Fjelstad says his promise has been kept

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 5, 2003

After the regular business of the city council is done, the councilmembers talk about issues from their ward. Each time this is done, Councilor Jeff Fjelstad starts with a joke, usually these break up the often monotonous council meetings. The owner of the Aragon bar laughs at most meetings, but when serious issues are on the table, he is serious and straightforward.

Last October, Fjelstad made a promise. He said that within six months of being elected he would take power away from the city manager, and give it back to the city council.

“I’d like to think that I could make a difference after six months,” he said. “If I don’t, you’ll get your money back.”

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Until a few weeks ago, Fjelstad had a stack of uncashed paychecks. He said that he was asked to cash them by the city, he did. But the trip to the bank meant more than just helping the city to right its books, it also was a sign he was sticking around.

“I’m not going to quit,” he said Wednesday morning in his light-less bar room. “Although some people would like me to quit,” he added, laughing.

The owner of the Aragon Bar, a popular tavern that has topless dancing in the back, Fjelstad was an unlikely candidate. He challenged an experienced and bright councilman, Ron Sorenson, and won. His political hero, at the time of the election, was then-governor, Jesse Ventura.

Like Ventura, Fjelstad’s term in office has been a little controversial, but not so much because of his conduct, but more because the issues the city council has faced.

Since January, the city council has trudged through some fits of controversy, but they’ve also made some strides forward.

In one of their first meetings, the council decided to ban prayer from council meetings, after an outcry of disdain for the decision by a handful of citizens, prayer was put back into the meetings.

Weeks later, the council decided to spend $3,000 to have a consultant come in for a full day workshop for the council. The meeting prioritized goals for the city, and set up timelines for each.

The amount spent on the day wasn’t well-taken, but over time, the goals have seemed to be agenda items.

Revitalizing the downtown, planning for a new library, demolishing the old high school, cleaning up the Farmland site, and moving on a plan to clean up the lakes, are issues Fjelstad says the council wanted to get done.

“I want to follow this plan, because I think we set some good goals,” he said.

But, many who remember the promise made eight months ago are wondering how he’s progressed on that.

“I think we’ve accomplished that goal,” he said. “We’ve established the fact that the city manager runs the city of Albert Lea, but that the city council members are really the owners of the money for the city. We make the decisions on where we will go.”