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Stephan Podrygula — Minot City Council Q&A

Experience matters for Minot City Council candidate Stephan Podrygula, who is the only incumbent among the five people seeking council seats in the June 9 city election.

Podrygula was appointed to the council to fill a vacancy in 2018 but previously served from 1998-2002 and 2004-2008 and in the first year of the council reorganization from 2017-2018.

He has listed his priorities as increasing openness and accountability in government; making sure tax dollars are wisely spent; enhancing public safety; improving infrastructure, particularly flood protection; and enhancing the quality and efficiency of city services. His responses to questions from the Minot Daily News follow.

Does the city need more office space, and if so, what do you feel is the best option to create more space?

Rather than regarding it as a matter of office space, I’d like to see us step back and take a broader look at how citizens do business with the city and how city staff can better go about their work. We need to think of city hall more as a set of activities, and not so much a particular office or building.

We also need to take advantage of changes in the workplace (e.g., more people with the option of working from home) and in technology. Rather than relying on paper and keeping records in file cabinets, we should do as much as we can electronically. If we work “smarter”, we won’t need as much physical space.

What is your position on the council’s decision to terminate City Manager Tom Barry? What should the city do differently in developing a city manager contract and establishing a positive work environment in the future?

“Termination is the only appropriate solution” – according to the results of the investigation by independent counsel Patricia Monson – and I strongly support the Council’s decision to fire Tom Barry.

In my memo of April 24 – on the agenda for the April 30 special Council meeting, available on the city website – I outlined three major types of improvements: changing the structure and role of the Council; improving oversight of the city manager; and strengthening organizational protections and safeguards.

I proposed 24 specific things the city should do differently, including the following: abolish the Council’s executive committee, so it is clear that the city manager reports to the Council as a whole, and not to one or two individuals (i.e., the mayor and Council president); bring all of the aldermen more “into the loop”, in terms of information-sharing and decision-making; get regular feedback from the manager’s subordinates (regarding her/his performance); strengthen whistleblower protections; have an attorney specializing in employment law carefully draft a new contract, and prohibit any “golden parachute”; and conduct formal ethics training (e.g., regarding potential conflicts of interest, and maintaining appropriate boundaries in relationships with staff).

What would be your goals for the National Disaster Resilience Program as the city works to designate and spend funds by September 2022?

My goals for the remaining NDR funds would be to: continue to move people out of harm’s way; provide more affordable housing (especially by rehabilitating current housing stock); and fostering economic resilience and diversification, by establishing a center for technical education (in conjunction with the schools and Minot State University). We’ve eliminated the “gathering space” and used its funding for these more important activities.

The coronavirus pandemic has affected the city’s revenues by an amount estimated at more than $6 million, which would be partially offset by a council decision to delay construction of a fire station and City Hall retaining wall. How do you feel the City of Minot should respond to that potential shortfall and what do you see as areas of cost savings that could be either immediate or long term?

I’m worried that the world-wide economic downturn will last longer than people expect. Even as North Dakotans successfully get back to work, a weak national economy will reduce demand for our wheat, oil, cattle, and wind power. Since people’s incomes and government revenues will be lower, the city must place a very high priority on saving money and reducing expenses.

Apart from critical public safety needs, I would freeze all hiring and any new major projects (e.g., I was one of three aldermen who voted against a new City Hall). Improving our management information systems will help us identify additional ways to save money (e.g., where early preventative maintenance can save much more expensive replacement costs later on).

What is one initiative or project you would like to see the city pursue in the next four years?

In the next four years, I would like to see the city build the Northwest fire station, something we’ve needed for 20 years. We should also complete the development of two new major software systems, which will dramatically improve efficiency (e.g., reduce paperwork and let citizens do more business with the city online).

What are your top three priorities when it comes to city spending?

Apart from continuing our work on flood protection, my three top priorities are: enhancing public safety; maintaining and improving our infrastructure (e.g., street maintenance and repair); and giving our employees the leadership, support, and resources they need to work efficiently and effectively (e.g., incentives for improved performance and customer/citizen service, and software/tools for increasing productivity).

Please describe your background and the perspectives you would bring to the city council.

I bring common sense and experience to the Council.

In the years that I’ve served on the Council, I’ve learned a great deal about how the city actually works, what our strengths are, and where our weaknesses lie.

It’s easy for someone new to come along and say they would do things better, or cheaper, or both. It’s not that simple – the city of Minot has over 425 employees and a yearly budget of $275 million, and what we do affects every person in our community, in many different ways. The reality is that the ways forward are neither cheap nor easy, and you really need to know what you’re doing.

My background includes: living in Minot for the past 41 years; working full-time, in the small business I started 31 years ago; two prior terms on the Council, which gives me a valuable historical perspective; multiple leadership roles in the community and my profession; and a strong record of working for transparency, accountability, and efficiency in local government.

As a psychologist, I know how to listen to people, empathize with them, and help them solve their own problems and function more effectively.

In these challenging times, experience and understanding do matter.

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