The seats were full at the Washington County Board meeting Tuesday morning as a large group of Stillwater high school students were in attendance to observe government at work.
Those students probably did not anticipate the interesting, one-act political show they took in.
The main characters in this play were Commissioners Lisa Weik and Bill Pulkrabek. The supporting cast included Commissioners Dennis Hegberg, Myra Peterson and Gary Kriesel.
As the curtain went up, the cast was about to select a new board chairman. The script — based on more than a decade of tradition — suggested that Pulkrabek would move from his position as vice chairman to the chairmanship.
But Weik, frustrated by Pulkrabek’s spotty attendance and questionable participation at some county board and committee meetings last year, tried some improv.
When it came time to nominate a commissioner for chairman, Weik quickly moved to nominate Kriesel — not Pulkrabek. She cited Kriesel’s commitment and his efforts on behalf of the Yellow Ribbon military family support group campaign.
"I’m very confident in his abilities moving forward," Weik said.
Kriesel, who was in Pulkrabek’s corner for the chairmanship vote, told Weik he was deferring to the policy of rotating the chairmanship.
Trying to head off a Pulkrabek nomination, Weik again urged support of Kriesel, this time making it more clear why she went off script. Unlike Pulkrabek, Kriesel is not up for re-election this fall, so "that would remove any perception of politics" in how the chairmanship is determined, she said. Weik previously had wondered whether Pulkrabek wants to be chairman because he is on the ballot in November.
There was silence on stage.
Were there any other nominations? Any other nominations?
Then, from stage left, Hegberg spoke up.
Following the board’s tradition, Hegberg nominated Pulkrabek, saying that the Oakdale-area district that Pulkrabek represents "deserves to have a chair."
"And he will fulfill his responsibilities," Hegberg said to Pulkrabek in a calm but fatherly tone.
With that, the County Board reverted to script. A vote was taken. Pulkrabek won 4-1, with Weik dissenting.
In the final scene, Weik and Peterson, alluding to Pulkrabek but not by name, said meeting attendance and engagement are vital for commissioners, and particularly a board chairman, as Washington County faces difficult budget and policy decisions.
As the show neared its close, Weik said she continues to have concerns about "some commissioners’" attendance, another not-so-subtle reference to Pulkrabek.
"I think past history is a strong predictor for future behavior," she said.
Then, the curtain fell, the audience of high school students filed out.
Backstage, Pulkrabek said he did not have much to say about commissioners’ concerns about him.
"I plan to go to all committee meetings I’ve been assigned," he said.
Later, sitting in a chair alone on stage, Peterson said the Washington County Board decided to institute the rotating chairmanship years ago for a reason. There has been controversy in some other counties when it comes time to nominate a board chairman, she said.
"We found that on our board we have removed the politics," Peterson said. "It just has worked well."