In recent years, the City of Thief River Falls began recording city committee meetings. At its meeting Tuesday, May 2, the Committee of the Whole discussed whether to continue making the audio recordings.
City Administrator Angie Philipp began recording committee meetings to help staff take more detailed minutes. In the past, committee meeting minutes were less detailed.
Council members Jason Aarestad and Mike Lorenson advocated continuing audio recordings. Saying he wasn’t throwing mud at the Pennington County Board, Lorenson noted he was disappointed county commissioners weren’t posting their meetings online like the council. He added it’s important for the public to see the things that occur behind the scenes.
Water Systems Superintendent Wayne Johnson replied that some people think councils conspire to hide information from the public. He added that some individuals are over the top asking for audio and written documents from city officials and the city needs to deal with that situation. Once the information is provided, the information is used as a weapon and placed on Facebook. In particular, Johnson referred to an issue related to easements. If individuals are concerned, Johnson said they should attend committee or council meetings since they’re not locked out of those public meetings.
Johnson’s comments led council member Jason Aarestad to say he had asked to attend a city committee meeting even though he doesn’t serve on that particular committee. He added that someone had lied to him, telling him he couldn’t attend the meeting.
Mayor Brian Holmer replied there could be a bad perception if a quorum of council members attended a committee meeting. He added that he never told Aarestad that Aarestad couldn’t attend such committee meetings.
Their disagreement led Johnson to ask whether the group was talking about moving forward. He questioned whether it made a difference if a council member attended such a committee meeting in person.
Council member Anthony Bolduc responded that it was information council members could use even if they don’t serve on that particular committee.
Bolduc and Johnson soon got into a verbal disagreement involving Johnson’s attitude and whether Johnson was saying that Bolduc didn’t attend committee meetings.
After their disagreement simmered down, the group’s conversation delved into the possible creation of a data retention policy. City staff are expected to further research the matter.
City leaders will continue to review a proposed mobile device policy. In part, the policy stated that affected city employees would need to be reachable.
Johnson raised concerns with the policy, citing prior issues related to his use of a city-issued cell phone. He recalled a council member was present at a business where the sewer was backing up on a Friday night. Another employee was on call and it took the individual five minutes to answer the call. The council member, who wasn’t identified, then called Johnson. He didn’t answer, and the council member asked him the following Monday why he didn’t answer the phone since the city provided him with a cell phone.
“I don’t want this to be a weapon or the city can have [the cell phone] back,” Johnson said.
Falls Liquor Manager Steve Olson also voiced concerns. He noted misinterpretation could occur since council members and city staff come and go. Olson asked whether the council wanted staff to sign the policy in blood or if the council could trust employees.
Signing the policy would enable city leaders to verify that staff is aware of the policy, replied City Attorney Delray Sparby.
The council is considering the policy amid concerns related to TikTok and hacking. It is expected that the policy will be reviewed further.