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Election campaign shows Minot voters concerned about leadership

Election campaign uncovers citizen unrest

Regaining the confidence of Minot residents should be a top priority of the Minot City Council, according to newly elected council members.

Tom Ross and Carrie Evans, elected to the council June 9, and Stephan Podrygula, a previously appointed member given an elected seat, shared their thoughts from the campaign at the first regular meeting of the council since reorganization June 23.

“I heard from many citizens on many topics,” Ross said at Monday’s council meeting. “There’s one thing that is certain. The people of this community feel very strongly about the community, and what they want is their leadership to listen and act.”

Voters discussed leadership concerns related to the former city manager’s contract, lack of access to council members and leadership failing to do its job, he said.

“The lack of access to the council is upsetting and, to be honest, it concerns me,” Ross said. “We don’t allow people to speak unless they meet some criteria. This seems to fly in the face of transparency and access.

“It’s important to acknowledge that there are problems with leadership, and as a council, we need to address and resolve these issues in order to re-instill the faith of the citizens of this community, and quite frankly, the sooner the better,” he said.

Evans called the citizen distrust of the city council encountered on the campaign trail “astounding.” Having reached out to 17,000 voters during her campaign, she found that regardless of political affiliation, age or educational levels, residents are mad at the council.

“We have to figure out how to change this,” she said. “Part of that is instilling faith back that we know what we’re doing up here, that they’ve elected smart, intelligent people who are going to guide and lead this city, not impose on the voters what we think.

“I’m concerned because I feel people have pulled back and disengaged with their city government because of this mistrust – of a belief that nothing is ever going to change. It’s going to be the same old stuff over and over again. We’re going to make the same mistakes. We’re not going to try new things. We’re not going to be creative,” she said. She voiced concern over the city’s elderly who feel erased and forgotten.

“We, hopefully, can redouble our efforts. Just because they may not be living in their homes anymore, they are still part of our city and vote and have some great ideas, and I’d like to figure out ways we can make sure our oldest members of our community are involved in our process as well,” Evans said.

Podrygula said he heard frequently that the council needs to re-establish confidence in city leadership. He suggested the council be more open, with fewer conversations and deals developed behind the scenes.

“I do agree that people often were upset about not being heard. Maybe it’s not been themselves personally, but the idea that a citizen who felt they had an opinion to share wasn’t allowed to share that,” he said.

There were two incidents in March that likely fed residents’ concerns. Mayor Shaun Sipma turned down a former council member who wished to speak as a citizen at a council meeting on the proposed creation of a temporary position of assistant to the city manager. Sipma explained the discussion should be limited to the council because the issue was one of management and administration. Sipma also limited public discussion on hostile work environment allegations to employees at another meeting, excluding a resident from commenting.

“I think that people want us to keep moving in the directions that we started to move in, in the areas of accessibility, accountability, transparency,” Podrygula said, citing improvements in broadcasting city meetings and making more information available to the public. “Generally, the impression I got from people, and the impression I have, is we’re moving in the right direction. We may not be moving as quickly as people would like but, generally, we’re on the right track, and it’s probably a matter of accelerating that.”

Council candidates also said they heard from residents wanting improvements to infrastructure, a stronger community response to address opioid addiction and property-tax restraint.

“Nearly every citizen I spoke with brought up property taxes,” Ross said. “As a council, we cannot approve spending and continue to increase this burden on property owners for the city. For example, during the campaign, not one person I spoke with felt that a new city hall location was necessary. Most people just felt that this was another example of elected officials being out of touch with their constituents.”

Podrygula said he was struck by how many people offered their opinions.

“So I don’t see a silent majority. I don’t see an apathetic community by any means,” he said.

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