Criminal charges have been filed against two men in Thief River Falls after an argument turned physical at a meeting earlier this month. Joshua Hagen, who last week resigned from the City Council, faces a misdemeanor assault charge and Councilman Jerald Brown faces a charge of disorderly conduct.
Good. We hope it's a lesson that can be learned for all who serve on boards, panels and committees. Because what happened July 10 during a meeting of the Thief River Falls Administrative Services Committee should not happen again, in any city, county or public jurisdiction.
According to court documents, an argument began between Hagen and another committee member, Curtis Howe. Hagen briefly left the meeting but came back and made further comments, eventually prompting Brown to tell Hagen to "shut up" and that he was "sick and tired" of Hagen. Brown allegedly threatened to take Hagen outside.
Still according to court documents, witnesses say Hagen replied "make me" and "let's go." The two-the 38-year-old Hagen and the 73-year-old Brown-then met "nose to nose" and shoved each other.
It's not clear who first shoved whom, but court documents say Brown grabbed a chair and threw it at Hagen. Hagen later began "pounding on Brown's head as hard as he could," according to documents.
If the court records tell the story accurately, both men deserve the charges they face. And if they are found not guilty, then - again, if the court records are accurate - the men at least deserve the unflattering press coverage that has been leveled upon them.
Only legal charges or public criticism can help avoid this in the future. The Thief River Falls City Council last week passed a code of conduct for its members; that's a good place to begin and something all boards should do if a code doesn't exist. Also, video cameras in board meetings-there were no cameras recording-could help remind panelists that the people are watching.
It's about respect, and the events that unfolded in that committee room in Thief River Falls showed little respect for fellow committee members or to the people they represent. Sure, it's only a low-level committee meeting discussing-of all things-a splash park. But a meltdown of this proportion is indicative of a lack of understanding of the responsibilities these men have as public representatives.
Public office, we are certain, comes with no little amount of stress. For every happy photo-op at a ribbon-cutting or park-opening, members of boards and councils also must make difficult decisions that could hurt many people's everyday lives and pocketbooks. It's not an easy job.
But with election or selection to these boards comes responsibilities, the first and foremost of which is to act professionally, appropriately and respectfully.
If the court documents accurately tell the story of what happened July 10, Hagen and Brown deserve the charges they face. Not because they forever deserve to branded as bad men, but because they refused to respect the offices they hold and they trampled on the public's trust that they would act appropriately while making the people's decisions.