Transparency questionable in recent council decisions

Janelle Von PinnonEditorial, Opinion, Print Editions, Print St. Joseph0 Comments

Let us be perfectly clear.

In no way is this meant to tarnish what we’re sure is an impeccable reputation nor is this meant to cast aspersion regarding the capabilities of Dwight Pfannenstein as St. Joseph police chief.

That being said, we do seriously question the motives behind two recent decisions by the St. Joseph City Council.

Newly christened council member Anne Buckvold was correct in challenging a recent city council discussion and ultimate vote that resulted in a 3-2 split about whether or not to open the candidacy of police chief to a wider pool of applicants. Her argument to open the position was valid for multiple reasons as follows:

• After a two-month paid administrative leave of former Police Chief Joel Klein during an internal investigation regarding allegations that the public will never know whether or not were valid, the council then selected a police chief from within its ranks, which seems to verge on nepotism and “the good ol’ boy” syndrome.

• Klein chose to resign when the accusations surfaced. However, a ludicrous state law bases transparency of appointed officials on a city’s population size rather than finding out the truth. Thus, because St. Joseph is a smaller city, population-wise, city officials are not required to divulge to those they serve the specifics of the complaints (in this case, against Klein). That shadowy murkiness is reason enough to open up the field of candidates because city residents have no idea what happened or what did not happen regarding Klein. Opening up the field to multiple candidates would perhaps dispel some of that non-transparent murkiness.

• Those opposed countered if the pool was widened, most likely the internal candidate would be chosen anyway after an exhaustive search, which would be costly both in time and money. This was based on previous experience, it was reported, though whose past experience is open for discussion.

• And ultimately, the other argument for hiring from within was based on the fact Pfannenstein was runner-up to Klein when Klein was first offered the position in early 2013. Five years is a long stretch of time to dismiss the possibility that there may be other worthwhile candidates seeking this important job.

Too bad Buckvold backed down and chose to vote against her own gut instincts. All we can say is “You go, girl!” to Buckvold; please stick to your guns when you know the status quo should be questioned and the council needs to do the right thing.

The other decision, which is minor in comparison yet is subject to interpretation, is the fact the city council recently chose the St. Cloud Times as its legal newspaper after supporting its hometown newspaper, the St. Joseph Newsleader, as its legal newspaper for more than 25 years. While some may call this sour grapes on our part, the fact remains, the Newsleader reaches 100 percent of the council’s constituency while the Times reaches less than 17 percent of St. Joseph residents.

The argument by city staff/council here is that the recent business decision by Publisher Janelle Von Pinnon to print the Newsleaders every other week, which is still within the confines of the law according to Minnesota Newspaper Association attorney Mark Anfinson, is causing havoc with timing for certain legals pertaining to building schedules and deadlines. To that we say “rubbish” because the City of St. Joseph may always use the Times as a back-up secondary legal publication in circumstances where timeliness is an issue with the Newsleaders. Thus, this feels more like a political move rather than a judicious one.

Though the deed has been done regarding the selection process of police chief, we do hope the council reconsiders the latter decision as it would be in their best interests to do so, so as not to cast any further aspersions on their transparency or lack thereof.

Author: Janelle Von Pinnon

Von Pinnon has been publishing the St. Joseph Newsleader since 1989, the Sartell-St. Stephen Newsleader since 1995 and the Sauk Rapids-Rice Newsleader since 2015. She graduated from Minnesota State University-Moorhead with degrees in mass communications (with an emphasis on print journalism) and biology. She lives in southeast St. Cloud with her husband and two children.

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