would argue that, even though the overwhelming majority of Fergus Falls residents want the building preserved, the council is putting on earmuffs and proceeding with the demolition anyway.
To those who believe that, I have news for you: That is not the majority opinion. I’d put a fairly significant (though not Mitt Romney-like) bet that the majority opinion is this.
1.) The RTC is a magnificent building, and it would be great if we could save it.
2.) After essentially a couple of decades of looking, the sad reality is, in a community our size, no public or private entity seems willing to take on the $100 million burden of restoring the building.
3.) The city has $5 million in state funds to demolish the building, and a deadline to use it.
In a scenario where the council fails to meet the deadline, the city loses the funds, and ultimately, the city has to either pay out of local tax dollars to demolish the building or mothball it indefinitely, which is simply unacceptable.
I’ll put it this way: I’d much rather be spending $4 million in local taxes on an ice arena that is well used than an RTC facility that may never be again.
Joel Myhre is The Journal’s Publisher. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org