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BE voters will decide charter questions

By Staff | Aug 19, 2012

Voters in the city of Blue Earth will have two special questions on the ballot in the general election on Nov. 6. Both will deal with changes to the city’s charter.

One question has been there before or at least a version of it. The other is new.

A group of citizens presented a petition to the Charter Commission at their meeting held on Wednesday night.

The petition, signed by 142 people, calls for changing the charter to have all six city councilmen be elected ‘at-large’ instead of two from each of the city’s three Wards.

The other question on the ballot comes from the Charter Commission itself, and if it passes would raise the percentage of votes needed to make a change to the charter to 60 percent from the current 51 percent necessary.

City Councilman Rick Scholtes was at the Charter Commission meeting to present the citizen petition.

“We are not asking to eliminate the Ward system,” Scholtes says. “The three Wards would stay, but all six councilmen would be elected at-large.”

City Attorney David Frundt informed the commission that any petition from citizens with signatures of at least five percent of the number of voters in the last election automatically gets placed on the ballot.

The number of signatures on the petition appeared to far exceed the 73 needed, Frundt says.

City Administrator Kathy Bailey says the county auditor was in the process of verifying that at least 73 of the 142 signatures were from registered voters in the city.

Frundt informed the commission that they had to accept and acknowledge receipt of the petition and send it on to the City Council to be placed on the fall ballot.

“It cannot be acted on or changed by the Charter Commission,” Frundt says. “Except to add to it, but not to change the intent of the petition.”

At least one of the commission members, Mike Enger, had a different solution.

He proposed that the commission put its own question on the ballot that would call for three of the council members to be elected at-large and the other three to be elected one in each Ward.

His proposal seemed to be met with approval from the other commission members, but they also wanted to know what would happen if both of the questions on the ballot would pass.

“I have no idea,” Frundt told the commission. “I don’t think that this situation has ever happened before.”

Enger also asked Scholtes if his group would withdraw their petition in favor of his proposal, but Scholtes said it would be impossible to contact all of the people involved in signing the document by Monday, when the City Council would meet to place the measure on the ballot.

The commission defeated Enger’s plan on a 5-2 vote.

The other question that will be on the ballot would raise the percentage of votes needed to pass a change in the charter.

The Charter Commission had previously proposed the change and sent it on to the City Council for ratification. The council needs a unanimous vote to make the charter change, and failed to achieve that.

They sent the proposal back to the Charter Commission with the suggestion the commission put it on the ballot and let the people of Blue Earth decide the question.

The commission voted unanimously on Wednesday to do just that.

Both votes in November will take just 51 percent of those voting on the measures in order to pass, Frundt told the commission, referring to a question of percentages necessary to pass it last time there was a proposal to change the charter was on the ballot.