MOORHEAD — The Moorhead City Council on Monday night, Jan. 13, voted to appoint one of its members to a voting spot on the Moorhead Public Service Commission, a move some have questioned as a potential conflict of interest.
The vote to appoint Councilwoman Heidi Durand to the Ward 2 seat on the MPS board was unanimous except for Durand, who abstained, and council members Shelly Carlson, of Ward 2, and Deb White, of Ward 3, who were absent.
Before the vote, the council heard from business owner and Moorhead Business Association board member Pat Kovash, as well as from fellow MBA board member Jim Steen, who questioned the appropriateness of council members appointing themselves to a second paid position within the city.
"The optics are wrong," said Steen, who is a member of Moorhead's charter commission.
Steen noted that the issue of the appointment would likely be taken up by the charter commission soon.
Kovash said that any council member who wanted to serve on the MPS board might consider stepping down from their council job to do so. Moorhead Public Service is a consumer-owned electric and water utility with more than 13,000 customers.
The comments from Kovash and Steen came in the wake of a letter sent last week to council members from MBA Executive Director Sheri Larson, who described the pending appointment as possibly pointing to "some unknown conspiracy" on behalf of the council.
Prior to the appointment vote Monday, Mayor Johnathan Judd defended the step, stating it was an attempt to solve what for decades has been a dysfunctional relationship between city and MPS officials.
Judd specifically took issue with the MBA letter, saying that to question the council's ethics was not in keeping with the city's recently adopted slogan of "Moorhead Proud."
"I think that's kind of disingenuous," Judd said, adding that the appointment was being made because "there are things that need to be fixed." He said Durand has the experience and know-how the job calls for.
Judd said Durand would not be accepting pay for her position on the MPS board, stating the appointment "needs to be done to benefit the citizens of this community."
The Ward 2 seat Durand will fill has been held by John Rogalla, whose term expires Feb. 1.
Historically, the MPS board has been comprised of five voting members, including one at-large member and four members appointed from the city's four wards. There have also been two non-voting members, including one City Council member and an alternate City Council member.