DL Online's Nathan Bowe reports in New hotel is legal, ethical wasp’s nest:
A developer has proposed just such a hotel project, a $12 million, 69-unit Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott, nine condominiums and a 4,000 square foot restaurant on the site of the former Capri Motel and surrounding commercial and residential property.
But the Detroit Lakes City Council has run into a beehive of legal threats and ethical accusations surrounding the project and the way it has handled voting at the committee and council level.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources emailed a letter April 8 addressed to Mayor Matt Brenk and the Detroit Lakes City Council, threatening to sue the city if it approved the hotel project.
The city council’s Community Development Committee voted to approve the project the next day and to send it on to the full city council with a recommendation for approval.
But that letter from the DNR threatening a lawsuit was not shared with CDC members prior to the vote.
The paper is coming around with a bit more comprehensive coverage after some public shaming in its own pages. In Newspaper, city not giving all info on hotel project, a letter to the editor, Willis Mattison wrote:
I notice that your online story about the Fairfield Inn shoreland development controversy now includes reference to the Minnesota DNR’s letter threatening lawsuit.
But why did you not reveal that the mayor and city staff received this letter on April 8?
Your online coverage would now come under the heading of “better late than never,” so thanks for that. But what may be worse than never carrying the story at all is omitting the larger picture about lack of “government accountability.”
As you know, this is the Minnesota DNR’s second letter to the city on the project, the first having only recommended that the Planning Commission deny the requested variances.
In the April 8 letter, for the first time, Minnesota DNR clearly threatens formal legal action should the city approve the project. Your reporting staff knows that the CDC, which met last Thursday (April 9), “green lighted” the project, as you reported.
As you must have noticed, the April 8 Minnesota DNR letter was addressed to the mayor and the members of the City Council. But the city council did not receive the letter until after the vote of the Community Development Committee.
Again, how in the name of good journalism could you possibly have left that part of the story out?
One further question: Is this significant omission in keeping with Forum Communications’ standards both journalistically and ethically?
Bluestem also finds it ethically interesting that the local publisher of the Forum Communications chain paper, Mary Brenk, is married to the mayor. That's got to complicate coverage.
Photo: Does this movie still from Citizen Kane now serve as a analogy for tensions between press (Mrs. Brenk) and government (Mr. Brenk) in Detroit Lakes? For an explication of the famous image, Breakfast with the Kanes.
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