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Dave Olson, Published April 13 2010

Moorhead officials: Don’t bar the press

Moorhead City Council members on Monday criticized a decision made last week to bar a reporter from a meeting held in Fargo that involved technical staff supporting the Flood Study Work Group.

Last week’s meeting of support staff was also attended by the work group’s co-chairmen, Clay County Commissioner Kevin Campbell and Fargo City Commissioner Tim Mahoney, as well as Cass County Commission Chairman Darrell Vanyo.

At a meeting of the Moorhead City Council on Monday, several council members, including Mark Hintermeyer, Mark Altenburg, Brenda Elmer and Luther Stueland, voiced strong concerns that a Forum reporter who showed up for last week’s meeting of the work group’s technical staff was not allowed to cover it.

Council members also expressed concern that no elected official from Moorhead was in attendance at last week’s meeting.

Moorhead City Manager Michael Redlinger, who attended last week’s meeting with other Moorhead staff, said the purpose of it was largely to formulate the agenda for the work group’s next meeting, a task the group’s co-chairmen have typically played a role in.

Redlinger said Vanyo was not invited to the meeting, and he said he wasn’t aware Vanyo was going to be there until they were sitting across from each other.

Hintermeyer said he would like to see city staff empowered to leave any similar meetings in the future if the press is barred.

“Transparency is everything on this,” Hintermeyer said, referring to the work group’s mission, which began with an advisory role in helping area jurisdictions pick a locally preferred flood protection plan, which turned out to be a diversion channel in North Dakota.

The group is now planning to address follow-up issues, like which local governments will be involved in construction, operation and maintenance of a diversion until a joint-powers agreement is finalized.

Moorhead Mayor Mark Voxland said Moorhead’s representatives on the Flood Study Work Group might suggest to the group’s co-chairmen that future staff meetings be just that, meetings attended by staff.

Voxland said if elected officials want to help in the agenda-making process they could do so in writing, or some other way.

Also Monday, the council approved having the city assist in removing sandbag dikes on private property.

If homeowners want help, they must sign a waiver that allows contractors onto private property.

Crews are expected to start helping with levee removal next week.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555