Korrie Wenzel: No cozy relationship, but that's not a bad thing

Although I still contend the Herald deserves to be let out of its lease, the council president's comment about the city not owing the Herald probably needed to be said.

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Korrie Wenzel, publisher of Prairie Business magazine and the Grand Forks Herald

There’s always talk – here and elsewhere – about supposed cozy relationships that exist between governments and the media. We get accused of protecting those in power, but they probably don’t feel that way.

This week, residents got a peek behind the curtains to see some sausage-making when the Jobs Development Authority voted against allowing the Herald to leave early from a five-year lease agreement in the city-owned HIVE building. The decision to deny the Herald’s request prompted a rebuttal from me that outlined a number of grievances logged with the city, but which were never aired publicly.

Yes, I was miffed when the JDA voted against the Herald’s request and when City Council President Dana Sande said “I don’t feel like we owe the Herald anything.”

What happened later was an example of the relationship that sometimes exists between the media and government entities. We have disagreements – sometimes big ones, but they don’t always play out in public.

As publisher of the newspaper, my chief concern is the economic stability and integrity of the organization and the welfare of its employees. When those factors are threatened, a response will come. Sometimes it comes too quickly.


This isn’t an apology. I obviously still believe the Herald should be released 11 months early from our lease with the city. I’m convinced we have a solid legal reason.

On Tuesday, a caller to KNOX Radio wondered why the Herald hasn’t reported its list of grievances.

Answer: Because as the leader of a business I haven’t felt right putting gripes about bathrooms and sidewalks in the paper. Individually, most of these are ticky-tacky complaints and I didn’t even want to air them on Monday. That is, until the request was denied.

In the Herald’s opinion, the city broke the lease last year when it allowed construction in the parking lot nearest the building and took away promised parking spots. According to the lease, the Herald “shall have use of, at minimum, 24 parking spaces of the parking lot(s) or areas located on the property, or on any property immediately adjacent to the property in which lessor has parking rights or interests, for parking of (the Herald’s) employees’ vehicles during normal business hours.”

The city closed that lot and assigned us six spots in the adjacent alley. Since policing those spots has been inconsistent, we often have had only three or four places to park. Construction in our building and across the street has greatly reduced street parking.

Meanwhile, the city allows us to park in lots a block or two away, but those are not “immediately adjacent” to the building. Customer parking is nonexistent most days.

Other grievances I outlined at the meeting – after our request was denied – included issues related to heating/cooling, snow removal, leaking roofs and security. I suppose in hindsight, maybe the public does deserve to know, since this is the taxpayers’ building.

This also is why the city should not be a landlord, as outlined by a Herald editorial in 2020, headlined “ City of Grand Forks should ease out of landlord business .” Back then, after issues with other city tenants arose at a public meeting, we wrote: “Should the city be in a position where it may someday appear to be strong-arming or otherwise embarrassing tenants to collect debts? Should the city be in direct competition with the community’s private landlords, or any private business? Answers: No, and no.”


And I meant it when I told the council on Monday “if you’re going to be landlord, be a landlord.” Council members probably didn’t know about these complaints until Monday, since I have kept my concerns below their level. Now, those issues have been presented to the council, but will anything change? No word yet.

If the council as a whole isn’t our landlord, then who is?

This highlights the problem with the city going into the rental business – specialists are required to handle these duties, and those specialists must quickly and sufficiently address concerns. Should everyday complaints really be the concern of the city administrator? Or the mayor? The council? They have plenty to do already.

The city hired a director for this building, but I’m not even sure what that means. I don’t think I have ever met him.

Right now, it’s hard to say who the actual landlord is, other than a vague “the city.”

To his credit, Mayor Brandon Bochenski has worked with the Herald this week on finding a solution to our lease request. (Note: The Herald’s previous complaints were not directed to the mayor, either.) Remember that the decision to purchase this building was made before he took office; he has said he wasn’t in favor of the decision but he has accepted it and wants to see it work.

City Administrator Todd Feland is working on it, too .

By the way, the sidewalk was shoveled Friday morning.


Back to the relationship between local governments and the Herald. I believe the council, the mayor, the administrator and a number of others in high-ranking spots are good people doing difficult work. They make mistakes, but the Herald does too.

We are cordial. I greet them when I see them on the street. Yet we do often disagree, and every now and then, those disagreements lead to a squabble.

This week might just show that we aren’t quite as cozy as some would believe. Legally speaking, I still disagree with Sande's comment about the city not owing the Herald. But his comment probably is a good thing, since it shows we aren’t exchanging favors.

I figure we’ll all be fine. These things happen. And perhaps this hullabaloo will result in better building management by the city, which would be a good result.

Korrie Wenzel has been publisher of the Herald and its subsidiary business publication, Prairie Business, since 2014.

Korrie Wenzel has been publisher of the Grand Forks Herald and Prairie Business Magazine since 2014.

Over time, he has been a board member of the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corp., Junior Achievement, the South Dakota Historical Society Foundation, United Way, Empire Arts Center, Cornerstones Career Learning Center and Crimestoppers.

As publisher, Wenzel oversees news, advertising and business operations at the Herald, as well as the newspaper's opinion content.

In the past, Wenzel was sports editor for 14 years at The Daily Republic of Mitchell, S.D., before becoming editor and, eventually, publisher.

Wenzel can be reached at 701-780-1103.
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