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Shameful City Council Meeting in Sturgis

The Fix, it Seemed, Was Already In

Shameful City Council Meeting in Sturgis

A KBHB Editorial by Dean Kinney

(We’ve been asked many times about a text copy of the Editorial from Tuesday, March 5. The script below is the same, or very close, to the broadcast version)

The City Council meeting Monday night in Sturgis was shameful and embarrassing. Not so much in its result. The Council selected Ward 1 Councilperson Angela Wilkerson to fill
the remainder of the term left vacant when long-time Sturgis Mayor Mark Carstensen resigned a few weeks ago.

The result was certainly a choice the Council had before them Monday night.

The procedure, on the other hand, was shameful.

A majority of the embattled and cocooned City Council somehow arrived at the startling conclusion that they would not hear from the public. Indeed, Council President Beka Zerbst
adopted the astounding position that, during the “other matters that come before the Council” section of the meeting, the public would not be allowed to offer comment on the Mayoral
Appointment matter because it was an agenda item. Further, she said when the Council reached that agenda item, they would not be taking any public comment. Despite a gallery full of
interested residents, obviously in attendance regarding the matter, and a variety of voices who stood ready to speak, the Council President refused to hear from any of them. This, despite the
fact that the Council has historically and routinely heard input from the public on virtually any matter that comes before them, no matter how mundane. Now, poised to make a crucial
decision, the City leaders – a group steering a ship that many say may be floundering – decided they wouldn’t recognize the right of the public to be heard and apparently concluded the public
could offer nothing of value in their decision.

Zerbst interrupted and shut down attempts by a few to speak. No one came to their aid.

Stealthily circumventing the preposterous rules muzzling the public, local attorney Eric Davis was able to get some compelling comments on the record, by not speaking directly on the Mayoral appointment. Instead, Davis spoke regarding a novel idea that might allow a public vote to fill the vacant mayor position after all. As many might recall, the City was unable to call for a vote on the matter because, by state statute, they would have had to have had an ordinance on the books adopting a special election as a means of filling the remainder of the term prior to the mayor resigning. Councilperson Aaron Jordan, seemingly more interested than some of his counterparts in hearing from the public, had expressed a willingness to accept the appointment only temporarily so that such an ordinance could be put in place, then resign so an election might be set. Rumor abounds that controversial City Attorney Mark Marshall had scoured the law to see if he could find a way to block such democracy. Attorney Davis, not representing the City, but an interested resident and local attorney who has taken the Council to task on other matters, had researched the issue and was there to suggest it might indeed be possible and urged, if Marshall had found otherwise, that the Council seek a second opinion. Zerbst interrupted Davis a few times, before eventually stifling him altogether, and was unmoved.

The interviews of the candidates turned out not to be interviews at all. Virtually no questions were asked of any of them. They were each heard from, many on the Council barely feigning
interest. The fix, it seemed, was already in.

Indeed, in the days and hours preceding the meeting many, though it is important to note not all, of the Councilpersons were ducking calls, including those from residents in their own ward, determined not to hear outside voices. Shameful.

I strongly suspect the public, regardless of which candidate they supported or even if they didn’t support any of them, will not take kindly to this sort of “stonewalling,” as resident Bonnie Albers
called it last night before she, too, was cut short by it.

Even before this incident, the public had been highly skeptical of many City actions; highly skeptical and now denied even the common courtesy of a voice to speak at the meeting. But
their voices will be heard. An election that will dramatically change the makeup of the City Council is now just a month away. Much will be decided.

Change is in the air.

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