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Tracy episode offers lessons for all elected officials

Two weeks ago, events involving the City Council and the Economic Development Authority became a troublesome spectacle for the proud community of Tracy.

It would have been easy to do a lot of finger-pointing. But we need to take into account that all of the members that sit on these two city bodies are volunteers. They either ran for, or pursued their positions with the understanding they will volunteer hours and hours to help govern or promote the city they love. It’s safe to say all members that sit on the City Council and EDA board only want what’s best for the people of Tracy.

But looking back, they must come to terms with the reality that missteps were made.

First, members of the City Council voted to censure fellow Council member Tony Peterson for not complying with a request made by Mayor Anthony Dimmers to abstain from discussions involving Economic Development Authority board member Jeff Salmon. Then, the Council needed to decide whether or not to conduct a hearing two days later to remove Salmon from the EDA board. Dimmers was only following the advice presented by City Attorney Matthew Gross and City Administrator Kris Ambuehl. Of course, their concern involved Peterson’s employment at Salmon Motors in Tracy.

Finally, after a lot of dramatic discussion, Peterson was forced to not participate in the hearing. And, after a four-hour long hearing involving dramatic court-room style discussion, Salmon was removed from the EDA board. Testimony during the hearing revealed a number of alleged missteps made in the process of deciding whether or not to approve a loan to a business owner.

One city official called the whole episode a temporary “black-eye” for the City of Tracy. And it will be temporary. But there are lessons to be learned by not only city officials in Tracy, but for elected officials in other communities in southwest Minnesota.

Yes, making decisions involving city business can be difficult. However, Council and EDA board members do have resources to help guide them. One of the most valuable resources is the city attorney, who is hired by the Council to offer that guidance to steer the city away from trouble.

Ignoring this legal advice or not consulting with the city attorney or city administrator on matters that involve the city and the EDA will often result in either trouble or embarrassment for the city.

If Council or EDA members believe the city attorney is presenting bad advice, then it’s time for the Council to hire a new attorney. Otherwise, it’s always a good idea to follow the legal advice of the city attorney.

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