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BE tables decision on petition

Council to hire outside attorney for opinion on recall election

By Chuck Hunt - Editor | Mar 28, 2021

Members of the Blue Earth City Council and city staff listen to the discussions of the recall petition concerning council member John Huisman. Left to right are council members Wendy Cole, Dan Warner and Glenn Gaylord, staff member Tammy Davis, city administrator Mary Kennedy, mayor Rick Scholtes, city attorney David Frundt and council members John Huisman, Russ Erichsrud and Marty Cassem.

After nearly an hour of discussion last Thursday night, the Blue Earth City Council voted to table any action concerning a petition filed at City Hall calling for a recall election of councilman John Huisman.

The motion, which passed unanimously, called for city attorney David Frundt to have an outside attorney examine the petition and the City Charter and make a recommendation as to what action the council can and should take.

It was the third motion voted on during the special council meeting.

The first motion, which called for the matter to be dropped, failed on a 5-2 vote. Council members Huisman and Dan Warner, who had made the motion and the second, were the only two to vote in favor.

A second motion, to table the matter until the April 5 regular City Council meeting, passed 5-2, with Huisman and Warner voting no.

That is when the third motion, to hire outside counsel was passed.

A group of five residents had started the petition calling for the recall vote and had gathered more than the required 250 signatures and presented it at City Hall the week before.

The reason stated for the recall election was that Huisman had violated the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution by signing a letter sent to KBEW radio station demanding a program on the station be removed from the air. The letter also said actions such as calling for a boycott of the station would be taken.

At Thursday’s meeting, Huisman’s attorney, Thomas Anderson, outlined that a recall election is allowed when there is malfeasance or nonfeasance of duty, and he felt that was not the case here.

“If it is determined the petition for recall is not complete or not adequate the council should vote it down,” Anderson said. “Or postpone for further review by other counsel.”

City attorney David Frundt said his office had reviewed the situation and felt that it would be a conflict of interest for them to offer an opinion on the situation.

“I have a couple of attorney names in mind,” Frundt offered. “One is in Albert Lea, one in Mankato and one in Prior Lake.”

Mayor Rick Scholtes suggested the city could hire an attorney, but then so could the petitioners.

“It will still be for us to decide whether to proceed with the recall election or turn down the petition,” Scholtes said. “At some point we still have to make that decision. The biggest question will be how do we decide if there was malfeasance or not.”

Scholtes added that if the council accepts the petition, it would mean the matter would go to a vote, with anyone able to file to run on the ballot.

Council members also mentioned the matter could also wind up in court and be decided by a judge.

Councilman Warner said he felt Huisman had already apologized for being part of the letter at a previous meeting of the council.

“Doesn’t this petition create division and ugliness in our town,” Warner questioned. “I don’t support this recall election at all. My opinion is, we just let it go.”

Councilman Glenn Gaylord said he felt the council needed to remember they represent the people of the city.

“I have worked with John for many years,” Gaylord said. “But I feel we are getting threatened here by this attorney. These people came to us with a petition. If the people want a recall it is hard to say they shouldn’t.”

Huisman pointed out he won re-election to the council by a large margin, and that 800 people voted him in.

Gaylord said that if it comes to a recall election, he hopes those people show up and vote again and re-elect Huisman.

Huisman also spoke several times during the meeting, and said the question before the council was not a tough one.

“There was no malfeasance here. I did not violate the First Amendment in any way, shape or form,” Huisman stated. “What I did was not as a councilman, but as a private citizen.”

Huisman said he decided to fight the petition, and not just let it go to a vote because he said he cares about the town and does not want the city to incur the costs of a special election.

Other council concerns included Russ Erichsrud expressing wanting to hear from community members before the council makes a decision. Other council members said they had already heard from many community members about this.

There were 10 members of the public at the meeting and several spoke, including Brian Roverud concerning following Huisman’s attorney’s advice, Danny Brod, one of the five originators of the petition who explained the reason for the petition and Mark Hauskins who said he felt the original KBEW letter was a case of bullying.

The matter is now going to be added to the agenda of the next regular City Council meeting which is slated for Monday, April 5, at 5 p.m.

An opinion from the outside attorney is expected to be ready at that time.