Tensions rising for Grand Forks City Council

Mona Mattei
By Mona Mattei
February 23rd, 2012

Grand Forks city council’s meeting became tense when councillor Micheal Wirischagin challenged Mayor Brian Taylor on his leadership Monday night.

Shortly after the start of the regular council meeting, Wirischagin announced that he was withdrawing from the meeting accusing other councillors of subverting council’s decision on the development of welcoming signs in collaboration with the Rotary Club and the Grand Forks Credit Union.

“I am absolutely disgusted that you (Mayor Brian Taylor) are allowing councillors Smith and Kendel to do as they wish even after a decision of council has been made,” Wirischagin opened.

“You should be telling those councillors that a decision of council is final and to respect that. By allowing this to happen, and by leading groups on…you are abusing your power and making a mockery of democracy. I refuse to vote at this table as I have no trust in the decisions are going to be respected and final. ”

The sign project, which was first brought before the city in the fall of 2011 for their support, was placed before the newly elected council for their ratification in late January (see minutes here). The motion was passed with a subject to clause referring to a planning meeting to be held with the design group. The only way to renege a decision of council is to bring the matter forward within 30 days, and then only with a unanimous decision which did not occur.

Councillors Neil Krog, Gary Smith and Bob Kendel followed up with a meeting including the parties involved on the project committee. Kendel and Smith went on to have further discussions with the Boundary Economic Development Committee and the Boundary Country Regional Chamber of Commerce to explore a new idea – to use the Grand Forks design as a template for regional signs.

Wirischagin said he was approached in the community by concerned citizens questioning why councillors would be taking other action, especially after appearing to approve the project.

Krog countered Wirischagin noting that he did not participate in the sign meeting and was unaware of the work done with the group.

“We met with them, everything was awesome, the credit union representative thought it was great that we had more input. The members that were here, and the four members of council that were here, they seemed receptive to the idea… I don’t know how this got totally skewed,” said Krog.

Smith also noted that their intentions had not been to disrespect council’s decision in January, but to enhance the project.

“We wanted to bring forward the opportunity to regionalize the signs,” Smith explained. “Not the sign itself, but the frame that it sits in to take advantage of the Boundary Country brand. There was no intention whatsoever to subvert the work we had done, and they (the committee) seemed quite receptive to the idea.”

Wirischagin agreed to remain in chambers for the meeting after an appeal from councillor Cher Wyers, but refused to vote for the rest of the session. He agreed to return to council once the problem has been resolved.  Taylor committed to sort out the situation as soon as possible including calling a meeting with the sign committee chair Gord Nichols.

“It was, as councillor Wirischagin points out, a bad move on the mayor’s part to allow this secondary meeting to occur that brought in a lot of complications to the matter,” said Taylor. “We need to bring the whole group together to solve this problem.”

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