Citizens to vote on ward system
The citizens of Blue Earth will soon have a chance to decide if they wish to keep the current ward system in place, or do away with it.
A petition presented to the city’s Charter Commission at a special meeting on Wednesday night means the question of keeping the current three city wards will be on the ballot in November.
Charter Commission Chairman Dave Classon told the other members of the commission that the only item on the agenda was to receive the petition.
“This is actually the third step in a process,” Classon says. “It (a proposal to eliminate the wards) was first voted on by us, but it was voted down by the City Council. The third step is this petition to take the question to a public vote.”
Commission members were surprised to learn they did not have to vote to proceed to place the question on the November ballot.
“Once this petition is presented, it automatically goes on the ballot,” City Administrator Kathy Bailey says. “It is my job to validate the signatures, and that needs to be done within 10 days. If there is a problem with any of the signatures, the petition is returned to the group who prepared it, to correct the errors.”
The group who presented the petition is composed of six citizens — Rick Scholtes, Rob Hammond, Dan Mensing, Bruce Ankeny, Joe Bromeland and Wade Barslou. The petition calls for the question of changing the city charter and eliminating the wards be placed on the ballot.
Bailey says the petition needed signatures of 5-percent of the voters in the last election. She says that means 76 signatures were necessary, and the petition contains 117.
Commission member Mike Enger questioned whether the number needed was accurate, according to language in the charter itself.
“There seems to be a difference in the language in the charter and state law as far as the number of signatures needed,” Enger says.
City Attorney David Frundt had an explanation for the different wording.
“The charter language covers initiative, recall and referendum,” Frundt explains. “That covers ways the citizens can take it upon themselves to enact city legislation. But, to change the charter itself, a different process is necessary and a different number of signatures are required.”
Last year the commission voted to amend the city charter to do away with the three wards and have all six city council members elected at-large.
The City Council, however, voted to keep the three wards in place. Both votes were not unanimous.
Enger also questioned why the petition doesn’t trigger another vote on the proposal by the commission.
Bailey responded that neither the Charter Commission or the City Council will vote on the matter.
“It goes right on the ballot for the people to decide,”she says.
Currently the city has three wards, with two council members elected from each ward. If passed, the amendment would have all six council members elected at large, beginning with the next election, in 2012.