Guest Opinion: We can do better
As we move forward, we need to make sure we participate, stay informed, keep our elected officials not only informed of our concerns but also accountable as we vote in elections.
I am writing this op-ed as the President of Mid Minnesota Federal Credit Union, a business located in Brainerd, regarding how important it is for the residents and business owners within Brainerd to be engaged in and aware of the actions and ordinance changes that occur through our city council and affiliated committees.
During 2021, the Brainerd Charter Commission made three significant charter changes that affected how funds would be distributed to the named entities of Senior Center, Brainerd Community Action and Northland Arboretum. The changes made included:
- Not naming specific entities,
- Removing the term mill, and
- Clarifying geographic requirements for who is eligible to receive the funds.
These were radical changes to what the citizens of Brainerd originally voted for in establishing the levy for these organizations. The result of clarifying the geographic requirements put the funding of the Northland Arboretum at risk. These were not minor changes. In fact, when the City Council President Bevins called for the vote, at the Oct. 4 Council Meeting he said, “this is a big one.”
Thankfully, Monday evening the Brainerd Council voted 4-3 to continue funding Northland Arboretum thru 2023. There were many supporters of the Arboretum at the Council meeting encouraging the Council to act favorably on the Arboretum’s request for funding. The positive outcome of funding the Arboretum this current year and the formation of a work group including City of Brainerd, City of Baxter, Crow Wing County and the Northland Arboretum to research additional funding alternatives will certainly strengthen the collaboration to support the Arboretum.
The process by which the charter change occurred followed all the necessary steps. The City Council properly included the ordinance changes in their agendas. A public hearing was held on Oct. 4 and the City Council officially adopted the changes at their November meeting when a full Council was present to vote. The one disappointing fact was that due to a difficulty in filling City committees, two members of the Parks and Recreation Board were also members of the Charter Commission. This situation could result in a conflict of interest, if the Arboretum is not able to access the funds they have received in the past and there are no other requests from green space entities it is possible that those funds would most likely go to the Parks and Recreation Department.
The point of this letter is that as business owners and residents of Brainerd it is vitally important that we take interest in ordinance changes, participate in public hearings and engage by volunteering for committees. Participation in the public hearing must always be respectful, even when exaggerations occur, as occurred Monday evening. The public hearing held on Oct. 4, 2021, at 8:17 p.m. had no participation by the community. Was this a result of apathy or were people not informed of the magnitude of the changes to the Charter? There are numerous volunteer opportunities within our local government to serve, if only a few step-up, then the situation we currently have with individuals serving multiple roles can occur.
As we move forward, we need to make sure we participate, stay informed, keep our elected officials not only informed of our concerns but also accountable as we vote in elections. The charter changes really occurred on Oct. 4, 2021, at 8:17 p.m. when we as a community did not show up for the public hearing. We can do better!
Chuck Albrecht is president and CEO of Mid Minnesota Federal Credit Union.