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Kevin Bonham, Forum News Service, Published March 23 2013

Grand Forks city leader quits posts after clash with Cirrus

GRAND FORKS - While Grand Forks city leaders say City Council member Doug Christensen’s resignation from several key leadership roles is an opportunity to move past a recent controversy, they applaud the longtime leader’s record.

Christensen resigned as president of the Jobs Development Authority, chairman of its Growth Fund Committee and chairman of the council’s Finance and Urban Development Committee at a meeting Tuesday.

Council member Dana Sande, who serves on all three bodies, was appointed to Christensen’s leadership positions.

Christensen, who was first elected in 2000 and re-elected to a four-year term in June, will remain on the council and continue to serve as its vice president. He did not return a call seeking comments Wednesday.

His controversial handling of a Growth Fund meeting involving Cirrus Aircraft appeared to be the reason behind his resignation, according to several city leaders.

Tone questioned

“I think Grand Forks had gotten some backlash from the Cirrus loans discussion,” Sande said Wednesday. “Whether Doug was right or wrong, I think he wanted to put the city first. I think it was quite selfless on his part.”

The committee met March 5 to consider a $950,000 loan requested by Duluth-based Cirrus Aircraft, which has a factory in Grand Forks. Christensen questioned the company’s ability to meet its financial obligations to the city, which includes rent and prior debt. Cirrus executive William King said the tone amounted to an attack on the company’s integrity. He also accused the committee of divulging confidential financial information.

Christensen apologized during a March 12 Growth Fund meeting. The loan was approved Tuesday by the JDA.

“It’s the council’s decision,” Mayor Mike Brown said Wednesday of Christensen’s resignation. “I think they perceived that after what happened recently with the Growth Fund, that this would be a good way to go. I welcome Mr. Sande. He has shown great leadership.”

Sande, who was elected to City Council in 2010, most recently served as a chairman of the mayor’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Housing.

Praise

Council President Hal Gershman, who has served more than a decade with Christensen, said during Tuesday’s meeting he hopes the council could continue to work together with the leadership changes.

“I appreciate every member of this council,” he said. He declined further comment Wednesday.

Sande said while there had been some talk prior to Tuesday’s meeting, he did not know Christensen planned to resign. However, he said he was asked whether he would consider assuming a larger role on the committees.

“I’m humbled by the opportunity to walk in Mr. Christensen’s shoes,” Sande said at Tuesday’s meeting.

Council member Ken Vein was appointed to fill the Growth Fund’s vice president position left vacant by Sande.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Council member Bret Weber highlighted several achievements and programs Christensen had a hand in shaping, including the Greenway, the city’s pay-for-performance salary plan and the council’s code of ethics.

“I applaud Mr. Christensen for his decision to put the city before himself,” Weber said.