The rumor mill was running at top speed last week in Blue Earth.
When a City Council meeting had to be postponed for a day due to lack of a quorum, the story began circulating that some council members were boycotting the meeting in an attempt to keep a petition from being accepted, and thus preventing the question of whether to eliminate the wards from being placed on the ballot.
In fact, Mayor Rob Hammond wondered if that might be the case, and said he hoped it was not.
It appears the rumor was not true.
Two of the council members were on vacation, and had announced that fact. Another was unable to attend due to a previous appointment.
Both John Huisman and Dan Brod were on vacation trips which had been planned for months. In fact, Brod’s fishing trip had been in the works for a year.
There was a quorum on Tuesday, and the petition was accepted and the question of keeping wards or eliminating them will be on the ballot.
According to City Attorney David Frundt, there never was any question that the matter would be up for vote in the November election. Once a citizen, or group of citizens, gets the number of signatures on a petition that is required, the City Council has no choice but to put it up for a vote.
It is a way for a citizen to get a piece of local legislation passed when the governing body does not wish to pass a resolution.
This type of citizen legislation is used all the time in California. The voters there always seem to have Proposition 13 (or some number) to vote on, which can cover everything from legalizing marijuana to choosing a state ice cream flavor.
All of these propositions were ‘proposed’ by citizens to be placed on the ballot for the entire state to vote on.
Of course, one of their recent propositions, which concerned banning gay marriage, was struck down this week by a federal judge.
In Minnesota it is not often used, but there have been votes on constitutional amendments, proposed by citizen groups.
Locally, in Blue Earth, the city’s charter can be changed by the Charter Commission, with approval by the City Council. If that process is not successful, the charter can be changed by citizens themselves, petitioning for a public vote.
A group of six citizens have decided to follow that route. They want the ward question put up for public debate and have the citizens decide whether to keep the three wards or go to an at-large representation on the council.
Those who favor the change explain their reason this way.
Suppose four people want to serve on the council and are well-qualified to do so.
But, they all live in one ward. Only one will be elected to serve.
Meanwhile, another ward with an open position might not have anyone interested in running.
In a town the size of Blue Earth, they feel there are not enough people to warrant dividing the city into thirds.
Those who favor keeping the ward system in place use almost the same argument.
They fear that a majority of the six council members, maybe even all of them, might come from the same area of town.
Keeping the wards in place, they say, means representation on the council will be from all areas of the city, not just one. Much like the county commissioners are spread out from five areas of the county.
Both sides make a good point.
I have never lived in a city with wards before, and to be honest, I don’t know if it is a big deal to me one way or another.
I would hope that whether a city council member, or a county commissioner, represents a certain area or not, they will always try and do what is right and best for all of the citizens in their county or city, not just those from their ward or district.
At any rate, the citizens of Blue Earth are going to be able to decide if they want the wards or not.
And, maybe that is the way it should be handled. Majority rule.