Policies on citizen comments during City Council meetings revisited by Grand Forks council members

Policies related to the citizen comment section of council meetings have been discussed by the council previously

Grand Forks City Hall
Grand Forks City Hall, 255 N. 4th St. Sam Easter / Grand Forks Herald

GRAND FORKS – Standards for the citizen comment portion of Grand Forks City Council meetings were discussed in depth during Monday’s meeting of the Committee of the Whole.

The discussion came at the end of the meeting and was brought up by City Council Vice President Bret Weber. Topics included whether the citizen comments should be moved to the Committee of the Whole meetings, how many items people can discuss and whether people who aren’t residents or don’t own property in Grand Forks should be allowed to speak.

Policies related to the citizen comment section of council meetings have been discussed by the council previously. In August, council members approved:

  • Changing each speaker's time limit from three minutes to five.
  • Moving the citizen comment portion ahead in the agenda so that it follows announcements.
  • Keeping the current rule that says people can’t share their given time with others.
  • Requiring those who wish to speak at City Council meetings to submit a comment card — which includes their name, address and subject — before the council meetings start at 5:30 p.m.
  • Limiting written statements to two and a half pages.

The conversations come after a large number of people have spoken during council meetings over the past year about Fufeng Group, a China-based company that planned to build a wet corn milling plant in Grand Forks.
During Monday’s meeting, City Council President Dana Sande said he’s not interested in eliminating public comments from council meetings, but that standards and rules are needed.

“I think we need to set a standard of what’s acceptable and what’s not acceptable during public comments,” Sande said. “And it’s very tough because we’re all put in very difficult positions because when someone stands up and wants to speak and does something loud, threatening or however you want to call it, who’s responsible to say ‘hey, that’s not OK?’”


Sande asked City Attorney Dan Gaustad whether the council has any say over denying someone access to future council meetings if they become threatening.

Gaustad said the decision could be based upon the level of disorderly conduct that occurred. Under current policies, people can be removed from meetings by the presiding officer if they are disorderly during meetings.

Sande also brought up the question of whether the public comment portion should be open to people who aren’t Grand Forks residents.

“I can’t go to the Minneapolis City Council meeting and stand up and take my time because I’m not a resident of Minneapolis. That’s not how it works,” he said.

During their discussion, council member Ken Vein suggested moving the citizen comment section to the Committee of the Whole meetings rather than having them at the City Council meetings, when council members make final decisions. The Committee of the Whole consists of council members and meets twice per month, on the weeks when the actual City Council does not meet.

“I actually like it at the committee meeting because when we have an initial presentation we can also hear from the people on the same subject and then you have a week between there and council to take all of that in,” Vein said. “Because if you wait until council to hear it, you’re hearing it for the first time.”

The idea of having people fill out a comment card for specific agenda items was suggested. The thought is that those people would be called to speak once the council moves to that particular agenda item.

Council member Rebecca Osowski said she was bothered last week when a speaker brought up a council member’s children. While Osowski said she’s in support of changing policies related to people mentioning council members' children, she added that changing other policies wouldn’t make the council look good after council members made policy changes last year.


“I just feel like it doesn’t make us look great when every time we run into an instance we go and try to change things up and switch them around,” she said. “I understand policies about the children and acceptable behavior, but to just go and change where we’re placing the comments and things like that, I just think it makes us look kind of bad.”

Council member Kyle Kvamme said prior changes to the comments portion of meetings have been positive.

“We just voted on it to change things,” Kvamme said. “I think moving (comments) to the beginning of council and allowing them five minutes has been, I think, a positive thing for citizen comment.”

Discussion on the citizen comment portion of meetings will be brought back to the next COW meeting.

Also Monday, council members received an update on the Fufeng project. Last week the city ended a standstill agreement with Fufeng Group, ultimately terminating the development agreement.

In February, City Council members voted 5-0 to end the Fufeng project after the Department of the U.S. Air Force declared the proposed mill a threat to national security due to its ownership ties to China.

The following month, the council agreed to enter into a standstill related to the termination of the development agreement with Fufeng. At the time, City Attorney Dan Gaustad told council members the standstill agreement would allow the city and Fufeng to determine if an agreement and termination could be reached.

During their meeting Monday, Gaustad informed council members that a demand as beneficiary on the letter of credit covering the city’s expenses related to the corn mill due diligence was sent to MUFG bank. Additionally, a notice of termination was sent to Fufeng USA COO Eric Chutorash, along with Fufeng’s attorney.


The bank has seven business days to respond. Gaustad said the city has since reached out to verify the demand was received.

Also Monday, Gaustad told the council that an appeal to the North Dakota Supreme Court — related to the city's decision to not allow a citywide vote on Fufeng — is still alive.

An initial lawsuit against the city — brought on by Ben Grzadzielewski, one of the leaders of a petition, and a group called People for the Vote — was filed in early May after the city rejected the petition. The city maintained that the issue to which the petitioners referred was an “administrative matter” that can’t be sent to the ballot.

In August 2022, Ramsey County Judge Donovan Foughty ruled in favor of the city and Maureen Storstad, city auditor/finance director. It was Storstad’s decision to dismiss the petition. The petitioners appealed to the Supreme Court in October.

Gaustad said attorneys representing the city have since filed a motion to dismiss the appeal with the termination of the project and are waiting to hear back from the Supreme Court.

In other news Monday, council members:

  • Considered approving a cost participation, construction and maintenance agreement with the North Dakota Department of Transportation for a rehabilitation project on 32nd Avenue South from I-29 to South Washington Street. The project includes concrete pavement repair, asphalt mill and overlay and ADA ramps. While originally scheduled for the 2025 construction season, recent changes in available federal funding from the NDDOT has accelerated the construction to 2023. Of the estimated $2,285,345 total cost, $1,849,530 will come from the 80.93% federal share, $196,854 will come from the 9.07% state share and $238,962 will come from the 10% local share.
  • Reaffirmed a cost share for the scoping phase for the proposed inter-city and Merrifield bridges. In January, council members approved entering into a four-way cost share with Grand Forks County, the city of East Grand Forks and Polk County to split the total $151,172 associated with the scoping work SRF Consulting Group will complete. While Grand Forks and Grand Forks County are both paying the $37,793 associated with the cost share, Polk County is paying $20,000 and East Grand Forks is making up the difference by paying $55,586. Sande questioned Polk County’s intent on participating in work and conversations related to the bridges. A joint meeting between both councils and counties will occur in the future.
Meghan Arbegast grew up in Security-Widefield, Colorado. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Journalism from North Dakota State University in Fargo, in 2021.

Arbegast wrote for The Spectrum, NDSU's student newspaper, for three years and was Head News Editor for two years. She was an intern with University Relations her last two semesters of college.

Arbegast covers news pertaining to the city of Grand Forks/East Grand Forks including city hall coverage.

Readers can reach Arbegast at 701-780-1267 or

Pronouns: She/Her
Languages: English
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