Newcomers to East Grand Forks City Council looking forward to bringing in their perspectives on city matters
Ben Pokrzywinski, a co-owner of two local small businesses who will serve Ward 2, and Karen Peterson, an assistant professor at UND who will serve in the at-large seat, are both excited to bring their outlook to the council.
EAST GRAND FORKS – The East Grand Forks City Council will soon have two new faces, serving Ward 2 and one of the at-large seats.
Ben Pokrzywinski, a co-owner of two local small businesses who will serve Ward 2, and Karen Peterson, an assistant professor at UND who will serve in the at-large seat, are both excited to bring their new perspectives to the council. In fact, getting new perspectives on city business is one of the reasons why Pokrzywinski decided to run.
“I think that the council definitely needs some new perspective,” he said. “Everybody that’s been on the council has been on there for quite a while. Not saying that there’s necessarily anything wrong with anybody on the council, but it’s good to have a fresh change.”
Peterson, who has served on a variety of committees in East Grand Forks, said she’s looking forward to changing things up and getting to work. While not originally from East Grand Forks, Peterson has resided in the city for a little more than 20 years and also hopes to bring a new mindset to the council.
“I don’t have in the back of my head the person saying ‘but this is how it’s always been done,’” she said. “I am all about changing things up, making things different.”
Though Peterson ran for Ward 2 alongside Pokrzywinski and incumbent Clarence Vetter, she encouraged her voters to also consider her as a write-in candidate for the at-large council seat, which had no candidates. She earned 80 of the 167 write-in votes, giving her the win.
She said her goals have shifted slightly to now think about the “bigger picture” of representing the city as a whole, rather than one particular ward.
She said she wants to be “a voice of reason and to represent not only what the city is asking, but also what the residents are asking.”
One of Pokrzywinski’s long-term goals is to add more activities for kids in the city’s parks. He said that's something close to his heart.
Both also expressed interest in similar priorities within the city, including traffic flow on Bygland Road and a new bridge between East Grand Forks and Grand Forks. Both issues have been discussed in great detail at a council level.
The potential roundabout on Bygland Road and Rhinehart Drive has garnered both support and opposition from council members and nearby residents in previous discussions. Last year, Mayor Steve Gander vetoed the council's action to choose the roundabout as the desired project for Federal Subtarget Funding. Since then, the roundabout has been pushed back in the city’s transportation plans.
Peterson and Pokrzywinski said a roundabout would help with traffic issues on the south end of the city and alleviate safety concerns with children crossing the road farther down Bygland at South Point Elementary and Central Middle Schools. Peterson said she would like to see more action taken on the traffic concerns along that roadway.
“My frustration with that one is that (council members) know that it’s an issue, they know that it needs to be changed, but this has been a discussion now for three years, four years. And still the safety of the kids crossing the street down by the school is still a concern four years later,” Peterson said. “I don’t think that we have made steps forward in that aspect of it and that’s very frustrating for me.”
The bridge proposal also has sparked debate between both cities — specifically, the debate is about where it should be located. Peterson and Pokrzywinski said a new bridge is needed not only to add another connection between the cities on the south end, but to help with traffic flow.
“It would be good for both communities to have that bridge there because the traffic that’s going through that end of Grand Forks is not sustainable and is not safe,” Pokrzywinski said.
However, in order for the proposed bridge project to move forward, Peterson said both cities need to work together.
“We do have to be a team player with Grand Forks and right now I don’t think we’re working as a team.” Peterson said. “I think there are two sides of the river that are trying to do what each side wants.”
Come January, both newcomers are excited to serve as the newest generation of representatives for the city.
“It’s definitely an exciting feeling,” Pokrzywinski said. “I’m looking forward to supporting the community and working with the other members on the council and seeing what we can do.”
Peterson said she is excited to learn more about the responsibilities of the council once she takes the at-large seat. She also is looking forward to representing the residents of East Grand Forks.
“I’m very excited to be their voice — to make the right decisions for them,” she said.