Guest Post: The Grand Forks City Council Didn’t Let Citizens Speak Before Deciding to Ax Columbus Day

Grand Forks City Hall, 255 N. 4th St. Sam Easter / Grand Forks Herald

This guest post was submitted by Dr. Kevin Fire of Grand Forks

One thing that city governments have traditionally encouraged is public participation in the political process. That is, unless the topic about which there may be discussion  might anger the left.

As a case in point, last Monday, the City Council in Grand Forks made the decision to no longer recognize Columbus Day, and instead replace it with Indigenous Peoples Day. This decision was voted on by the City Council, and a procedural strategy was used to prevent any in attendance from voicing any concerns over such a change.

This resolution was originally brought before the City Council, acting as a Committee of the Whole, on the Monday following the July 4 holiday weekend. One can only wonder whether this was a chance occurrence, or whether the date selected was intentional, so as to move this potentially controversial decision forward without the knowledge or consent of a large amount of Grand Forks population. 

Of course, many people over the long holiday weekend were out of town vacationing, visiting relatives, or at lake homes. I personally had family staying with me from out of state, and was busy entertaining them. 

On the Monday afternoon of the Committee of the Whole meeting I received a text from the wife of a friend of mine, wondering if I had heard that the Grand Forks City Council was considering a resolution to change from Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day. Up until the time of the text, I had not heard of the consideration of this resolution.  As I did not learn about the proposed resolution until late Monday afternoon, I was unable to attend the Committee of the Whole meeting at 5:30 PM, as I was still working at my business until after 7 o’clock that evening.

I thought this this would not be a problem, as the Committee of the Whole was going to make recommendations to the City Council, and the City Council would not be considering this resolution until the following meeting, which was to be held  the following Monday. A former council member informed me that the reason that resolutions are considered at two meetings before action is taken on a resolution, is to ensure that all members of the public are able speak at a Council meeting in order to make their viewpoints known to the Council.  Unless of course, your viewpoint may upset the left.

So, I made plans to attend the meeting the following Monday at City Hall. Accompanying me to this meeting, and also planning to make a public comment on the matter before the Council, was my good friend, whose wife had informed me of the resolution that the Committee of the Whole was considering.

In order to ensure an opportunity to present for our allotted three minutes, we arrived at the Council chambers quite early. In fact, we arrived slightly over an hour before the meeting was to begin.  We were the first attendees other than several city employees. 

We approached a table at the back of the Council chambers, where there were speaker cards.  These indicated that:

  1. We were to place our name on the speaker card
  2. We were to indicate the topic that we were going to discuss 
  3. We would have a limit of three minutes to speak. 
  4. When the chair of the meeting asked whether there was any public input we were to indicate that we wished to speak 
  5. We should then approach the podium 
  6. We should place the cards in the basket so that our names and our topic could be entered into the public record and 
  7. We should then present our position on the matter at hand.

We filled out the cards, and, as we were the first ones at the meeting, we sat in the front row directly next to the speaker’s podium.  Both of us spoke to several city officials we knew as they entered. We directly asked one of the city officials about the process for being identified to be able to speak about a topic to the council.  

This city official asked what topic we wanted to speak on, and we indicated to him that our issue was about the changing of the Columbus Day holiday.  We then showed him our notes for our presentations. This city official then indicated to us that the Indigenous Peoples Day resolution was going to be embedded within a list of action items.   Unless someone on the city Council or the mayor pulled that item, the action items would be voted on as a group, and we would not be allowed to speak about it. We emphasized to this individual that this was the topic we were interested in speaking about, and expressed our hope that we would be able to do so.

The City Council meeting then began. There were several reports presented, and then several issues were brought before the  Council. On all of the issues brought before them, the presiding officer of the Council, who is the mayor of Grand Forks, repeatedly asked for public input.  Several times, individuals from the audience would come forward on these topics, some with and some without speaker cards, and present their viewpoints on the topics at hand.

During one topic, which concerned a particularly messy yard that the city was having trouble getting cleaned up, the mayor several times asked for people to come forward. The last speaker who came forward spoke for over 10 minutes about this topic.  I noticed she had not filled out a card, but merely came forward when the mayor requested public input.

As we followed along with  the agenda, the time eventually came for the action items. This was going to be our opportunity to step up and say our piece.  The mayor then asked the Council if anyone would like to pull any of the action items out, waited a very brief time, and said, “Seeing none, I would entertain a motion that they all be approved.” A motion was made, seconded, and all of the action items were all approved at one time.  

After a few moments, the mayor looked up, smiled at the crowd, and said “This means that the resolution recognizing Indigenous Peoples Day instead of Columbus Day has been passed.”  At that point the majority of the audience clapped and cheered, and we realized that the decision to pass the resolution had been made prior to this meeting, and by a procedural strategy we were not going to be allowed to present our opinions on the matter.

This is concerning to me at many levels. First of all, this is an issue that certainly the mayor and the Council would know would have some controversy. Why they would intentionally embed this resolution with the other action items?  The fact that no Council member opted to have this resolution pulled out to see if anyone had anything they wanted to have discussed was clearly a strategy to prevent anyone who may be in opposition to that motion from speaking about it.

Another troubling issue  is that we followed every step the city requested to be able to present our opinion, and due to a procedural strategy, we were intentionally prevented from doing so.

The concerns that I would like to have expressed to the Council regarding the resolution were not in opposition of having an Indigenous Peoples Day. My concerns I wanted to express to the Council were as follows:

  1. I was going to request that the Council consider identifying another date as Indigenous Peoples Day, but not use this day as a replacement for a federally recognized holiday
  2. I was also going to  point out the fact that this movement has been advocated by the left for approximately 42 years, and has not yet been implemented by very many organizations. 

In the motion brought forward before the Council, there was reported the following statistics: There are seven states, 122 cities, three counties, two school districts, and nine colleges and universities that have followed this path of naming Indigenous Peoples day.  It is not clear in the motion if every one of these organizations has created an Indigenous Peoples Day in lieu of Columbus Day, or has created an independent date recognizing Indigenous Peoples Day.

Let’s make the assumption that all of these organizations have replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples day. We can then look at the proportion  of these organizations that are followed this trend, realizing of course that there has been 42 years since this was first proposed at a United Nations Council Meeting on Indigenous Peoples.  

  • So, in 42 years 122 cities have recognized Indigenous Peoples day.  This is out of 35,886 municipalities in the United States, for a percentage of 34 one hundreths of one percent of cities and towns in this country passing such a resolution.
  • There are also reported to be three counties who have made this change.  This is out of 3031 counties, for a percentage of 1/10 of one percent.
  • There have also been two school districts that have passed this. This is out of 12,884 school districts, for a proportion of 16  thousandths of of one percent.  (These data all come from the 2012 U.S. Census.)
  • The Washington Post reports that there are currently 5300 colleges and universities in the United States. The motion considered by the GF City Council indicates that nine of these colleges and universities have taken the position to recognize Indigenous Peoples Day, for a proportion of 17 one hundredths of one percent.

I know the city of Grand Forks would like to be as progressive as possible, however this is certainly a movement that in 42 years has not gained significant traction.

By the way Fargo has passed a similar resolution.  Of the other 121 cities, these include Berkeley, San Francisco, St. Paul, Denver, Los Angeles, Santa Fe, Seattle, and Portland.

  • I am also concerned about the slippery slope and the precedent that this may set. For instance, if the position is now that, if negative information comes out about a person for who a holiday is named, will the Council then be considering removing their holiday from being observed by the city of Grand Forks? With the negative information that has recently been reported about Martin Luther King, will the city consider removing the holiday that honors him?
  • In addition to this, one of the busiest streets in Grand Forks is Columbia Road, which is a neo-Latin toponym that is a derivation of Columbus.  Now that the city will not recognize Columbus Day, will the city now take the position that Columbia Road should be renamed as well?
  • I also was going to suggest to the Council that this motion be considered for a citywide vote, or at least that the process be tabled until the opinion of members of the community could be polled, other than the individuals who brought this motion forward. 

Of course I did not have any opportunity to express any of these concerns or make any of these recommendations, and neither did my friend. After the passing of all of the action items on a single motion,  we immediately stood and left the Council chambers. 

You can be assured that this type of political maneuvering is coming to your community.  Those who purport to be the most tolerant clearly are the least tolerant. Local governments, when influenced by leftist extreme views, will be cowed into a fear of being called racist, sexist, homophobic, or something else. As a coping strategy for this fear,  they will prevent the presentation of dissenting views to avoid controversy and conflict. 

If your city government asks you for your input, evaluate the topic for which they are requesting the input.  If this is a topic that has significant liberal support, don’t waste your time, they don’t really want to hear from you.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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