By Louis Hoglund

The nitty gritties of setting agendas, running county meetings, and opening meetings up to public input were discussed at the July 28 candidate forum. 

Among the issues was night meetings as opposed to the mostly daytime meetings Otter Tail, and most county boards conduct. 

Another issue raised by challengers to the Otter Tail District 2 seat is the format—which presently limits public comment during the regular meetings.

“People should have the right to offer input at the meetings,” said candidate Tammy Ziegler. 

“I’d like to see the meetings changed to evening,” said David Helgerson. “I would also like to see the meetings move around the county, but I understand the logistics are difficult…but if there is an efficient way to do that, it’s a good idea.”

Jeff Gontarek also expressed concern that the average person can’t carve out three hours during the work day to attend county board meetings. 

Incumbent Wayne Johnson agreed with both ideas, in general terms. The county did conduct quarterly meetings off-site, for example, in Perham, Pelican, and Parkers Prairie. But those traveling sessions ended due to the pandemic.

But the logistics are challenging, as some county board meetings run a full eight hours, and involve as many as 20 staff—which makes it difficult to take meetings on the road.  

Johnson said he planned to bring the issue of public forums to the county board, stating he agreed that there should be more engagement during meetings. “But there needs to be some limits” placed on public input to make meetings manageable. 

Ziegler said that, in the past, meeting visitors were allowed to speak up during the meetings. “You’re not allowed to do that now,” said Ziegler. 

Gontarek said he was “uncomfortable” with limits that have been placed on public input in recent years. “It seems aggressive,” said Gontarek, adding that the new system should be revised to allow more engagement during the meetings. “It has to be more open.”

Helgerson said there should be a way to bring an open forum, place it within the public record, and report within the official county board minutes. 

Johnson generally agreed with the concerns, and said he planned to request the board bring the open forum back into the formal meeting schedule. 

“I’m also concerned with it…but we have attorneys and insurance companies trying to protect us from being sued,” said Johnson, noting that the county has been cautioned against open dialogue that might constitute an “unpublished hearing.” 

“There needs to be limits, but I would favor moving back into the regular meeting, so it is recorded in the minutes,” said Johnson. 

More on County Board Candidates:
• Otter Tail County Board forum
Primary election includes five in run for greater Pelican area’s District 2 seat

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