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BRAINERD CITY COUNCIL: Criticism of criticism and more criticism

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Brainerd Mayor James Wallin, during his regular report to the city council Monday, took council member Bob Olson to task for Olson’s  criticism of city department heads. 

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Wallin’s comments followed discussion on a conflict of interest allegation regarding a Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport Commission member in which City Attorney Tom Fitzpatrick offered recommendations that Olson said  included loopholes brought forth to help the airport commission to avoid violate state statute.  

Wallin said he was disappointed council President Mary Koep, who presides over council meetings, would allow Olson to criticize and chastise Fitzpatrick. Wallin said Fitzpatrick was an excellent city attorney.

Wallin also said it wasn’t the first time Olson has criticized department heads.

“In the 10 years he’s been on (the council), he has publicly criticized and chastised every department head, including several fire chiefs, the police chief, engineers, you name it,” Wallin said. “I guess I get a little tired of his behavior and his publicly criticizing of our fine staff.”

Olson began to respond but was stopped by Koep. Instead, it was Koep who responded to Wallin. 

“With that, I’d say to our good mayor, he just engaged in what he just criticized both me and (Olson) of doing,” Koep said. “I do believe, and I will continue to do so as long as I am chairman, to let a council person ... within what I call bounds of decency, challenge a department head if they so chose. If a department head wants to sit up here, as I’ve always said, plunk down your filing fee and run for office. Other than that you work for us.”

Reached for comment Tuesday afternoon, Olson said if he would have been able to respond Monday night he would have said the council has bigger issues to solve related to the conflict of interest on the airport commission than with Wallin’s personal vendetta against him. 

“I think we’ve got more at stake than a personality conflict between Mr. Wallin and myself,” Olson said.

Koep said council members may have a different style, but each was elected by the citizens and has the right to speak before the council votes. She also said while she disagreed with Wallin’s statements about Olson, it was his right to state his opinion. 

Council member Bonnie Cumberland said while she was campaigning, one of the most frequent questions she was asked was why the city council couldn’t “play nice?”

“Some people feel that some of the drama we generate from up here is for the benefit of the television audience,” Cumberland said as the meeting dragged on until after midnight. “They must be bored if they’re still awake at this hour of the night.”

Regardless of what style a council member used, Cumberland said council members could be better at projecting a more professional image. There will always be disagreement, she added. 

“I just think we owe it to each other and we owe it to the community to look and sound a lot more professional than what we’ve been doing lately,” Cumberland said. “If the public thinks that we’ve gone overboard then I certainly think we have.”

MATT ERICKSON may be reached at matt.erickson@brainerddispatch.com or 855-5857.

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