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Grand Forks panel OKs library board nominee

City Council members preliminarily vote to appoint Becky Ronkowski to the Grand Forks Library Board. They're set for a final vote next week.

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Patrons visit the Grand Forks Public Library, after the completion of a $560,000 remodeling project, on Tuesday, March 30, 2021. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald
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After a lengthy back-and-forth that could ultimately mean some policy changes at Grand Forks City Hall, a retired elementary school teacher is one vote away from heading to the Grand Forks Library Board.

City Council members, acting as the Committee of the Whole, voted 5-1 on Monday to appoint Becky Ronkowski to the city and county’s joint library board, which governs the Grand Forks Public_, a public library on South Washington Street that added the underscore to its name to denote the array of options it offers its patrons. Council members are set to meet again next week to hold a final vote on Ronkowski’s appointment.

The lone “nay” vote was Council President Dana Sande, who has quietly told other council members he was skeptical about Ronkowski , telling them that he’d witnessed her bully others and that he didn’t believe she is the “kind of person” the city needs for those positions.

On Monday, though, the board appointment was sandwiched between several other bits of weightier city business, and council members only spoke about it briefly. Council member Kyle Kvamme noted that the board had no members who live inside Grand Forks County but outside Grand Forks proper, and he suggested that the city advertise open spots on the board more widely.

Sande wondered if area communities such as Thompson and Northwood could be options.

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In related news, council members:

  • Were briefed on a proposal by city administrators that could edit city policies to reflect existing job classifications at Grand Forks City Hall. Several department heads hold a “classified” position that is spelled out in city code, but some of those jobs, such as the head of the engineering department, have been held by employees who are working under a specific contract instead. City staff are also set to consider a legal mechanism by which council members could switch a job from one designation to the other. Council member Ken Vein noted that the city could also begin following its own code instead of updating the code to mirror its practices. It’s a civic echo of October 2020, when the city created a standalone inspections department but council members and Mayor Brandon Bochenski couldn’t agree on whether the head of the new department would be a classified or a contracted employee. Classified employees’ jobs are spelled out in city code, and they enjoy more protection than contracted ones. Ultimately, Bochenski used an exceedingly rare mayoral veto to override council members’ decision to install the new department head in city code, which meant that it became a contracted position by default, so to speak.
  • Went over the various state and federal funding streams pointed at the city, including the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act, which President Joe Biden signed into law on March 11. “ARPA” could mean $11.36 million for the city and $13.47 million for Grand Forks County. A separate $2.3 trillion infrastructure spending bill, the return of federal earmarks – now dubbed “community project funding” – and a federal surface transportation plan that’s awaiting a five-year reauthorization could mean millions for the city to point toward redevelopment of its old water treatment plant, an underpass at 42nd Street and DeMers Avenue , an interchange at I-29 and 47th Avenue, an intercity bridge over the Red River, or several other projects.

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Joe Bowen is an award-winning reporter at the Duluth News Tribune. He covers schools and education across the Northland.

You can reach him at:
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