#1 – Minot decides to change city government structure

File Photo Lynn Johnson submits her ballot in early voting at the Ward County Administrative Building June 14.

Minot residents stated unequivocally in June that they want a smaller city council.

The culmination of several months of activity by #MakeMinot, the June 14 election gave the citizens group a 75 percent margin of victory in its efforts to change the structure of city government. The ballot measure reduces the size of the council from 14 members elected from wards to six members elected at large, and it converts the mayor’s position to a voting member of the council.

The city followed up after the election with a series of ad hoc committee meetings to sort through the various ordinances that need to be updated and recommend revisions to accommodate the new government to be elected next June 13. After scrapping a plan that would have doubled the mayor’s salary and greatly increased council members’ salaries, the Minot City Council approved the recommended changes on final reading Dec. 5.

Along with passing the ballot measure in June, voters elected five new council members, including Shannon Straight and Shaun Sipma, two leaders with #MakeMinot. Other new members are Kenton Kossan and two former council members Stephan Podrygula and George Withus.

Sipma said #MakeMinot’s call for change in city government is producing results in various areas. He cited ad hoc committees reviewing liquor and nuisance weed ordinances as examples of progress.

“I think we are happy with what we have seen now, not only with the current council but talking with residents, we are still getting a lot of positive feedback,” Sipma said.

“The big test is going to be how many names we see on the ballot for that June special election,” he added. “We still have to get people engaged. We want to see good candidates come forward.”

For #MakeMinot to realize its mission, residents will need to get involved in helping move projects forward, especially post-flood recovery projects, he said.

“There’s going to be lots of things that need front people to take on,” he said.

#MakeMinot formed in 2015 to present a petition that fall, asking for a ballot measure to decide whether to change the makeup of the council. The group proposed a smaller council as a way to increase government accountability, encourage public engagement and increase the number of contested races.

When the council determined changes would be needed in the city’s home rule charter to allow for a different government form, voters went to the poll in March to approve those changes. Meanwhile, the timeframe for voting on the #MakeMinot measure then became too tight to schedule an election, so the group withdrew its petitions after extracting a promise from the council to place its measure on the June ballot anyway. #MakeMinot asked for slightly different wording that changed the size of the council from five members to six members plus a voting mayor, which members said was based on feedback from the public regarding the original plan.

Shortly after the council had received #MakeMinot’s original petition, former mayor Orlin Backes suggested an alternative plan to reduce the size of the council that retained the ward system. It proposed one council member from each of the existing seven wards, plus one elected at large.

Acting on advice from the Attorney General’s office, the city council declined to place a competing measure on the ballot with the #MakeMinot measure. However, in May, the council approved a resolution from council member Miranda Schuler to consider another measure if the #MakeMinot measure failed in June. That alternative called for four wards with two aldermen each.

The #MakeMinot measure received some opposition from those who questioned a smaller council’s ability to increase engagement while voicing concern that council members could come from a single part of town and will carry larger workloads. They also objected to losing the city liaison status that aldermen carry.