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Our view: Accusations in Roosevelt are serious

Herald editorial board

A month ago, a Grand Forks resident walked into City Hall and asked to see a very specific piece of public information, hidden deep in the city budget. The person didn't identify himself as an employee of the Herald, but simply walked up to the counter and requested the data.

Was he questioned? Did the clerk hesitate? Was the request accompanied by an eyeroll or any sort of terse response?

Not at all. In fact, the clerk presented the budget book and politely asked the visitor if he needed help finding the line item he sought.

Courteous, helpful and with a keen understanding that government is for the people — that is open government, and it's a model that all public offices, boards and employees should strive to emulate.

We hope members of the City Council and public employees in Roosevelt, Minn., are reading this, since there appears to be a great misunderstanding about public service and government openness in that Roseau County town.

The Herald last week reported on an alleged incident that occurred during a council meeting in Roosevelt. A reporter from the weekly newspaper in Baudette says she was the target of a verbal tirade after she questioned whether the council was complying with open-meeting laws.

The reporter, Doris Knutson, says the council held a meeting without notifying her. That's improper procedure, according to the League of Minnesota Cities handbook. Knutson said that when she pointed it out, she was sworn at by city clerk Alyce Siats and yelled at by Councilman Arlyn Stewart. Knutson says Stewart moved in close and berated her before abruptly ending the meeting.

Siats told the Herald she swore, but not necessarily at the reporter. Siats planned to quit the job soon anyway, but moved up her plans and stepped down this week.

Along with the alleged breach of open-meeting requirements, Knutson says the council also has been unable to produce financial records for a span of eight years and is short-tempered with residents who attend meetings and dare ask questions.

If the council is meeting without proper notice, this is serious.

If councilmembers are yelling at those who question their governing, this is serious.

If councilmembers are moving in close to intimidate attendees, this is serious.

And if financial records are missing or incomplete, this is very serious.

Roseau County Sheriff Steve Gust is investigating what could lead to an assault charge against Stewart. What he won't find is whether those financial records are missing. Reporters, like Knutson, can help figure that out, but sometimes public officers try to railroad those attempts. It that what's happening in Roosevelt?

We don't know. The Herald tried numerous times to reach Stewart by telephone, but he has not returned our calls. It's another example of bad governing.

Earlier this week, the Herald filed several open-records requests concerning the Roosevelt City Council, including financial records for the past decade, minutes from recent meetings and emails among board members.

Perhaps this will help answer some lingering questions, but it shouldn't have to come to this.