Grand Forks City Council, after Dachtler and Mock, forges a new identity
Katie Dachtler and Jeannie Mock are departing the Council later this month after declining to run for reelection. Replacing them will be Tricia Lunski and Rebecca Osowski, who won in Tuesday's election.
GRAND FORKS – City council member Katie Dachtler said she watched election night results roll in on Tuesday anxiously, rooting for friends around the state who were running for office.
But it still felt odd, she said, to know that her name wasn’t on the ballot. She’d run for Grand Forks School board in 2016; she’d run for the City Council in 2018. But on June 14, she was watching two political newcomers vie for the seat she’ll leave later this month.
“I love this community, even when it frustrates me, even when it makes me sad, definitely when it makes me happy and when I’m proud of it,” she said this week. “That isn’t going to change and I’m not moving away.”
But the City Council will be different nonetheless. Dachtler has been a uniquely loud voice on the council, pushing for a hate-crime ordinance approved earlier this year, just one of the times she’s been unafraid to confront tough questions of race and identity in Grand Forks. In deep-red North Dakota, that’s often been a rare thing.
“I wish I didn't have to have a footnote of ‘first woman of color to be elected to the Grand Forks City Council,’ ‘second person of color since the 1970s to be elected to Grand Forks City Council,” pointing out that she’s also a woman and a mother and a student. “I hope that it allows other people, other women, other people of color, to see that Grand Forks can thrive with their input and with their engagement.”
Dachtler, along with City Council member Jeannie Mock — an AE2S employee with a notably sharp eye for engineering projects — are departing the Council later this month after declining to run for reelection. They’re set to be replaced by Rebecca Osowski, who will represent Dachtler’s Ward 2 in the north end, and Tricia Lunski, who will represent Mock’s Ward 4 along the Red River.
Osowski won the Ward 2 seat by beating Matthew Ternus in Tuesday’s election, 365 votes to 255. In Ward 4, Lunski received 573 votes, beating Ward Johnson (393) and Harry Samuelson (264).
The new council members will be sworn in on June 28.
Mock jokes that it’s a chance to go back into “regular-person mode” after eight years of managing budgets and big changes in the city. She gave newcomers a bit of advice: meet a lot of people. Also, make many relationships with the city staff and council members around you.
“When staff, council members, a mayor sees something differently than you, it’s good, because people in the community are very dynamic and have different perspectives,” Mock said.
By the time they leave the council, newcomers Osowski and Lunski will surely have left their own unique marks at City Hall — but this summer, the learning curve will likely be steep. They’ll be confronted with a deluge of new information with budget season about to start; and negotiations are still ongoing with Fufeng Group, the Chinese agribusiness whose plans for a north-end corn mill have led to a wave of opposition.
On Fufeng especially, both Osowski and Lunski will be forced to take more concrete positions on the project soon. During the campaign, Osowski had said she’d heard “both sides” of the discussion, and called for “more communication” between City Hall and local residents. Lunski had said she’s worried how Fufeng will find workers, and that she’s still learning more about the project.
“It is two women going out and being replaced by two women. But I’m sure their personalities are different than ours. It’ll be interesting to see how they fit into the mix,” Mock said.
City Council President Dana Sande is the other victor from Tuesday night, winning his election in Ward 6 – central southern Grand Forks – in an unopposed race. He points out that the council is bigger than the seven people who are on it, because it’s always in conversation with the community.
He has said he expects this to be his last term on the council.
“Although sometimes some people don't believe we listen, we're always hearing from constituents and working with our friends and neighbors,” he said. “I feel like I’m filling the chair. All I'm doing is filling the chair until the next person shows up to do the same work.”