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Mike Pokrzywinski, East Grand Forks, letter: Why i oppose EGF charter vote

EAST GRAND FORKS -- In November, the people of East Grand Forks will have the chance to amend our City Charter, changing City Council elections to even-numbered years.

EAST GRAND FORKS -- In November, the people of East Grand Forks will have the chance to amend our City Charter, changing City Council elections to even-numbered years.

I'd like to state for the record why I voted against the ordinance placing this on the ballot, as written.

I support moving our elections to even-numbered years. I do not support extending the terms of every City Council member and the mayor by an additional year. My preference would have been to have the three City Council members up for election in 2009 to serve out their four-year terms and run for a three-year term that would expire in 2012.

The four council members and the mayor would be up for election in 2010, one year short of our original four-year term that would have expired in 2011. Granted, this would have made it necessary to hold one more election than the extra year option. But, I think this would be a small price to pay to strengthen the council's legitimacy.

This would have been a very simple option to present to the voters if the council would have had it brought before us for consideration in time for the deadline for placing it on this fall's ballot. The reason it was not is complicated, and the responsibility for why it was not is shared by many, myself included.


Simply put, we ran out of calendar. In fact, we had to call a special meeting in order to accommodate the two readings required before placing it on the ballot.

However, the city attorney asked if he should write more than the additional term option into the ordinance to bring before the council. He was told not to. I take responsibility for not asking for this option at the public hearing. I make no excuses other than my lack of experience because of my short tenure on the council and the lack of time we were given to fully discuss this with the other members of the council and the public.

Changing our City Charter is something we should not take lightly. In fact, it takes only two "no" votes to keep an item off the ballot. I firmly believe we would have had two or three votes to put on the ballot the option to shorten our terms if we could have amended the ordinance at the second reading. But, as stated earlier, that option was not available to us.

I believe the motive by the other members of the council to offer this change to the voters was to save the taxpayers money. I have a great deal of respect for all of them. They are hard-working public servants who keep the best interests of the people of East Grand Forks in mind when making their decisions.

I'd especially like to express my admiration for Marc DeMers, who raised this issue for our consideration. He bent over backwards to accommodate my concerns and tried everything to explore every option. He and I have worked closely on several tough issues since taking office, and as the two freshmen on the council, we have developed a kinship as we learn how government works from the inside.

Mayor Lynn Stauss has stated publicly that he'd like to finish his public service with 25 years. I believe Stauss belongs in the East Grand Forks Mayor's Hall of Fame. He will retire as the longest-serving mayor in our rich history. His leadership through the flood, its aftermath and our remarkable recovery will secure his place in that history.

I appreciate the confidence the voters have placed in me. As a first-term member of the council, I would simply prefer to have that confidence ratified in three years rather than five.

I believe holding public office is a sacred privilege, and getting an extra year in this manner cheapens it. I have great respect for the process of making our public policy, and I will accept the will of the voters whatever your decision on Election Day. I will be voting no.


Mike Pokrzywinski

Pokrzywinski is an East Grand Forks alderman at large.

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