The Grand Forks area Chamber will no longer schedule legislative forums for 2019, according to Chamber President and CEO Barry Wilfahrt, who said the events were losing relevance.
Since 2003 the Chamber has hosted several Saturday morning sessions at Grand Forks City Hall where constituents asked questions of their legislators, Wilfahrt said.
Calling the forums "old-fashioned" and "out of style," Wilfahrt said the Chamber's board of directors made the decision in June.
"We felt that there are so many other ways people can reach their legislators," he said. "You can text them, you can email them, you can call them on their cellphone. In fact, most people who need to reach the legislators have very easy access to their legislators."
Over time, he and even other legislators said the events became poorly managed.
"Frankly, observing (the forums) over the years, most of the real business was done one on one before and after the meeting in private discussion with legislators," Wilfahrt said. "The actual forums themselves, where people got up in front of the larger group, really became, to some extent, grandstanding for a number of people that presented," Wilfahrt said. "Some of them presented at every forum at every single year, and they didn't come with a question ... so much as they came with what was more of a statement."
During the last legislative session in 2017 District 18 Sen. Scott Meyer tweeted about this aspect after the first forum.
"The Pontification Festival is over," he had said in a tweet that was later deleted. "Not many questions asked to the legislators, but we were lectured. Great way to spend a Saturday."
"I apologized for that," Meyer said Wednesday. "I guess I let my emotions get the best of me and learned a valuable lesson. ... But I would say this-from the second forum to the third forum, we were actually having more discussion with constituents. Much more people were having discussions with their legislators."
Wilfahrt said the sessions weren't canceled because of the dysfunction, but because of the Chamber's new public affairs model.
"Things change. And I think people are way more engaged with their legislators on more of a day-to-day basis rather than waiting a whole month to ask questions of their legislators," Wilfahrt said. "You don't save up your questions and wait a month for this Saturday forum. You send them an email, you send them a text."
"It's a different world we live in and it's time the Chamber change with the times."
Legislators from districts 17, 18 and 42 will host coffee sessions in their districts on Feb. 2 at 10 a.m.
• Sen. Ray Holmberg and Reps. Mark Sanford and Mark Owens will be at Choice Fitness, 4401 S. 11th St., in District 17.
• Meyer and Reps. Corey Mock and Steve Vetter will be at Rhombus Guys Brewing, 116 S. Third St., in District 18.
• Sen. Curt Kreun and Reps. Jake Blum and Emily O'Brien will be at the Hilton Garden Inn, 4301 James Ray Drive, in District 42.
• In District 43, Rep. Mary Adams will host meetings on the third Saturday of each month at 9 a.m. at Sharon Lutheran Church, 1720 S. 20th St. Her April meeting is the only exception since it's scheduled for the second Saturday, April 6.
Rep. Matt Eidson, also from District 43, said he and Sen. JoNell Bakke will join Adams when they can.