Optics not good for Tracy City Council

Recent developments involving the Tracy City Council should set off alarms in this southwest Minnesota community.

During the Sept. 25 Council meeting, concerned residents stood up and accused Councilman Tony Peterson of being a “bully” and overstepping his authority. Those residents said that Peterson’s alleged behavior and actions led to the resignation of City Administrator Madonna Peterson.

As of this date, Madonna Peterson is still out as city administrator despite pleas from residents speaking out at Monday’s meetings for her return.

And now more allegations have been levied by concerned citizens during Monday’s meeting. This time the allegations were directed at Councilman Bill Chukuske. A planning and zoning commissioner accused Chukuske of two conflict of interest violations.

First, Chukuske participated in the decision-making over an agenda item involving the vacating of a portion of Sixth Street in Tracy. The problem: Chukuske’s possible ties with PC&B Properties, a beneficiary of returned parcels of land.

“Per our city code, Councilman Chukuske should have identified this conflict of interest and abstained from voting on this motion,” Planning and Zoning Commissioner Rosemary Martin said.

Martin is correct to be concerned over the Sixth Street action as well as another possible conflict of interest involving health insurance for employees. Martin told the Council that in six years the city has not taken health insurance bids and it is purchasing the health insurance through Bill Chukuske Insurance Services.

After Martin’s comments, the Council asked City Attorney Matthew B. Gross to offer an opinion on the insurance issue.

“Cities with less than 25 employees do not have to bid out health insurance,” Gross said. “Tracy has 15 employees with health insurance coverage.”

Gross then said that when the vote in any given question would come out with the same results even if the individual vote in question was thrown out, the courts would let the vote stand.

Maybe so, but allowing Chukuske to participate in any part of the decision making makes for bad optics. And it also erodes the confidence level citizens should have that their government officials are operating in an ethical manner.