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Published January 16 2014

Forum editorial: A ‘glitch’ is really a loophole

The longest-serving member of the Moorhead City Council said the 26-year tenure of a Moorhead Public Service commissioner is a “glitch.” First Ward Councilwoman Nancy Otto, who wants to replace the MPS’ Ken Norman, said Norman has served far beyond the four three-year term limit because of the glitch. But it’s not a glitch. It’s a known loophole in the city charter that gives individual council members opportunity to keep a public service commissioner in the post indefinitely “until their successors are appointed and qualified.”

The provision has been in place for a long time – certainly during the 14 years Otto has been on the council and during much of the 26 years Norman has been on the MPS board. Otto has been among 1st Ward council members who took advantage of the “glitch” to keep Norman on the board. As recently as 2007, when the council voted to boot Norman, Otto came to his defense and extended his service until now. What changed?

To hear Otto tell it, she believes it’s time for Norman to go. “It’s the right time,” she said. Fair enough. As councilwoman, she has the authority to make a change for any reason she wants, just as in the past she had the authority to use the charter “glitch” to dance around term limits for the longest-serving 1st Ward MPS commissioner.

And therein rests Moorhead’s problem. The tiff over whether Norman should be replaced is the symptom of a flawed process – a scheme by which manipulation by a single council member can render meaningless MPS term limits. Instead of an unambiguous four-term limit (that’s a generous 12 years), council members and MPS commissioners can use Otto’s “glitch” to violate the intent of limiting MPS terms. Instead of a clean transition, it’s a recipe for a toxic brew in which personality conflicts and behind-the-scenes shenanigans taint the process and make city leaders look petty.

Moorhead can fix it by beginning a drive to amend the charter. That would require a public vote, but it’s worth a shot. The alternative is the status quo – an MPS term limits provision that, thanks to Councilwoman Otto, has been exposed as tissue-thin.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.