Commission to Recall City Hall, Red Wing

RED WING-- The City Council voted 6-1 during its Monday meeting to decline calling special recall elections for members Andy Klitzke (Ward 2), Laurel Stinson (At-large) and Council President Becky Norton (Ward 3). 

Council member Kim Beise (Ward 1) voted against the motion. 

Petitions and allegations 

On Monday, May 10, petitions to recall all seven council members were submitted to City Hall for counting. City Clerk Teri Swanson completed the verification process on Sunday, May 16. According to the staff report for Monday’s meeting, “of the seven recall initiatives, three recall efforts reached 20% of the registered voters for the appropriate ward(s).” 

This does not mean that the petitions for the four other members -- Erin Buss, Evan Brown, Dean Hove and Beise -- are invalid. 

“I questioned the validity of the process, where we get to vote on this. I think it should be somebody else and not us making that decision. I think that this process is wrong,” Beise said.

The city states, “if the petition does not contain the necessary number of legitimate signatures or is irregular in any way, the city will give the committee 10 more days in which to file additional signatures and to correct the petition in all other respects. No changes to the statement of the grounds for recall can be made. If the city finds the petition is still insufficient or irregular after those 10 days, the city clerk must notify the committee of that fact, and the city clerk will file the petition in his/her office as insufficient. After that, no further action is taken.”

The reasons listed for a recall election for the seven council members are based on Minnesota’s Close Meeting Law. 

The reasons listed for a recall election for the seven council members are based on Minnesot…

City attorney’s view

City Attorney Amy Mace stated on Monday and in previous meetings, “elected officials, under the Minnesota Constitution, can only be removed from office for malfeasance or nonfeasance, and those are the same standards that are set forth in the Red Wing city charter and the Minnesota Supreme Court has held that even charter cities have to meet that constitutional standard.”

The Red Wing Charter states in Section 6.12, “any five registered voters may form themselves into a committee for the purpose of bringing about the recall of any elected council member or mayor of the city for malfeasance or nonfeasance in office.” 

Minnesota’s Election Laws states, “the grounds for recall of an officer other than a judge are serious malfeasance or nonfeasance during the term of office in the performance of the duties of the office or conviction during the term of office of a serious crime.” An annotation by the Minnesota Attorney General Office reads, “this section is applicable to removal of elective municipal officers by recall, and they may not be so removed except for malfeasance or nonfeasance in office.”

Mace and the annotation both cite Jacobsen v. Nagel, a 1959 case to support their claim of malfeasance or nonfeasance being the grounds for recall elections.

George Hintz, Red Wing resident and member of the Commission to Recall City Hall, stated during Monday’s meeting, “The city attorney's legal analysis does not apply to Red Wing and demonstrates a clear misunderstanding of our city charter. We are confident the courts will uphold our position at the highest level.”

Mace replied, “I'm just not sure what the basis of that opinion is, as I mentioned, the Supreme Court has clearly stated charter cities have to meet the same malfeasance and nonfeasance standard that is set forth in the Minnesota Constitution.”

Council comments 

The City Council members had a variety of things to say about the petitions and the possibility of calling a recall election. Brown responded to the claim that he voted to go into a closed meeting on Monday, Feb. 8. He stated, “On Feb. 7, I sent the following email to Council President Norton, Council Vice President Hove, and the council administrator, Kay Kuhlmann. … ‘My wife Laura is in hospice here at our house. While I do not want this information shared in a public meeting, I wanted to clarify why I will be missing the meeting.’ So I did not take that vote. I understand that still may not insulate me in certain ways, but I know what I did.”

Hove stated, “I don't think anybody on the council… has violated the Open Meeting Law, and that's what this recall is about. It's not about anything else other than the Open Meeting Law.”

Meanwhile Beise stated, “I really feel that the group followed what's in our charter. ... I can say I'm not 100% sure that we haven't violated the Open Meeting Law somewhere in one of these referenced ones, and I'm still researching them.”

Next steps

The council will likely discuss recall petitions for one or more of the City Council members in the coming weeks. It is also possible that the recall commission could take the city to court over this matter. The potential costs of a legal dispute are not known. 

Meanwhile, the city estimates that a recall election would cost $4,000 to $5,000 per ward. If the four wards had a special election, the estimated cost would be $16,000 to $20,000. 

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