Appointments to Boards and Commissions: conflict, consternation, confusion

Lee Lansing Scott Davis

Mayor Lee Lansing and Ward 2 Councilor Scott Davis tangled at last week’s City Council meeting. (Photos are actually from the previous council mtg.) Nfld News reporter Suzy Rook’s article: Council butts heads about nomination process:

What should have been a routine approval of city board and commission nominees got heated Monday as Councilor Scott Davis demanded answers from a mayor who tried to cut off the discussion. Ultimately, appointments to four city boards and commissions were delayed. Try as he might, Davis couldn’t get Mayor Lee Lansing to acknowledge that he had provided a rationale for each appointment.

After being repeatedly pressed by the councilor, Lansing tried to halt the discussion, but Davis pushed for more debate. “We’re moving on,” retorted Lansing. “I’m the chair.”

It’s not clear from the article where the other councilors stood on this issue. And was there a motion to cut off debate which was voted on?  The agenda item was part of the regular council agenda, not the work session so weren’t Robert’s Rules of Order available for Scott to use to prevent Lee from stopping debate?

Adding to the intrigue is Victor Summa’s appointment to both the EDA and the Charter Commission. Victor’s been a vocal supporter of Lee in many battles between the mayor and the council the past year. In the Jan. 29 Nfld News article: Davis asks for reform on appointment to city boards:

Davis said the last appointment Lansing made came as a surprise to the council. The appointee’s name, Victor Summa, was given to the council only after its meeting began and before the board he was to serve on – the Economic Development Authority – had a chance to consider potential candidates.

Summa (along with William Beck, Betsey Buckheit) was also appointed to the Charter Commission by Rice County Judge Bill Johnson. I don’t understand how these names got to the judge, whether the mayor or the council were involved, whether the Charter Commission made recomendations. In the Dec. 17 Charter Commission minutes, Chair Alex Beeby is referenced:

Beeby stated that there are at least two openings on the Charter Commission. If the mayor does not make appointments within 30 days, the judge can appoint replacements. He noted that applications can go directly to the judge. He noted that he will serve on the commission until he is replaced.

More background:

Related background on the allocation of money to each board/commission:

10 thoughts on “Appointments to Boards and Commissions: conflict, consternation, confusion”

  1. Let’s compare two options:
    Option 1. Each fall, the mayor asks all the councilors and all the members of the boards and commissions to solicit applications from people they think would be good additions to each group in January. (Let’s face it, there aren’t hundreds of people standing in line for these unpaid jobs.)
    The mayor, maybe with the help of a council nominating committee, creates a master list of all the nominations and circulates it publicly, getting feedback and gauging the support or opposition for each person. The mayor does a little mediating, a little bargaining, and comes up with a list of appointments the council can support. He builds coalitions, creates a sense of teamwork and collaboration and ends up with a list of good appointments — and a list of people who weren’t appointed but feel good enough about the process that they will agree to be available should openings come up during the year.
    Option 2. The mayor follows the letter of the law, appoints his friends without explanation, feedback or notice. He alienates his commissions and boards and the council. Technically, he has done nothing wrong.
    Option 1. is a leader, Option 2 is just a mayor.
    Sadly you can’t legislate leadership. Perhaps the council should give up trying for now and focus on working with the boards and commissions to recruit a strong and diverse list of candidates for next January — and a leader to appoint them.

  2. It’s about time that Northfield recognized the wealth of knowledge, vision and wisdom in Victor Summa… and it’s a shame his appointments end up in the middle of this. grrrrrrrrrrr…

    Speaking of conflict, consternation and confusion, have you seen the STrib article “Metro cities taking hard look at security measures” this morning? There’s a quote in there from League of MN Cities attorney (NOT Tom Grundhoefer, though he’s quoted further down, and hey, a Northfield connection could help straighten this out right fast!), where the League’s Rachel Carlson actually says: “Free speech rights do not justify harassing, threatening, abusive or noisy conduct,” The first three, no question, and duh, cities have the means to quash this illegal behavior, but the fourth, eeeeeuw, even in Norwegian Northfield, the public has the constitutional right to be noisy! Speaking out, being heard, it’s about the most fundamental constitutional right, and it’s our obligation as humans on the planet. And sometimes it must be LOUD! (and yes, I am Norwegian)

    Anne, yes, it seems there were tools available to do it differently, but maybe Davis isn’t up on procedure? Appointments have been contentious before, though, and it’s not always been cooperative or concensus driven.

    And generally, I think it’s way over due to just set up a ring and stage “Ultimate Fighting at City Hall,” sell tickets and broadcast rights to fund all those worthwhile projects needing dough.

    … ahem… that quote got my hypotension up a few notches… whew… all better…

  3. Griff: With regard to this recent post, I feel there is inaccuracy, as well as innuendo.

    First, Victor was appointed to the EDA last fall when Mark Moors resigned. This was some time before the usual end-of-the-year turnover. His application was on file, of long standing, and currently updated. It is inaccurate, and misleading to connect this to the current controversy.

    Next, in the Jan 30th NFNews article, Scott davis DID connect Victor with Scott’s controversy with the Mayor about appointments, but obviously rethought that, since two days later Scott wrote a long explanation/apology on the paper’s website, explaining that he did not mean to make a case of Victor’s fall appointment. In reality, what happened at the concurrent council meeting was that Davis and Pokorney entered a mild challenge, but backed off before the discussion got too hot. My point, Davis was disturbed with the Mayor, and used Victor’s appointment to try to get to Lansing .

    Further, I do not believe the current “flap” between the Mayor and Councilor Davis can be clearly understood without having been there, or watched the tape. The NFNews report was not, IMHO, a well rounded perspective. There was no issue of Robt’s Rules procedure; the Mayor acted fully within the Charter proscribed process, both in content and form. C. Davis cannot expect, because he puts in the packet, a list of four things he wants the Mayor to do, that the Mayor is going to do them if they are, and they were, outside the accepted, stated process of selection. C. Davis held up the meeting for 15-20 minutes, repeatedly asking the same question, which fell outside the proscribed selection process. The Mayor finally chose to move on.

    Lastly, Mr. Davis was challenged at the open mic as to the validity of his argument with respect to his goals of “transparency” and “input”, and acquiesced that the challenge was factually accurate. This is a summary of the “facts” surrounding the EDA nominations: at the end of the year there were multiple ads for the boards and commissions; the EDA chose to advertise on their own, while the generic City Hall ad ran as well. This convoluted the deadline dates, so the EDA had two separate notices in the paper, with two different deadlines. There were several applications submitted by citizens. The executive committee of the EDA, Estenson, Davis, and Smith, I believe, met by themselves and put forth two names to the Mayor, with evidently a preferred choice of those two noted. This committee did NOT discuss with the entire EDA, or even show the entire EDA their selection, thereby obscuring any notion of “transparency” or “input” from the whole commission. So much for C. Davis’s specious thesis.

    When challenged on this process, and admitting to it, C. Davis excused the process as being the result of a “time issue”.

    Additionally, Victor challenged the process at an EDA meeting, pointing out that for any board to formally (publicly) recommend names presumes they have talked with their preferred candidates, possibly made some promises, and now the Mayor is in a potentially embarrassing position; i.e. rejecting the candidate, arguing over it at a council meeting, and if you follow Davis’s wish, having to explain his choice… why one candidate didn’t meet his standard and another one did. Obviously, as it now stands, the choice is the Mayor’s privilege; to reject the nomination publicly is the council’s voting right.

    My conclusion: when dealing with issues that imply there is “intrigue”…i.e. some sort of irregularity or behind doors manipulation… one should be sure of where the intrigue lies.

  4. Glad to have you chiming in, Kiffi. I found Scott Davis’ comment to the Jan. 29 Nfld News story… it’s on page 2 of the comments.

    Scott wrote:

    A point of clarification: My suggestion of greater transparency in board and commission appointments is not about Victor Summa being on the EDA board. It’s about the process, not the person. The issue I raised is regarding the city council being asked to rubber stamp board and commission appointments. The article specifically points out the last EDA appointment and the fact that the EDA was not given a chance to weigh in on it’s choice for the open seat. It could have been Mother Theresa and there still would have been an issue. So I apologize to Victor if the article looked like a slam against him personally. It was not intended to.

  5. In the Feb. 12 Nfld News editorial, City Council should look hard at boards, Managing Editor Jaci Smith (or was it Publisher Sam Gett? One never knows with that outdated newspaper tradition of unsigned editorials), wrote:

    For example, the arts community gathered in early November to discuss forming a community-wide collaborative. Once that collaborative is up and running, the city’s arts and culture commission, which hosted the November gathering, is going to be redundant.

    The community spent two years discussing (ArtsPlan06) how better to support the creative economy. They agreed on the Arts Commission. I’m not convinced it makes sense to axe the Arts Commission after only two months of life, esp. since they’re a public policy group serving the Council and the collaborative would be an action-oriented group serving its members. See the Nov. 2 Nfld News article New arts council suggests art fans team up.

    And how many other groups/nonprofits/boards have missions that seem alike? For example, we have the youth council, the Union of Youth – who run the Key – and the YMCA whose mission is, in part, to represent youth in the community.

    The Union of Youth and the Northfield YMCA are private entities, not part of local government. And their missions are very distinct from the Mayor’s Youth Council

  6. The Nfld News printed a correction in yesterday’s print edition (nothing online yet):

    “The editorial in the Feb. 13 edition of the News had incorrect information in it. The arts and culture commission and the arts collaborative have separate and distinct missions. It is not certain that either would be redundant once the arts collaborative is up and running.”

    I’d like to take credit for this but evidently someone got to them ahead of me. I posted my comments above after the paper hit the streets yesterday morning.  

  7. More conflict, consternation, confusion over appointments at Monday’s Council meeting. In today’s Nfld News: Board appointments finalized for 2008.

    “It’s not about the charter,” said Councilor Jim Pokorney, “it’s not about what citizens think. It’s about our interactions with the mayor. It’s about cooperative styles. You’ve just stonewalled.” Lansing had done more than stonewall, Councilor Noah Cashman said: he had taken the original file of information from City Hall, a charge Lansing initially denied. Visibly upset, City Administrator Al Roder said Lansing insisted on taking that file and not a copy. “Originals belong in City Hall,” Roder said.

  8. Once again, there is no turmoil among the councilors, there is only frustration with the continued stonewalling of one individual. The administrator’s review, the board appointments, the investigations, the letter from the vast array of former mayors and councilors, the court cases, the liquor store…the thread through all of this is that the mayor has taken positions that isolate him, obstruct the process, cost the city money and produce no positive results. A handful of supporters have cried wolf over and over, saying the mayor would be vindicated by the next investigation, the next lawsuit. Yet when the reports fail to find in their favor, the supporters criticize the very processes they demanded.
    I suppose it is possible for everyone — the professionals, the courts, the local and Twin Cities media, state government officials, prosecutors, his business colleagues — to be part of a vast conspiracy against the mayor. But what would be the purpose? That kind of conspiracy would take a level of cooperation and competence that so far has been channeled into the continuing effort to keep the mayor from doing any more damage.
    It is sad, especially when you read about the toll the mayor and his friends have taken on people who are just trying to do their jobs and move the city forward.
    Just a little more than three months left until filings open for mayor and council. Who will stand up to the challenge and help end this?

  9. In today’s Nfld News: Appointments to boards are made.

    Months of wrangling came to an end Monday as the council approved board appointments over which it has long battled.

    Councilors, on at least three occasions, had denied the appointment of former state Sen. Steve Engler of Randolph to the Economic Development Authority, but approved his nomination 5-2 Monday. Councilors Scott Davis and Jon Denison dissented.

    The council also OK’d five appointments — Andrew Berglund, David Geist, Don McGee, Kenneth Malecha and Bill Simonet Jr. — to the new Rental Code Board of Appeal 5-1. Davis voted no. Denison abstained due to a legal issue with one nominee.

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