‘Black Lives Matter’ protest safety planning should have sought more input, says council member
The city’s response to what was probably the largest political demonstration in the history of Pelican Rapids took center stage at the June 30 council meeting.
The mayor’s decision to enforce a curfew and not engage members of the city council drew a sharp response from Councilman Steve Strand.
The decision was made, in large part, by consulting with the city administrator and the police chief.
“I was shocked that we weren’t involved,” said Strand, contending that there should have been input, and a possible short-notice meeting, to gather council member input.
“You didn’t consult with any of us,” said Strand, adding that there could have been enough time to call a special meeting before the June 19 demonstration.
While there could have been time for a special meeting—the timeline was tight. An initial email from protest organizer Ivan Olson was circulated on June 11, but wider public knowledge of the main street demonstration appeared to lag for a few days.
“A lot of it had to do with timing,” said city administrator Don Solga. “…This was new to all of us.”
If there had been a couple of weeks, as opposed to about a week, the preparations probably would have evolved differently, said Solga.
Mayor Brent Frazier said the first concern was “protection for the community, and protection for the protesters.” Acting on that basis, the discussions were largely between the mayor, Chief Jeff Stadum, and city administrator. Stadum also had contacts with other law enforcement agencies.
The main organizer, Olson, had frequent contact with the city—and also made door-to-door contacts with businesses in the community, and others. Chief Stadum also had meetings with downtown businesses. He also consulted with officials from other communities, where demonstrations have been conducted. Nearby, both Fergus Falls and Detroit Lakes were sites of smaller demonstrations. Most regional activity has centered around the Fargo-Moorhead area.
The decision to place a curfew from Friday night to Saturday morning was not a “power” move on his part, said Frazier, but “it was strictly a matter of safety…”
But Strand contended that a meeting could have been called, or at least telephone calls exchanged among council members.
However, depending on circumstances, phone call “chains” among elected officials can represent a violation of the Minnesota Open Meeting Law, noted Frazier.
Still, Strand said, “I can’t imagine being mayor of a town and taking an action like this and not knowing how the council felt about it.”
Councilman Steve Foster noted that, following the early weeks of the COVID-19 outbreak, many government units—including cities—approved “state of emergency” declarations. The declaration remains in force today in Pelican Rapids.
It doesn’t appear the mayor invoked the emergency declaration in calling for the curfew, but Councilman Strand made a motion “to end the emergency declaration” passed in March by the city council.
After more discussion, the motion was withdrawn and there was no vote.
The ramifications of removing the emergency declaration during the COVID pandemic are unclear.
The council is expected to discuss the protest, the actions, and the emergency declaration at the July 14 city council session.