Minnesota reporter says she was threatened by council member

Oct 31, 2018

By Tess Williams
Reporter | Grand Forks (MN) Herald
ROOSEVELT, MN—A northwest Minnesota reporter said she was threatened during a Roosevelt City Council meeting Oct. 1 after asking pressing questions.
City clerk Alyce Siats allegedly swore at Doris Knutson, a reporter at Baudette’s weekly Northern Light Region, and council member, Arlyn Stewart, allegedly got up from his chair, towered over her and berated her after she questioned whether the council was complying with open meeting laws, Knutson said. He ended the meeting after the outburst, less than five minutes after it began.
Stewart and Siats did not respond to multiple phone calls or emails from the Herald. One council member declined to comment, and another did not respond to the Herald’s attempts to contact him.
Knutson spoke with her editors and cooperated with a Roseau County sheriff’s investigation after the meeting.
“The safety of our employees is paramount to us,” the paper’s publisher, Julie Bergman, said. “Doris held her cool completely through the meeting. It wasn’t until she got to her car (when) she had to sit in her car for a while because she was shaking so bad she didn’t feel safe to drive.” (See Bergman’s editorial on Page 4 in this issue.)
Neither Roseau County Sheriff Steve Gust or County Attorney Karen Foss returned the Herald’s phone calls. A court records search did not show any charges against Stewart or Siats.
The council met for a special meeting Sept. 19 after only one of the four members showed up to the planned monthly meeting. Council member Stan Derosier said they met on short notice after learning about an impending deadline to finalize a city levy. He said meeting notices are physically posted outside the doors of the community center, but the fliers recently have been torn down.
The League of Minnesota Cities handbook states that by law, all government meetings must be posted three days in advance or published in a newspaper. Attempts must be made to reach all parties requesting notification. The Northern Light Region requested to be notified, Knutson said. The law aims to promote transparency, keep the public informed and allow them to present their viewpoints.
Knutson reported Stewart said the meeting was not posted. The situation escalated when she pressed the legality.
Knutson, who also is the Northern Light’s managing editor and one of two staff reporters, said she began covering the Roosevelt City Council early in 2017 after she heard rumors of dysfunction. The town falls just outside the Northern Light’s coverage region, but publishers Julie and Rollin Bergman agreed with Knutson they were obligated to investigate claims about lack of transparency.
Julie Bergman published a column this week and said it was a difficult decision to cover the meetings because her family has been heavily involved in Roosevelt’s government. Bergman’s brother stepped down last year as the town’s mayor partly because of the dysfunction on the council, she said. The council did not appoint an interim mayor, but Derosier said Stewart has unofficially stepped into the role.
Knutson said the council was unable to produce city financial records for the past eight years, disregards open meeting laws, and council members are short-tempered, defensive and have screamed at citizens during meetings. She said she’s been to meetings where law enforcement has been present.
Derosier, who was late to the Monday meeting and did not witness the reported threats, denied allegations about council misconduct. He said financial files are recorded digitally by clerk Siats, but he did not know where they’re kept. The Herald was unable to verify if the documents exist because Siats did not return phone calls or emails.
Derosier said he does not feel council members act aggressively.
Council members Timothy Friesner declined to comment and Steven Brosdahl did not return the Herald’s phone call.
Julie Bergman called for voters to elect new council members during the November election. Three of the four members are up for re-election. Gerald Landby is the lone mayoral candidate.
She said Monday’s meeting highlights the dysfunction in Roosevelt and said the council’s behavior is unacceptable.
Knutson said she will continue covering the meetings. The Bergmans plan to attend the November meeting with her.
“I guess I’d like to see them start going by the book, be more open, follow the law for the sake of the citizens of Roosevelt and because it’s the right thing to do,” Knutson said. “That’s why we cover these things.” © Grand Forks Herald 2018
Tess Williams is a reporter for the Grand Forks (MN) Herald, where this story first appeared. She can be reached at twilliams@gfherald.com. Reprinted with permission.

Editor’s note: Since this story was published in the Grand Forks Herald, the newspaper reported that Roosevelt City Council member, Arlyn Stewart, who allegedly threatened Doris Knutson during a public meeting has been charged with disorderly conduct, according to Roseau County Sheriff Steve Gust. In addition, City Clerk Alyce Siats said she posted her resignation several months ago and had planned to finish the part-time city clerk position at the end of the month. She said she decided to quit early because of the last meeting.