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City handles Alerus Center actions professionally

It's best not to know how laws or sausages are made. Or how firings are conducted, as the famous saying should also declare. The recent dismissals of the Alerus Center's top two executives have made this clear. But however unpleasant, the process...

It's best not to know how laws or sausages are made.

Or how firings are conducted, as the famous saying should also declare. The recent dismissals of the Alerus Center's top two executives have made this clear.

But however unpleasant, the process is important for Grand Forks residents to understand. That's because the center belongs to the city, meaning the residents. So, the former executive director and former assistant director worked for the residents.

Which makes the residents a kind of Events Center SuperBoard, a citywide committee whose 50,000-plus members have every right to know what's going on in their center.

That's why the Herald has reported in such detail on City Hall's investigation into the management practices at the center.

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And that's why this editorial can say with some confidence that the investigation and the dismissals were handled well.

Firing people is not an easy task - not in business, not in nonprofits and not in government. Especially not in government, because many government actions take place under a spotlight, and many government workers have extensive job protections.

In this case, Mayor Mike Brown, city administrator Todd Feland and others on city staff capably handled their own challenges. City leaders launched an investigation within hours after they'd heard a number of complaints. They got extensive information, then brought in an outside investigator.

The in-house and outside investigations asked the right questions and interviewed the right people, including Alerus Center staff.

Then Grand Forks Mayor Mike Brown made the call, deciding - after reviewing the evidence - to let the managers go.

Yes, Brown toyed for a few days with the idea of retaining the director. He may have been influenced by the fact that a dismissal would cost the city $80,000 in severance pay; more about that below.

But the mayor changed his mind after hearing what the Events Center Commission had to say. Kudos to Brown for doing so; the mayor's always been a careful listener, and that helps him be smart about taking others' advice.

As city leaders have noted, former Executive Director Cheryl Swanson in fact deserves real credit for putting the Alerus Center on a much stronger financial footing. That's a valuable skill for Swanson to take to her next job; here's hoping she finds a position that's a better fit for her management style.

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Now, back to the severance pay: Does Grand Forks really need to offer such generous terms? How many private-sector CEOs in Grand Forks have severance packages?

Few, we'd guess. But Grand Forks should answer that question for sure before hiring Swanson's replacement. It's worth knowing - not guessing - what the market is before hiring top talent. And it's worth insisting on behalf of the center's owners that the city not pay more than it needs to.

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