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Thief River Falls city council members say they want to move away from ‘dysfunctional’ image

If you ask members of the city council in Thief River Falls, Minn., what's frustrating about the way they make decisions, you'll get a few different answers.

If you ask members of the city council in Thief River Falls, Minn., what’s frustrating about the way they make decisions, you’ll get a few different answers.

Some say there’s a “good old boys network” working behind the scenes to push secret agendas, while others will point to disrespect and constant arguing between members that prevent the council from moving forward.

Whatever drives the frustration, the disputes in meetings haven’t gone unnoticed by the public. Several council members and city officials acknowledged the fighting makes them look dysfunctional.

“Quite a few city employees have expressed their concerns watching it, as well as citizens in the city,” council member Glen Kajewski said. “We’ve become kind of a laughingstock. A lot of really good things have been happening in the city and it kind of takes away from that.”

An anonymous YouTube account named TRF Compiler is even promoting a trailer for its “Best of Thief River Falls City Council” video compilation it says is coming this winter. It will feature clips from meetings.


In a city of nearly 9,000 people that’s growing fast and needs to respond to workforce, housing and infrastructure needs, Mayor Jim Dagg said the council should be working as a “reasonable team” to help the city get through its growing pains.

There is the possibility things could be different after this city’s upcoming November election. With with five spots up for grabs, there’s a chance the council meetings will look very different months from now.

Four council member positions and the mayor will be on the ballot. Three out of the four council members - Kajewski, Rachel Prudhomme and Dale Hahn - and Dagg are seeking re-election; all races are contested.

Contentious issues

The current council has been at odds over several issues as of late, perhaps the most contentious being the city’s membership on a law enforcement task force.

Both city and Pennington County law enforcement expressed interest in joining the Pine to Prairie Drug Task Force. An agreement was made in the council’s Parks and Recreation/Safety Committee saying the two governments would pursue a joint-full membership.

The estimated cost of at least $100,000 to become a member, which includes an officer's salary and benefits and a one-time vehicle purchase, would be split by the agencies.

Cost and staffing worries led the council to backtrack on the full membership and instead approve a less expensive associate membership on Aug. 19.


Prudhomme, who serves on the committee but was not present for the Aug. 19 meeting, told the Herald the move was one of several examples of people undermining decisions made by council committees.

The proposal for a full membership was approved in September after the county offered to take the lead in hiring for the task force position.

Prudhomme said her biggest frustration is the lack of transparency between council members and the council and the city, adding discussions are taking place behind closed doors outside of meetings.

Council member Jerry Brown said he agrees with that position.

“There’s too much going on behind the scenes that councilmen are not aware of,” he said.

Since Prudhomme’s appointment to the position in January, the council has uncovered a vote of no confidence against retiring Police Chief Kim Murphy that was never presented to the council and a $10,000 line item to fund a law enforcement study in the city budget that appeared after the budget was passed. 

The council also recently approved an ice rental contract with two local organizations, but not before a heated debate broke out when Dagg asked to amend the contract recommendation that came out of the committee.



After 10 months on the council, those attending or tuning into meetings would recognize Prudhomme as one of the most vocal members - which hasn’t always been a positive for the young attorney.

“When I ask questions, I’m portrayed as a troublemaker,” she said. Prudhomme has voiced her frustrations at council meetings regarding what she believes are secret meetings and to City Attorney Paul Ihle.

The amount of questioning and accusations of secret meetings coming from Prudhomme haven’t sat well with council members, including Don Sollom.

He and Prudhomme can often be observed sparring in meetings and those disagreements spill over into email conversations. In response to what Prudhomme alleged was bullying by Sollom, she filed a formal complaint with the city, saying Sollom violated its respectful workplace policy.

“I am tired of being repeatedly disrespected for raising justified concerns and for being publically bullied at any meeting in which I disagree with Don,” she wrote in her July 30 complaint.

 “I do not bully anyone,” Sollom told the Herald. “I will confront them when the time comes, and this is what they don’t like.”

The complaint was dismissed by City Administrator Larry Kruse after an attorney analyzed the city’s respectful workplace policy and issued an opinion saying council members cannot pursue complaints against each other under the policy and the complaint was not about the city workplace.

As adopted on Aug. 21, 2012, the workplace policy states, “This policy is applicable to all City employees, including regular, part‐time and temporary employees, council members and volunteers.”


Moving forward

In his 15 years on the council, working under five mayors and with more than a dozen different council members, Kajewski can say without hesitation this is the most contentious group he has served with.

“You got to take the high road at times as a group and not get down in the mud and weeds like some people like to do,” he said.  

The confrontations, questions and debates seem to be making meetings longer than those held in the past, though some would argue it’s a good thing.

“When I ran (for council), everything was ‘Yes,’ and no questions,” Brown said. “I just thought it was time to do things different on the council.”

Dagg acknowledges council members are welcome to ask department heads questions before meetings, but he thinks much of the questioning taking place during meetings is done to make a point.

“They’re good questions, but that’s why we have committees,” he said. “The committees have to do the same thing. They have to work with department heads and prioritize those concerns and deal with them - not on TV, not at council (meetings) to sensationalize all this stuff.”

In addition to slowing down city business, Sollom said all the recent drama has him wondering if another term is really what he wants.


“There are better things to do than fight with these people that don’t want to do anything,” Sollom said.

Council members interviewed for this story said they want the city to move forward, but can’t agree on how to accomplish it. Prudhomme is optimistic about the upcoming election.

“I hope that right now, this is the darkness before the dawn,” she said. “I know that’s a horrible way to look at it, but I have a lot of hope for the potential candidates.”

Until the election has run its course in the town, Sollom has a simple request for the council.

“Let’s just get along and conduct the business of the city,” he said.

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