by Dennis Dalman
The site chosen for a community center has caused a rift, at least temporarily, on the Sartell City Council whose members became involved in personal accusations and counter-accusations at the Sept. 14 meeting.
At times the simmering conversation verged on a verbal tug-of-war, threatening to erupt into a boil, with members using words like rumor mills, gossip and conspiracies.
“I did not call you ridiculous,” said member Pat Lynch to member Amy Braig-Lindstrom. “I said ‘This is starting to get ridiculous.’ “
Both members were referring to a previous communiqué between them about whether or not Lynch’s vote for a community center at the south Sartell site constituted a conflict of interest on his part because he owns a business near the center’s chosen site.
Braig-Lindstrom said some of her constituents had asked her about the conflict-of-interest issue so she asked the city attorney to rule on that question. The attorney said there is no conflict of interest whatsoever regarding Lynch and his vote for the center site.
At the Sept. 14 meeting, Braig-Lindstrom said she wanted the fact there was no conflict of interest mentioned at the meeting so the rumor mill about it would cease and so the council could move forward with its work.
Lynch, however, expressed bristling frustration about Braig-Lindstrom’s persistence on that issue and the persistence of former Sartell Mayor Joe Perske, who has been very vocal about his and others’ disappointment at the council not choosing a more central location for a community center. Lynch said he was particularly upset when Perske wrote a letter to editor to the Sartell Newsleader suggesting a conflict of interest concerning the center-site vote.
Lynch, along with council member Steve Hennes and Mayor Sarah Jane Nicoll, voted for a southern site for the center at a meeting Aug. 10. Braig-Lindstrom and member David Peterson voted against it.
At the Sept. 14 meeting, Lynch said the situation was getting “ridiculous” because people, including Perske, should have understood his (Lynch’s) business, Granite Logistics, is a North American transportation brokerage firm with virtually no walk-in customers. Therefore there is no way he or his company would benefit directly by people coming to a community center near his business.
Braig-Lindstrom, visibly upset, said she is tired of being accused of being “difficult” on the council, tired of being treated as if she is ill-intentioned with ulterior motives. She said at times she has felt bullied by some council members and by city staff, specifically Mary Degiovanni, city administrator.
“I’m not feeding the rumor mill,” Braig-Lindstrom said. “I’m trying to stop the rumor mill . . . “, adding she wanted the conflict-of-interest issue to be a matter of public record so it would go away and council business could move forward. All she was doing, she said, was asking questions posed by her constituents, that she was just doing her job as their elected council member.
Nicoll then told Braig-Lindstrom if she accuses the council or city staff of bullying, they all deserve an explanation or examples of what the bullying behavior constituted.
“It is my personal feeling,” Braig-Lindstrom said. “That’s how I feel.”
She then said she has a series of emails from staff or council members that made her feel bullied. She also mentioned when the farmers’ market wanted a sign by city hall, the council refused that request and Braig-Lindstrom said she felt compelled to defend herself against conflict-of-interest aspersions when in fact she helped organize the market but never profited a dime from it. Braig-Lindstrom said she also felt intimidated when she would try to get items for discussion placed on city-council agendas. Finally, Braig-Lindstrom told the council she would compile a list of reasons, including a compilation of past emails, to show why she felt bullied.
Peterson suggested the issues Braig-Lindstrom raised should perhaps come before the personnel committee or be discussed at a closed or open meeting in the near future. Later in the meeting (see related story), Peterson also suggested the council should perhaps consider hiring an independent counsel to examine whether anything was done inappropriately during the decision-making about the community-center site. Lynch then took issue with Peterson of accusing him or other council members of doing something inappropriate, at which Peterson fired back, “I didn’t say there was something inappropriate,” adding an independent outsider could determine objectively if nothing inappropriate was done, allowing the council to move forward with all doubts dispelled.
Earlier in the meeting, at the beginning of a discussion about the community center and a library, Steve Hennes said he is tired of overt or veiled threats from people and of people accusing him of “losing his mind,” just because he was one of the three who voted for a south site for the community center.
“Let’s put conspiracy theories to rest once and for all in this community,” Hennes said. “Let’s build a community center that will be one of the best in Minnesota . . . We had a vote; we’re moving forward.”