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Playing the devil’s advocate role

By Staff | Dec 27, 2010

This week’s front page may seem a little strange to some of our readers.

No, I am not referring to the interesting photo of the BEA student sitting on the steps of the school, as a group of older kids goes stampeding by.

The photo looks as if it might have been worked on in PhotoShop to create the artistic, blurred effect.

Actually it wasn’t. It is the way the photo was shot, by our reporter, Regan Carstensen.

No, that isn’t the strange thing I mean.

The story concerning Blue Earth city councilman Dan Brod venting some of his frustrations with past council decisions – with an accompanying photo of Brod with a plaque thanking him for his years of service – seems a bit strange.

Or ironic.

But, the two items, side by side, is a fair representation of what occurred at last Monday night’s meeting. Sitting there, I had a sense of irony that Dan Brod was given a certificate of appreciation by the city, mayor and fellow council members, then minutes later passionately chastised those same people for what had been done in the past, and cautioned them how they should do things in the future.

Actually, however, that was typical of the way Dan has always operated as a councilman.

While you may not agree with him 100 percent of the time (or even 50 percent of the time), Dan brought a total passion for the council, and the city of Blue Earth itself, to his position on the council.

Never, in nearly 40 years of covering City Council meetings, have I seen anyone better prepared for the meetings. Each council member receives a packet of information before the meeting, which sometimes can fill nearly a hundred pages. I would always joke that another tree died because of this amount of paper work copied off for each council member, the public and press.

It was obvious during some meetings that not every council member had read the material. But, it was also obvious Dan Brod had. Probably every word, including the minutes of the previous meeting.

He questioned items in the packet, and proposals on the table. He knew he wasn’t always taking the ‘popular’ stand, but also felt it was his duty to question why something was necessary, and how it was going to be paid for.

He sometimes reminded me of a newspaper reporter during the meeting, asking the questions a reporter would, if a reporter could constantly be interrupting a meeting with questions. (We don’t usually, saving our questions for afterwards.)

I once served on a City Council and did something similar. I would ask a lot of questions, making the rest of the council and the city administrator prove to me that a proposal was necessary, the right thing to do, and exactly where the funds for it were coming from.

A fellow council member told me one time he was amazed I had voted for a certain proposal when I had spent so much time arguing against it. I responded that I had not argued against it, I had simply asked a lot of questions about it.

I wanted all of the other council members to be aware of what exactly we were going to obligate the city to, if we voted for the project.

I was playing ‘devil’s advocate,’ I told him. From then on, that was the name he labeled me with.

While some mayors and city administrators might want a homogenys, like-thinking council in order to move forward with projects for the city, having a board of all ‘yes-men’ isn’t always the best thing to have.

Someone needs to ask the tough questions, making the others prove a proposal is the best thing to do.

Someone needs to be the devil’s advocate.

As Dan Brod told his fellow councilors as he exited his last meeting, if something doesn’t look right, it is your duty to bring it up, question it, and tell someone about it.

Council members should do their homework, discuss an issue in an open meeting, ask the necessary questions, vote on the matter, then abide by the group’s decision and move forward.

Even the devil’s advocate.