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Council keeps wards

By Staff | Nov 23, 2009

Rob Hammond

As expected, the Blue Earth City Council decided against a recommendation from the city’s Charter Commission to do away with the city’s ward system.

In fact, a first motion, by Councilman Glenn Gaylord to follow the recommendation, died for lack of a second.

A second motion, also made by Gaylord, was to put the question of discontinuing the ward system before the public in the next election. It was seconded by Councilman Rick Scholtes.

That motion needed at least five of the seven council members to vote yes to pass, according to the city’s charter.

Only three members voted yes – Gaylord, Scholtes, and Mayor Rob Hammond.

Eliminating the city’s three wards would mean all six council members would be elected at-large, by all city residents. Currently two councilors are elected in each of three wards.

The vote still leaves one option for change to the city’s charter, and removing wards. Citizens could file a petition – signed by at least 250 residents – to place the question on the next election ballot.

Mayor Hammond has indicated he would circulate such a petition. Councilman Dick Maher suggested the mayor look at a recent poll question on the Register’s Web site, which indicates a majority of residents favor keeping the wards (60 percent to 40 percent).

In a related matter, the council heard from City Attorney David Frundt concerning a council member moving from one ward to another.

Councilman Scholtes had indicated earlier he would be moving out of his ward in the future.

Frundt says state law says when the council determines a councilman has moved out of the ward, they can declare the seat vacant.

“The council can appoint someone to fill the term until the next regular election,” Frundt reports.

Councilman John Huisman questioned if the city had to hold a special election instead of waiting for the next general election, and Frundt said he would research that point further.

“Which councilmen asked for the research?” Hammond asked, and Frundt said it was Scholtes and Les Wiborg.

Councilman Maher questioned whether it was proper for councilmen to ask the city attorney to pursue a legal opinion without full council knowledge.

“If I am asked a question by an individual councilman, I first ask Kathy (Bailey, city administrator), if I should pursue the research,” Frundt says.

Maher said he felt all inquiries to the city attorney should go through the city administrator. Gaylord said that was a good theory, but that there are exceptions to every rule.