Brandon Bochenski, the real estate developer vying for Grand Forks mayor, has resolved to keep his current business roles if he wins next week’s election.
“My whole plan is to stimulate the economy, and that helps everyone,” Bochenski said this week, adding that he would recuse himself from decision-making in cases that appeared to offer him any direct benefit.
The businessman is one of three on the ballot in an all-mail mayoral election that culminates on Tuesday, where he is running alongside incumbent Mike Brown and city immigration and workforce staffer Robin David. Also running is write-in candidate and former City Council member Art Bakken.
Bochenski was asked last month about his business ties and whether he would consider divesting if he won the race. At the time, he responded that he had not yet considered the matter.
Bochenski’s response means that, should he win next week’s contest, the Grand Forks mayor would have business interests in the real estate field while pressing for shifts in policy that could affect those interests. He said last month that, in his capacity as a real estate developer, he’s working with 12 properties in Grand Forks near the southern border of the city. And he’s called for cuts in local property taxes, home loans to help first-time home buyers and caps on hikes in property tax valuations.
Those ties open a conversation on local leaders’ responsibilities that isn’t always clear cut, though. Howard Swanson, Grand Forks’ city attorney, points out that state law prohibits “a direct pecuniary benefit” for a government official.
“That would not be interpreted to apply to, for example, a candidate who may be a participant in an activity among a universe of other participants, and they all share either equally or some degree or another, in the same benefit of that decision,” Swanson said.
This is the essence of Bochenski’s argument: that he is one of many in the real estate and development industries, and that his economic policies are aimed at the city generally — not just items that would affect his business.
And City Clerk Sherie Lundmark pointed out that there is plenty of precedent for city leaders with business ties — like professionals on the City Council, be they engineers or otherwise employed, recusing themselves when their employers are directly implicated in city bids or other business. The case of a mayor is slightly different, she said, in that Grand Forks’ system of government only calls upon the mayor to vote at council meetings in the event of a tie. She pointed out, too, that city leaders work under an ethical code to recuse themselves as necessary.
And Stephanie Dassinger, deputy director of the North Dakota League of Cities, pointed out that City Councils are a check on anything the mayor would want passed — acting, functionally as a review board for policies that could provide personal benefit.
"One important thing to remember with someone running for a position on City Council … is they are only one voice on City Council,” she said. “Anything they want to do, they have to convince the remainder of the board — or a majority of the rest of the board — that their ideas are good ones.”
Grand Forks mayor terms are for four years; the position was established as a part-time role.