Heated exchanges ensue over electric superintendent position

Whether to hire an individual to serve as city electric superintendent led to heated exchanges at the Thief River Falls City Council meeting Tuesday, Jan. 3.

Council members were considering whether to hire Daniel Chase for the position that had been vacated upon Dale Narlock’s retirement in June. If he had been hired, Chase would have been paid $104,436.80 per year and would have received a relocation expense reimbursement of up to $5,000. Interim Electric Superintendent John Kinsman had also been interviewed for the position.

Initially, City Council sought a general manager for utilities to serve the Electric, Water and Water Systems departments. In September, it considered Water Systems Superintendent Wayne Johnson for that position. Two months later, the council decided to instead employ an electric superintendent.

At Tuesday’s meeting, council member Mike Lorenson made a motion to approve Chase’s hiring, but it died for lack of a second. It was unclear how the council will proceed with the position.

Lorenson’s motion came after council member Jason Aarestad had asked for it to be removed for council discussion later during the meeting. He said the matter hadn’t gone through the proper channels since the ad-hoc Personnel/Labor Committee had reviewed the hiring, not the Utilities Committee.

Mayor Brian Holmer replied that the council could discuss the hiring now. He asked what further discussion Aarestad needed since Chase had all of the qualifications for the position, including those for engineering.

City Administrator Angie Philipp indicated that Holmer and Lorenson, who also sit on the Utilities Committee, sit on the Personnel/Labor Committee and interviewed Chase.

Aarestad wasn’t assuaged by their statements. He added that it was a big decision to place on the consent agenda.

Lorenson, chairperson of the Utilities Committee, replied that he initially had no problems making the decision. However, he said he now thought that the rest of the Utilities Committee should have been notified and provided its consent to hiring Chase before it appeared on the council agenda. Lorenson noted he had spoken with former council member Rachel Prudhomme, who sat on the committee at the time. However, he had missed council member Anthony Bolduc, who also sits on the committee.

For his part, Aarestad said he didn’t learn about Chase’s potential hiring until it appeared on the council agenda. He said he called Kinsman, who wasn’t notified that he hadn’t gotten the job until he read the agenda. Aarestad then voiced concerns about the city’s Human Resources Department and how it was operating.

Philipp replied that city staff had spoken with Kinsman earlier that day and had meant to notify him a week earlier.

“We need to clean up our act here, guys,” Aarestad said.

After Lorenson made the motion and it failed, Aarestad alluded to Holmer running the city on his own, noting that all of the council members are supposed to be equal with a weak mayor. “We’re supposed to be working together here,” he said.

“I thought we were,” Holmer replied.

Aarestad then referred to placing Chase’s potential hiring on the consent agenda as a crock and “chicken shit.”

Bolduc encouraged council members to keep the lines of communication open. “I don’t know how hard it is,” he said with a raised voice. “It’s not difficult.”

Holmer replied that everybody should ensure that they show up at committee meetings.