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Chapman: The good and bad of local government

By Staff | May 9, 2014

We’ll start with the best of our local government this week, which is unfortunately tied to the worst.

Kudos to Dave Bednarz, a Ward 2 Councilman with the Rugby City Council.

Bednarz, whose seat is one up for reelection this year, rightfully let the council and others in attendance hear a serious and important message at Monday’s meeting. The gist was twofold: enough of the cronyism with information sharing and enough of the disrespect being shown to the city auditor, who is simply trying to do her job.

“There have just been some instances where people have quit the city and we’ve had some issues and I don’t think they’ve been addressed the way they should’ve been,” Bednarz said later in the week.

“I believe I and all council members should be involved or at least notified when things take place with our employees,” he said at the meeting. “I believe our auditor deserves the utmost respect.”

Bednarz was vague, opting to not specifically call out anyone at the meeting, but the setting was perfect. Ears perked up and the guilty parties knew what Bednarz was referring to. Other sources aware of the discussion indicated that at least one councilman was out of line in questioning city auditor Dawn Hauck’s attempts to lawfully look into city personnel issues.

Elected officials are in office to advocate for their constituents and advance the wellbeing of their city. They are not elected to only protect their friends and participate in any form of bullying to advance personal agendas.

Egos needed to be checked and Bednarz was right to do so in a stern, yet respectful manner in a public setting.

The local government theme switched from disrespect Monday to incompetence Tuesday. The Pierce County Board of Commissioners met for its monthly meeting too and an incredible lack of communication was displayed between the commissioners of Pierce, McHenry and Bottineau Counties.

For months, Pierce County has sought the support of the other two counties in an agreement calling for an equal share of funding to the Heart of America Community Service Program. The program has an advisory council, which had representatives from elected offices in all three counties at a meeting in April. It was made clear that the three groups of commissioners would have answers and come to a decision on funding the program this week.

Shocker, it didn’t happen.

It’s not that decisions need to be rushed, but what’s coming out of the failure to find an agreement is a clear misunderstanding of the crime scene sweeping North Dakota. The state penitentiary and other jails are maxed out and community service, an alternative to incarceration, is a crucial component needed to hold non-violent offenders accountable for their crimes.

The program had an able director in Yvonne Hagen, who took over last fall and was rebuilding relationships with cities in all three counties. She was setting offenders up with non-profits previously soured on the program. She was also holding offenders accountable for the hours to be served.

Hagen turned in her resignation this week and was hesitant to drop her full-time job as a dispatcher because of concerns the program would lose state funding and thus funding and support of the three counties.

It’s unlikely that the state will forget about community service programs, but it’s hard to fault her for the decision when the counties who claimed to support her couldn’t figure out a plan through months of poor communication.

The three boards of commissioners need to get serious about this program. Crime rises as populations do and there’s no indication either is slowing. The counties, and cities within, have much to gain with the service hours, which lead to keeping our communities presentable at no cost to the non-profit recipients of those serving hours.

Let’s not let the incompetence and arrogance of some elected officials (city and county) be a reflection of the voters. Questions need to be asked and voters need to be active.

If you have questions for our elected officials and this year’s candidates, please send them to the Tribune. You can remain anonymous. Questions can be emailed to tchapman@thepiercecountytribune.com, called in at 776-5252 or discussed in person at the Tribune.

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