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Our Opinion: Campaigning should be kept out of public meetings

When elected officials attend public meetings of their boards, councils or commissions, the expectation is they are there to conduct business for the citizens they represent.

When elected officials attend public meetings of their boards, councils or commissions, the expectation is they are there to conduct business for the citizens they represent.

Sometimes elected officials stray from that expectation. That certainly appears to be the case of Crow Wing County Commissioner Paul Thiede, whom we feel crossed the line from working commissioner to active political campaigner at an Oct. 9 Crow Wing County Board meeting.

At that meeting, Thiede went on a diatribe against his opponent in the upcoming election, Bill Brekken. Thiede's issue with Brekken was an Oct. 8 endorsement letter in the Brainerd Dispatch that Brekken wrote on his own behalf.

In his endorsement letter, Brekken offered his criticism on the direction of Crow Wing County and Thiede's part, or lack thereof, in addressing certain issues as a county commissioner. The comments from Brekken were pretty much what you might expect from any challenger for public office at any level of politics.

Thiede, however, apparently viewed Brekken's comments differently. And a day later, on Oct. 9, he stepped down from his seat among the other board members and used the county board's public open forum time to address Brekken's letter.

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"And as the chairman of this board, I am not going to let such accusations go unanswered," Thiede said at the Oct. 9 meeting. "To try to answer such a letter in a timely fashion is almost impossible once such charges hit the street."

First, we'd like to remind Thiede that he always has the same venue as Brekken if he would like to respond-in the Brainerd Dispatch's Reader Opinion section, free of charge with the same 150-word limit afforded Brekken.

But the bigger issue for us is Thiede's apparent misuse of public facilities and time for what one could reasonably assume was a campaign speech. Thiede claimed Brekken's letter was an attack on the board as a whole. Public bodies are criticized all the time for the decisions they make, but in this instance there are other avenues-letters to the editor, candidate forums, etc.-in which one should respond. What's troubling is the perception of an elected official using his official office for personal gain, in this instance Thiede's own re-election bid.

Another question is whether county board members will now allow any candidate, incumbents or challengers, for county board to use the open forum portion of each county board meeting to rail against their opponents. We doubt Thiede, as board chairman, would allow it and that's what makes his actions on Oct. 9 all the more dubious.

Thiede said his opponent should apologize for the opinions he made in the Dispatch. Perhaps it's Thiede who owes the people of Crow Wing County an apology, for using his position and taxpayers' time and resources for a campaign speech during a public meeting.

Thiede was elected to represent the residents of Crow Wing County District 2, not to use his platform as county commissioner to further his personal re-election bid.

Related Topics: CROW WING COUNTY BOARD
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