Prayer group meets at City Hall

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Judy Dirks (left) read a statement at the open-mic portion of the Northfield City Council meeting tonight, criticizing City Administrator Al Roder and members of the Council for allowing a group of citizens to meet in Roder’s office during council meetings to pray. (Dirks identified herself as chair of city’s Human Rights Commission (HRC) but stated that she was not speaking in that role but just as a citizen.)

I took a photo of Judy’s statement (center, click to enlarge) and then briefly chatted with her outside the meeting. She said the prayer group had approached the HRC last fall to inform them about their efforts to get Northfield area businesses to allow employees to meet for prayer during the workday. (When I returned home, I found the minutes of that HRC meeting, and the minutes identify the group as the Northfield Transformation Team, described as “… an association of Christians in Northfield consisting of four churches plus a home church and individuals who belong to various other churches.” The Rejoice website has a Transformation Northfield page on it.)

After chatting with Judy, I went looking for the group in Roder’s office on 1st floor. It was open so I went in and but they weren’t there. I returned to the council meeting and asked Northfield News reporter Suzy Rook if she knew where they were and she said that Roder moved them. I went looking again and found them in a conference room on the second floor. Helen Medin (center in photo on the right) was there with two other women (apologies, I didn’t get their names), each with a Bible.

I asked them if they were part of any organized group or church and they said they weren’t, just a group of Christians from different churches who engaged in various prayer activities in the area, and that this effort was aimed at prayer for our local government leaders, especially during council meeting times. They didn’t seem to have a public awareness agenda to this particular activity, hence the praying in private vs. say, in the hallway outside council chambers. Why not pray for our leaders at their own homes or churches or a coffeehouse? They do, but they seemed to think proximity was important, though they didin’t express it that way and I don’t recall the exact wording of their rationale.

I asked several times whether they would pray for an outcome on a particular council agenda item and they said no. Their prayers are more along the lines of asking that our leaders open their hearts and minds to God’s wisdom and that our leaders seek strength from God to do the right thing… again, those are my words, but I think that’s pretty close. Helen read me a passage from the Old Testament that referenced leaders and seemed to support this type of praying.

I pointed out that it could easily happen that someone show up at their prayer who DID have a council agenda outcome in mind that they wanted to pray for, and that having unsupervised access to the city administrator’s office could be seen as an unfair advantage over those who might be opposed to that outcome. They seemed to agree that, although unlikely, that could happen and that it was fine with them to just meet in a conference room.

So unless there’s more I don’t know about, it seems like a judgment error for Roder to let them meet in his office for prayers, especially unsupervised. But I don’t see a problem with them meeting in a public conference room at city hall, as their activity doesn’t seem to meet the ‘attributed to government’ smell test that Judy cited in her statement. It doesn’t seem any different than a group who might meet on Bridge Square to pray for peace. Or am I missing something?

I told the three women that I would be blogging about this and invited them to comment. I’ve invited Judy, too. It’s not clear to me whether she had already approached Roder with her concerns about this, or if this was her first attempt to draw attention to the issue.

Aug. 7, 12:10 PM update: I asked for Judy to email the text of her presentation and she just did. I’ve put it here in the extended entry.

Aug. 8, 12:30 AM update: I captured 5 minutes of audio from the NTV rebroadcast of the end of last night’s City Council meeting where City Administrator Al Roder addresses the Council about Judy Dirks’ remarks.


Click play to listen. Mayor Lansing’s voice is heard initially for a few seconds, then Roder. At the 2:40 mark, Councilor Noah Cashman begins his critical remarks of Dirks, with Scott Davis voicing support for Cashman’s comments right at the very end.

My name is Judith Dirks. I live at 715 Highland Avenue. Although I Chair the Northfield Human Rights Commission, I am not here in that capacity this evening; I am here to speak solely as a resident of Northfield about a matter that concerns me.

Over the past few months I have become aware of a prayer group that meets in City Administrator Al Roder’s office during many of the City Council meetings. I have been told that they are there to pray for Northfield during the Council meetings. A Councilman confirmed this to me. I personally have observed members of this prayer group going into Mr. Roder’s office, staying approximately 1½ hours, or sometimes longer, then coming out and leaving the building.

It deeply disturbs me that people who are not employed by the City are in Mr. Roder’s office while he is not present. They have unsupervised access to anything in his office including files, his computer, papers on his desk … and so forth.

What is currently happening in Mr. Roder’s office appears to me to be an opportunity of access, and an opportunity not afforded other members of this community. It concerns me that a specific religious group may be exerting undue influence on a city official to their benefit.

It also deeply disturbs me that this it not public knowledge for all of the residents of Northfield.

It appears that this is deliberately being kept a secret and I wonder why? I have discussed this with several Northfield residents. Virtually everyone has expressed concern about “separation of church and state” as law in the U.S. Constitution. They are as concerned as I am that this is happening in a City government building and office. In researching this issue, I found a law review article from the Florida State University Law School that is also in a Minnesota Law Review. It states in part (and I quote) “For almost forty years the Supreme Court has limited the extent to which religious expression can take place on public property or in other circumstances in which the religious expression may be attributed to the government.” I have a copy of this document, which I will leave with Attorney Swanson.

Are you Council members all aware that this practice is taking place here, and do you feel the public has a right to know that this practice is taking place during Council meetings? As individuals who are elected to represent all citizens of this community, your willingness to allow favored status to a select group of individuals conflicts with the oath you took upon accepting your elected position to this Council.

By far the most distressing, however, is the covert manner in which this activity takes place in City Administrator Roder’s office while he is not there. I don’t care if this has been just a couple of times or dozens of times, it is not appropriate. I would ask that the practice stop until a review of this practice can be held and a public discussion conducted. I am glad if people want to pray for Northfield’s City Council, just do it in homes or churches, not in our City Administrator’s office, and especially when he is not present.

306 thoughts on “Prayer group meets at City Hall”

  1. Might it be that no other group has been denied access because no other group has PRESUMED that it might be APPROPRIATE to ask for a room in city hall in which to pray?

    There are some societal rules which don’t need a specific policy to govern each action because we understand the framework of our society.

    Can’t we give this poor “horse”, at least, a break …….and agree that there will be no basic agreement here on the underlying issues.? Some people think their beliefs have a right to “transform” others; some people believe in choice.

  2. John #250: I understood Ross’s reference to an “exotic cult” (#226) to be a reference to the Chamber of Commerce getting “unequal access” to City staff, and not to Transformation Northfield. It was good-natured humor bred of our familarity.

    The room policy is necessary to clarify the “access” issue. In addition, Transformation Northfield has now made open mike an issue. Griff’s point is well-taken. Do we really want Griff to be singing at the City Council meetings?

    It might not be worthy of another post but maybe until things settle down a little bit, open mike should be abandoned or put at the end of the meeting. (Summas might be the only ones with enough tenacity to stay to the end; so open mike might be real short, er…uhm… shorter.)

  3. Kiffi, so what you’re saying is, “We agree to disagree; we’re right and you’re wrong.” And then you summarize the differences in a way that lays down a new challenge.
    Perhaps we can just agree to disagree, respect the views of all…..and let it go at that.

  4. David- Thanks for the clarification to the “exotic cult”. Thats the problem with inside jokes. You have to be inside to get them. I know I am guilty of using that venue too often. My kids used to tell me ( and still do, for that matter) that most people don’t know what I’m talking about when I go there. I guess being a “Chamber” could infer some type of secret inner location.

    Amen to the room use and open mike policy!

    As far as Griff singing at the mike, I would opine that his singing may be better than some of the things we were subjected to at the last council meeting, but I would trust your judgement on that.

    Kiffe- That thought on presumption is excellent and well taken. I guess that anyone who would take a position to change the status quo is opening themselves up to suspicion and criticism. Being in the public service as long as you folks have, I’m sure you have a collection of experiences to demonstrate that.

    As far as a basic agreement between people, you are 100% correct. I would hope that there is room for all positions to express themselves without fear of recrimination. Time is a very good test of ideas.

  5. Anne as Brendon often says, you are interpreting what I said; I think he actually says “over conceptualizing”…………..

  6. Kiffi, you’re smart, principled…and you have a sense of humor.
    You’re telling me I have a right to my own opinion even while you are deciding how I must contextualize your comments in order to make that opinion.
    I will go back to agreeing to disagree and respecting all points of view. And of course, you will need to have the last word…so have at it, with my utmost respect.

  7. We have reached quite a few agreements, and I hope that City Hall is still paying attention:

    1. City Hall offices should not be used by anyone not on staff unsupervised.
    2. If someone wants to use City Hall space, availability should exist for everyone.
    3. If groups or individuals have political agendas, they should make those agendas known.
    4. If someone has a concern with an issue at City Hall, he or she should be encouraged try to approach City staff to make the concern known so that it can be addressed without a public display.
    5. Personal religious beliefs have no place in establishing public policy.
    6. Public policy should not try to control personal religious beliefs.

    Lastly, I think that we all agree that a couple of “I’m sorry”‘s, “I made a mistake”, “I wasn’t thinking clearly”, and “I wish I had done it differently” would go a long way to helping us live with our inevitable differences of opinions.

  8. Thanks, David, for steering this back to the issue. Nice summary. We all do agree on so much, might be good to stay focused on that.

  9. This is why, IMHO, it is sometimes necessary to ” have the last word”……………

    If WE had not, we’d all be English!

  10. I Am part English and nobody’s last word is going to change that.

    If I put myslef in Al Roder’s place, and a group came to me, whom I believed was trustworthy, I would give them access to my office because I do not want to deny them access, I trust them, and there is no policy or law stating otherwise.

    What does AR have to apologize for? The open access has been there, prolly long before Al came on board.

    Now, in a reactive state, people are suddenly concerned. Where was everyone when the actual policy should have been laid forth?

    Unless there was an actual breach of policy or law, I don’t require
    any apologies or admittance of possible perceived wrongdoing from anybody.

    Bright

  11. David L, I agree with Anne — I think you nailed it nicely in #258:

    We have reached quite a few agreements, and I hope that City Hall is still paying attention…

    Maybe someone here should carry that to the next open mic!

    As for this:

    Do we really want Griff to be singing at the City Council meetings?

    Sister Mary Francis, my 8th-grade teacher, would’ve answered that vociferously in the negative. She made a point one time of gently asking a row of us boys to not sing quite so loudly at Mass… something about being a little more meek and mild.

  12. Griff- Hopefully, your voice has matured some since you were in the 8th. grade. I once heard a teacher express this sentiment, “All kids leaving the 6th. grade should be locked up for a couple years until they get over it.” I still say your singing might be better than some of the things we were subjected to at the last council meeting. I also heard someone opine once that when a kid’s arm pits and breath start smelling, you know you are in for trouble. It could possibly be argued that some people never outgrow this stage.

    Bright- Thank you for your post #262. I wholeheartedly agree.

  13. O.K. All you guys who have been saying forever that we need to have a policy for the use of city hall property………..I’ve been waiting for you to discover that we do have guidance on these issues, as we do on most, and that those guidelines are in the city code.

    It seems that some staff at city hall are not too familiar with that doc, either, or Anne would have gotten some references in her Phone calls to city hall.

    Please read: Northfield City Code: Sec.2-126 (b) Use of public property
    and Sec.2-126 (c) Obligations to resident

    I fully expect you will argue as to the interpretation of the Code Have at it……………

  14. Thank you, Kiffi. How thoughtful of you to do the research on this. Since you’ve found the information and it appears even City Hall folks didn’t realize it was there, perhaps you could link, quote or at least summarize the information, especially since you feel it is important. I’m sure your many friends here would appreciate that gesture. Or perhaps you can ask Griff to add the info.

  15. Thx, Kiffi. Here’s the code from this page:

    Sec. 2-126. Fair and equal treatment.

    (b) Use of public property. No public official shall request or permit the use of city-owned vehicles, equipment, materials, or property for personal convenience or profit, except when such services are available to the public generally or are provided as municipal policy or by employment contract for the use of such public official.

    (c) Obligations to resident. No public official shall grant any special consideration, treatment, or advantage to any resident beyond that which is available to every resident.

  16. As for open mic, here’s what I found in the Code for the City Charter:

    Section 4.3. Rules of Procedure and Quorum.

    The council shall determine its own rules and order of business. A majority of all council members shall constitute a quorum to do business, but a smaller number may adjourn from one meeting to the next. The council may by ordinance provide a means by which a minority may compel the attendance of absent members.
    (Ord. No. 739, § 4.3, 11-6-2000)

    Section 4.4. Hearing of the Public.

    At each regular meeting of the council a time shall be set aside for the hearing of citizens.
    (Ord. No. 545, § 4.4, 1-2-1990; Ord. No. 739, § 4.4, 11-6-2000)

  17. Hey, Kiffi! First of all, I am about to realize I cannot believe anything I read or hear around here or anywhere for that matter.
    Second of all, I think you are right. I could leave it there, but
    I will say what I think you are right about…you could argue this one from here to Bemidji…especially that bit about “personal convenience” as it applies to the three prayer ladies. I guess I’d be on the side of it being sort of inconvenient for them.

    Bright

  18. Thanks again for the fast work. It seems the City Hall folks weren’t so far off the mark, since this doesn’t really clarify which spaces are open to public use and what constitutes public use, etc. Guess the policies still needs to be reviewed, clarified, and posted where all can see.
    But good news Griff, looks like your open mic concert is on! Hey, perhaps a karaoke night is just the incentive the council needs to get both policies resolved and restore some harmony!

  19. Bright- Here is some legal precedent-

    “Despite clear admonitions from the Supreme Court, some school districts, municipal governments, and courts continue to adopt facilities use policies that allow broad access by the community and yet singularly exclude “religious uses.” Almost invariably, such policies are also justified by the mistaken notion that permitting such uses would violate the Establishment Clause. In actuality, this practice proceeds from the fundamentally flawed premise that the government can define the boundaries of a limited public forum along expressly religious lines. This premise cannot be reconciled with basic principles of Free Speech.”

    This is a summary of Supreme Court decision 121 S. Ct. 2093.

    Griff- You started this blog 08/06. Today is 08/26. So it has taken us 20 days to dig this policy out? Hmmmmmm. Must be some indication of its importance. After reading this, I still do see justification for most of the accusations that have been expressed on this site. I think Bright expressed it well in her post (Blast it! I forgot to write doen the number! I liked to have never fournd it as it is!) “So then, how do you get conclusive evidence of something not done if it was in fact, not done?”

  20. John, as I understand it, the issue isn’t that people want religious uses banned from City Hall (though some may) but that they had the feeling that one religious group was getting favored treatment, which would not be OK.
    Again, it seems that a better room use policy will handle it. As for the open mic, it does seem appropriate to limit comments to items that are within the jurisdiction of the council. That means anything from talks on global warming to Griff’s singing debut, could be eliminated. Prayer wouldn’t be banned because it’s an expression of religion, but because it isn’t something requiring council discussion or action or acknowledgment.
    Happily the council moves slowly enough that Griff may have time for a concert before the rules change.

  21. Wouldn’t you know it – written proof of wrong doing and Anne says it’s inconclusive – Now comes John George, with another expected remark…

    “Griff: it has taken us 20 days to dig this policy out? Hmmmmmm. Must be some indication of its importance. “

    Actually JG it didn’t take 20 days – but some of us wanted to see if perchance the great digger might “dig” it up and if so, would he ackowledge its existance. Now that the diggings’ done you call it unimportant. Sort of what we thought… you took the low road. Must be a bible verse covering that – I’ll ask round.

    As to Anne’s misguided comments…

    She said: “seems the City Hall folks weren’t so far off the mark, since this doesn’t really clarify which spaces are open to public use and what constitutes public use, etc. Guess the policies still needs to be reviewed, clarified, and posted where all can see.

    I’m sure miss anne would be happy to wordsmith any text on this subject being offered by legal counsul for incorporation into the city’s code.

    Anne, your confused read of the code, or determination to be right – are what seem far off the mark. The code doesn’t deal with WHO may use public spaces [but, I’ll deal with that later] What it does, is state in clear terms, guidelines for staff’s NOT using public property inappropriately. That’sall!

    Of the recent flap… not too egregious an act on its surface… had it not been for the futile attempt at coverup. Why so deceptive? Is there a back story here? Only the most naive would conclude that Al never thought it might be questionable. C’mon! Any bets on if he asked, if he been denied?

    City Code: Sec. 2-126 (b) Use of public property deals with the prohibitions of using public property for personal use by any member of the staff, NOT… what public property is covered or what offices might be fair game for campers or squatters or friends of certain staff persons.

    As to Public Space… and its USE by citizens for any purpose other than a casual walk down the hall to conduct business with the city… there’s no need for a policy voted on by the City Council.

    Civil conduct dictates a visitor’s actions on pubic or private property.

    In fact, demonstrations are allowed in the state capital ‘s rotunda – on the capital steps, or on the capital grounds, when there are no KEEP OFF THE GRASS signs posted… and these rules do not require more than defacto policy.

    I contend what’s good enough for the State Capital building is good enough for our city hall.

    Anne Bretts and John George and others who have been crying for policy are either missing the point… or, are using this device to deflect any discussion that the City Administrator operated outside appropriate boundaries.

    As to the violation of those boundaries of official conduct… to me, these include:

    1) Privately and secretly allowing members of his church or an associate church group use of his office.

    2) Failure to inform the Council of the prayers presence for some nine months … saying, there was no concern voiced [sic] it must be no problem…

    3) Proclaimed the issue to be resolved… when in reality his so called resolution [moving the prayer group to another location] occurred just mere minutes before Ms Dirks went to the open Mic.

    4) Attempts to turn the focus of Dirks’ remarks back on her and contending a serious failure of the Boards and Commissions process a blood red herring.

    For my money, the Boards and Commissions are representatives of the citizens… advising the Council… delving more deeply into many issues than the Council might be able to devote time to. Additionally, Boards and Commissions are served by the staff, who’s principle role with them is more that of provider of background information than guiding hands… certainly not publicly accusing them of improper conduct. If anyone is positioned to make such a charge, it would be the Mayor and or some concerned Council member… but hopefully only after there was strong evidence of such improper conduct.

    I’m disappointed in Mr. Roder’s handling of this situation, and this blog’s repeated use of the “no policy” defense. Mr. Roder’s religious affiliation is of no concern to me nor should it be of anyone’s, providing he keeps his official status separate from any religious observance. I’m particular dissatisfied with the unsettling disturbance of these and other ongoing rifts in the governing process especially when there is so much heavy lifting necessary right now in City Hall.

    One might ask, will the Budget be addressed legally, on time as required by statute? The rebuilding of east Woodley has chewed up three meetings and may only be decided later this week (week of Aug. 26) at a special meeting. Citizens are still crying “foul” over the Rental Ordinance, which may come back for further explanation and another Public Hearing. There’s the embattled Chief of Police v the City Administrator – Council v the Mayor on Liquor Store issues… Points of Order improperly invoked… confidential materials leaked to the Newspaper… leaked confidential materials received by the Newspaper… Accusations by one Council Person to another inferring that some don’t read the packet. Attempts at forced feeding by staff of library expansion plans to the Planning Commission for inclusion in the Comprehensive Plan, and on this thread, for some weeks now there’s been too much diversion of effort because of the issue of Church and state violations… and this after Tracy commented on August 7… in comment #2

    “Hmmm….. I don’t see any problem here, or any church/state issues, unless the City Administrator allows this group to meet for prayer, but not Buddhists or Muslims or what have you.”

    I wonder, 270 or so comments later, if Tracy no longer sees an issue?

    Judy Dirks had no need to “tip off “ the City Administrator of her dissatisfaction or her intent to voice it. There seemed to be no attempt by him to maintain an arm’s length” approach to his special interests

    And, it doesn’t appear that such an arms length approach is what the Elk River parent church espouses… nor the Transform Northfield – or Rejoice Northfield – both of which seem to me to be entangled in this unseemly involvement with our City government.

    There’s no “missing policy“ issue here. There’s only misleading rhetoric from 2 or 3 die hard protectors of this willful church group.

    Take heart, we did manage to purchase a new toro lawnmower with not too much controversy.

  22. Opps! Slipped up again – I comment so infrequently that I often forget to change the name – I’m sure you can tell from the tone of this latest comment, #273, that it’s mine not kiffi’s

    victor

  23. The spool stands tall and empty.

    The tangled skein lies on the ground between us; you on one side, we on the other.

    Pull on any loop and the knots get tighter.

    It will not resolve…………….

    “Chart Na”

  24. Ah, but therein lies the challenge. Standing on opposite sides and pulling against each other does tighten the knots. Only when both sides agree to loosen their grip and work together thoughtfully can the knots be undone.
    You might also say a bridge only works if it reaches both sides. And a jumprope needs both ends held if a friend is to be able to jump in the middle. Some see this thread as boxing match, with the goal to bloody each other until one falls over in surrender. I prefer to see it as a friendly game of catch, with room for everyone to join in and have a little fun.

  25. After reading Victor’s post #273, I began to wonder again if there isn’t something else behind all of this. In Chicago, we all know the story of another Al, who was convicted of tax evasion, mostly because he couldn’t be caught for any of his crimes.

    Just wondering, because all I know is what I have read here.

    Bright

  26. Kiffe- Re. my comment about the use policy, I’m sorry I did not make my thought clear. It was a litle sarcasm directed at city officials for appearing to not know about it, per Anne’s research. I’m sorry I tried to make a point by going through the back door. It evidently failed. I think the policy IS important. The other thing I would ask you, Kiffe, is, if you knew about this all along, why did you not share it in an earlier post? Is there another “secret agenda” going on here?

    I also think the policy is clear. What I don’t think is clear is the accusation that there was a violation of the policy. This quote from the policy, “… (use of) for personal convenience or profit, except when such services are available to the public generally…” makes that clear. It would appear that the intent of this policy is to allow use of city property as long as there is not denial of use to any specific group. I have asked for evidence of a violation of this phrase and have been given nothing. Just because you were not aware of this going on does not mean that others were not and that the prayer was being done secretly and covertly.

    According to the Supreme Court decision I cited, it is apparent that denial of use cannot be done because of religious content of that use. It seems that you are denying the existence of this ruling in your rush to accuse AR, the council, and Transformation Northfield of a violation of the separation clause. I would even postulate that denying use of this property because of religious content is a violation of the civil rights of anyone or group who wishes to use it in this manner.

    Anne, your opinion of use of the open mike at council meetings is a good one. I think there is common sense alone to warrant limitation of the mike to opinions on city business, and I don’t think there is any violation of rights for the city council to set these guidelines, unless there is some other legal precedent to rule otherwise. I know that in saying this, I will probably never get a chance to hear Griff sing publicly. I was even thinking of he and Victor doing a duet!

  27. Bright, be careful about basing your conclusions only on what you read here. As Griff points out frequently, this isn’t a news site, but a discussion thread. The discussions are long on opinion and speculation but short on facts. That’s not bad, it’s just the way it is.
    For example it took nearly a month and nearly 300 posts just to get the policy stated, not that it helped much.
    I’ve stated my views before, so I won’t repeat them. But I’ll add one practical consideration.
    I just find it hard to believe a man of Mr. Roder’s age would take a new job and relocate his family and so quickly launch an effort to establish a city-government-based religion, putting his career and finances and reputation at risk. It just doesn’t make sense. Those may be the actions of someone so entrenched in his job and his role in the community that he takes his power for granted, not the deliberate actions of someone trying to pay bills, save for retirement, survive the politics of an election cycle and new council and deal with a list of contentious government issues.
    I can understand that he didn’t look at the space use policy, but maybe that’s something that should be part of orientation for new councilors, commissioners and staff. (I guess this is the reason all those annoying signs are posted around public buildings to explain what seems obvious).
    When added to everything else I’ve read and researched and seen myself, that reality just helps me lean toward mistake instead of malevolence.
    BTW, I’m not trying to prove my point, just explaining it. Feel free to disagree. After all, opinions are like navels and noses, we all have’em, but they don’t all have to match for them to work.

  28. Anne – I’ve seen for myself, commented on, written about and sued the City (with failure and success both) regarding their violations of state law and their own ordinances, so I expect them to be unaware at times. I’ve also dealt with other administrators and have been amazed at their behavior. Given my experience with other administrators, I wouldn’t be so quick to presume he knows the laws governing cities, or how things “should” be handled culturally — as I understand it, he’s not from here. What’s Roder’s history? What’s his record in dealing with similar or similarly contentious issues?
    As an aside, I saw in the STrib recently that Scott Neal, former Nfld. City Administrator, has proposed slashing Eden Prairie’s housing budget. Many in this wealthy city are very upset at his proposal and he’s got a fight on his hands. Roder’s in the midst of a hornet’s nest here. What does Roder’s track record say about his judgment and ability to handle conflict and stand up to intimidation and influence?

  29. John, looks like you and the prayer ladies are in the finest tradition of Northfield. I was listening to MPR today as two historians discussed the state’s 150th birthday. When the moderator asked why so many hundreds of thousands of people came to such a cold place so long ago, (there was an astronomical increase in just a few years) one of the historians pointed to John North, saying that he and many others came here with the main goal of changing the world by the ‘transformation of people through religion.’
    No kidding. Doesn’t change anything in the current discussion, so we don’t need to start over, and I don’t need a whole history lesson. It was
    just a very interesting comment.

  30. Anne- Plenty of history for me! Thanks for sharing that tidbit.

    Bright- Re. “a carnation”. With all the “retro” styles in vogue right now, does this mean a reimergence of the flower children?

  31. Griff: as I said ” Chart Na” …………it’s the only reasonable response.

    Isn’t this one over yet??????????

  32. Bright- Organic corn jokes? Hmmmmm. At least you didn’t call me a flake. Remember, I’ve got Ethyl Knoll on my side!

  33. In today’s Nfld News: Charter Commission rebukes council for criticizing Dirks

    Criticism from city officials, directed at Northfielder Judy Dirks, isn’t sitting well with members of the Charter Commission. The remarks, made after Dirks addressed the council Aug. 6 regarding prayer group meetings held in the city administrator’s office, were out of line, the commission said Tuesday. In a resolution to be sent to the city council, it noted the city’s charter guarantees the right to speak as a private citizen.

  34. My thanks to the Charter Commission for affirming the right of Northfield citizens to express their opinions.

    This relatively obscure group of citizens is performing an important role in protecting our basic freedoms as Americans.

  35. David L. asks :

    “Are council members being rebuked for exercising their right of free speech?”

    The elected officials have certain privileges – and certain responsibilities. Amendments (changes) to the Charter are initiated via precise process as spelled out in the Charter.

    While individual citizens may speak to any Board or Commission regarding any concern they might have… I doubt that you’ll find precedent for individual members of the Council flexing the muscle of their seat and going directly to the Charter Comm in session, and asking for changes.

    Changes to the Charter are initiated two ways as I understand… one by vote and request then of the Council… and: 2) by the Charter on their own initiative.

    Undue pressure from even an uninformed Council persons such as Jon Denison is likely out of order – and in fact might be (should be?) subject to the Council’s rebuke… talking about rebuking!

  36. My goodness, so much rebuking…Issue after issue the discussion here turns to attacks and rebukes. It’s no wonder that so many local elections fail to draw enough candidates to even have a contest. Who would want to endure the constant criticism and character assassination that seems to surround those working and volunteering inside City Hall.
    If Ms. Dirks and the mayor can speak as private citizens, then Mr. Denison should be able to do the same. If Mr. Dennison was speaking as a councilor and not as a private citizen and if he made a formal request for a change in the charter, then it would the proper thing to rule the request out of order and the charitable thing to do to explain to him his error and suggest the proper process. Yes, he should have sought some advice from some wise elder before he made the move. (I shall avoid the temptation to suggest he could not find one.) But no, democracy is not being toppled from its foundations because a newcomer used an innapropriate gesture to deal with an appropriate concern.
    I find it hard to believe Mr. Denison would be interested in undermining his colleagues or pressuring anyone, though I can easily believe he would be frustrated enough to explore any option for ending the current dysfunction.
    As for the charter commission action, I went back and listened to the comments at the end of the council meeting where Ms. Dirks spoke. No one questioned her right to speak as an individual. People expressed disappointment that she chose the open mike as her first step in trying to resolve a problem that was resolved as soon as it was mentioned. Again, the concern was the choice of public attack and rebuke rather than simple inquiry and comment and collaboration and conflict resolution.
    That lack of civility seems the really disturbing pattern right now, and the obstacle to dealing with the many problems on the city’s plate.
    It seems to me that if you want someone fired, get the grounds and have him fired. If he’s an elected official, run against him, or organize his constituents to sit down and talk to him about his actions.
    It just seems a little more respect and compassion wouldn’t hurt. We’ve tried the attack and rebuke approach and in the words of Dr. Phil “How’s that working for you?”
    We are not talking about brutal government death squads torturing people for speaking out against tyranny. We are talking about our friends and neighbors trying to earn a living or serve the public, discussing the order in which to put things on an agenda and which chairs in which room are appropriate for thinking kind thoughts.
    It just seems a little global perspective is in order.

  37. A little explanation seems in order. Crossed threads!

    When David Ludescher commented on the Charter Commission’s action and “rebuking ” the council… I jumped to the conclusion that both Ross and David’s remarks were speaking about the yet untold part of the recent Charter Comm gathering. What’s that? Well, while the News evidently was there to report on the controversial rebuke of Judy Dirks (Council’s freedom of speech?) hence their rebuke of the Council… It (the News) did not mention Councilor Denison’s visit to the Charter the same meeting… to request separate actions from the Charter Comm. 1) changing the Charter to exclude the Mayor from his/her role in the setting of the CC agenda. 2) protesting the four fifths requirement that temporarily derailed the Woodley project (evidently unaware that this was a statutory requirement – thus NF’s Charter has no standing)… so, my remarks, while confusing, were really directed at Denison’s action… but not intended by David’s remarks to be an issue.

    What’s sort of curious here is the recent rash of council and staff upheavals and missteps… as these have been addressed on LG seem to have so many crossed threads, that my confusion is perhaps not without some understanding. My mistake – but relevance to the actions reported here is obvious.

  38. As soon as I hit send, I realized that I was guilty of using the same mean-spirited criticism as I was condemning. Gosh, these glass houses are hard to maintain.
    I realize that the people on this site are good people who want the best for Northfield. But we also are, for many people, their only view of how residents speak to and about each other.
    I am not so much angry as frustrated and disappointed that a town with so much potential and so many talents can get so twisted up in personalities and details that there is precious little focus on goals and accomplishments and moving the conversation forward.
    I read through the old threads here and see the same complaints over and over. I just wish we could present a more open and welcoming tone and focus more on how to solve problems than on whose fault they are.

  39. Anne is correct that these discussion threads are very repetitive, especially one this long.

    But, Anne, I think one reason is that there is no response from a “change agent”………i.e. when the “prayer ladies” are asked, in all sincerity, to comment on their goals, that request is ignored.
    That response from them may have cleared some misgivings.

    The lack of response to the disruption of the community process, from the council, who for three months has been saying, “just wait. we can’t talk about it”, has also caused discomfort on the community level. And yet, more and more complicating facets keep erupting.

    It is amazing to me that the council, in this small town, where most of them know many people, cannot find a way to speak humanely and within legality to their community; they are cognizant of the disruption they have caused. But they have not been able to find it within themselves,,,,,,,singularly or collectively…….. to ease the problems.

    Is this why “don’t talk about religion or politics” became such a common cautionary phrase?

  40. According to today’s Nfld News, Mayor Lee Lansing has sent a letter of apology to Judy Dirks: Council reflects on criticism of Dirks

    I find it odd that neither City Administrator Al Roder nor Councilors Noah Cashman and Scott Davis made any comment at Monday’s meeting about this. Do they agree they erred? Do they plan to personally apologize? If I were on the Council, I’d have asked for some public discussion, ie, “Scott, Noah, Al, what’s your take on this?” I can understand, given the state of affairs, why it didn’t happen but the apparent lack of transparency on this is troubling to me.

    Judy Dirks has a letter to the editor in today’s paper, too:

    The dozens of supportive phone calls, letters and personal comments that I have received all helped to heal the hurt I felt after being unfairly criticized by the city administrator and two councilmen after I spoke at the open microphone at the Aug. 6 City Council meeting.

  41. Griff –

    Although the Charter Commission stated quite clearly that it thought Judy was owed an apology, I sure didn’t hear one…just a bunch of statements about it being an “unfortunate situation” or something like that…vagueness.

    I’m glad that Mayor Lansing sent an official letter of apology.

    – Ross

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