A Tactless Night in the Council Chamber

Hey there, Duluth City Council. It’s been a while. It seemed like things had been ticking along at a fairly mundane pace in my first two months away, but that all changed on Monday. Now, we have two councilors pushing to remove Councilor Linda Krug from her presidency.

The push, spearheaded by Councilor Fosle and supported by Councilor Hanson, stems from a series of incidents in which they claim President Krug has cut off other councilors as they try to speak. The most memorable was the instant runoff voting incident back in June, in which she made a silly attempt to shame her fellow councilors after the vote, but this Monday’s meeting featured another, in which she headed off Councilor Julsrud’s comments on horse-riding trails in Duluth. See the video here (the incident is around 1:15, though I’d recommend watching the preceding 5-10 minutes for context):

An unrepentant President Krug told Northland’s News Center that she “like[s] to be efficient,” and was simply trying to “refocus” the meeting. Perception is everything, however, and one would have to be very loyal to President Krug to see this incident as mere task-managing. Councilor Julsrud was wandering a bit, yes, and did seem a bit worked up about a horse trail; I could perhaps see some cause for a polite reminder, or a clarification on the direction on her comments (which she gave when finally allowed to speak again). Likewise, I was fine with her reminder to Councilor Hanson at 1:31 when he started to turn his comments into a mayoral stump speech involving Mr. Ed. This is not what President Krug gave Councilor Julsrud. Instead, she barges in aggressively, banging her gavel and putting poor Attorney Johnson in an awkward position. It was hardly a becoming moment.

Most worrisome is the fact that President Krug, a UMD professor who focuses on mediation and conflict resolution in her day job, seems unable to comprehend how or why she comes across this way. Sure, these meetings can grate on a councilor as they drag along, and everyone will snap every now and then. We’re only human. But at least most people are able to recognize it when they lose their tactfulness for a moment, and she could easily have admitted she could have handled things a little better while at the same time upholding her authority as council president. She hasn’t done that. Incidents like this are probably a big reason why President Krug has failed to generate much momentum as a candidate for higher office, despite her solid managerial skills and political views that largely align with Duluth’s electorate. (Also, for the record, I do not agree with Councilor Julsrud, and think tabling the measure was the right decision.)

All of that said, the attempted removal is an act of overreach. It threatens to divide the council and become personal. If councilors would like to take action, a censure would seem a far more appropriate tool. It is probably not coincidental that the two sponsors of the resolution are frequent sparring partners with President Krug, and it’s hard not to see a deeper agenda there. (Councilor Julsrud, notably, has not publicly jumped on board the removal train.) Both sides here seem petty, dressing up a political agenda in high-minded language about how to run a council. It is probably time to take a step back, breathe a little bit, and remember that the duties of the Duluth City Council, while noble, are not worth this sort of fight.

I may just have to watch the next meeting. Someone get the popcorn ready.