Council vacancy leads to debate on election timing

Public vote to fill seat remains unlikely before next fall


Clint Riese
News Editor

In the immediate aftermath of Forest Lake City Councilman Jeff Klein’s resignation at the Aug. 26 meeting, his four former peers seemed in agreement on waiting until the 2014 city election to put the vacated seat up for public vote.

That consensus quickly eroded, and the council at a workshop last week and its regular meeting on Monday discussed how long the interim tag on the required council appointee should last. After lengthy, convoluted and sometimes contentious debate, the election date appears to be back where it started: Nov. 5, 2014.

Now or later

Klein was elected last November to a term running through 2016. Under Minnesota Statute 412.02, a vacancy occurring before the first day to file for the next regular election and involving a term with more than two years remaining must be filled by a special election. This may take place at or before the next regular city election. An appointee must serve until the qualification of an elected successor.

Councilmen Mike Freer and Ben Winnick on Monday called for the special election to be held as early as this November.

“The people deserve the right to make the choice,” Freer said. “I don’t think we should be – as somebody said earlier – the dictators, versus leaders, letting the people lead.”

Winnick last fall earned the most votes out of four council candidates, securing one of two open seats. He said he has yet to hear from any resident who wants to wait until next fall to vote.

“I know the statute says we have to have an appointment, and I understand that,” Winnick said. “I’d just like to see an election as soon as possible.”

Freer motioned for city staff to bring forward a resolution for a special election to be held this November. Winnick seconded the motion, but it died on a 2-2 vote.

Mayor Chris Johnson and Councilwoman Susan Young both cited voter turnout in general elections as a key reason to wait 14 months for the special election. Young noted that holding it this November would not allow for the normal time for filing and campaigning. Providing congruent windows for those functions would push the special election back at least until January.

“My preference is November of ’14, because what you’ll have then is a very significant amount of the council, and the mayor, all up in one fell swoop,” Young said. “If there is a groundswell one way or the other, that is what it is.”

Johnson will have the power to appoint Klein’s temporary successor should the council fail to reach agreement after upcoming candidate interviews. In that case, the new face on the council may be a familiar one.

“If you want to do what the voters say, we just had an election 10 months ago,” Johnson said. “We had over 8,000 people attend and vote. The next person selected by the voters was Jim Dufour. If the sentiment is truly that we want to follow the sentiment of the voters, I think that’s the closest we can come to doing that.”

Dufour ran as an incumbent seeking a second term. He finished 273 votes behind Klein and 63 ahead of Ed Eigner.

Continuing, Johnson said voter turnout in a separate special election would be a fraction of that in a general one.

“I think it’s more of an effort to manipulate the process to avoid the will of the voters than it is to follow the will of the voters,” he told Freer. “If you really want to push that, I’m happy to move forward with Jim.”

Dufour’s prospects

Dufour took to the podium during the open forum on Monday to address Freer, who, at the workshop, had questioned the appropriateness of appointing Dufour back to the council.

“I don’t know what you consider to be qualified,” Dufour said Monday. “I did four years on council. I can count on one hand the meetings or appointments I missed.”

Dufour said Freer has yet to attend an Airport Commission meeting since being appointed a council liaison to it eight months ago. The former councilman added that he had not planned on applying for the vacancy until hearing Freer’s thoughts.

“I wasn’t going to put my name in for an appointment on that, but after that meeting, I thought of two words: Hell, yeah,” he said.

Freer responded by sharing his rationale for speaking out: He said Dufour on two occasions used an expletive during a council meeting.

“I stand for exactly what I said before: I don’t feel you’re fit to serve, sir,” Freer said.

Freer later in the meeting explained that for many months he was not getting notifications of the Airport Commission meetings. He now gets notice but the meetings conflict with his schedule. He said he has been trying to make the meetings.

Later, when Johnson mentioned Dufour as a preferred appointee, Freer questioned the mayor’s potential choice.

“Let me see if I heard you correct, Mr. Mayor,” Freer said. “If we continue with this, you’re going to move forward with a person who swears at people on camera.”

“I don’t have a major problem with that,” Johnson responded. “I know you and I might disagree, but I don’t feel it’s my job to police other council members.”

Appointment process

City Administrator Aaron Parrish laid out a schedule for filling the council vacancy.

The city will accept letters of interest until Friday, Sept. 20. Candidates will be interviewed at 5 p.m. Monday, Sept. 30. The new council member could be appointed at the regular council meeting that night or a special meeting could be set for Tuesday, Oct. 1.

Without a council majority voting to hold the special election earlier, it will be required to take place along with the 2014 general election. Two other council positions and the mayoral post will be on that city ballot.

  • “If you want to do what the voters say, we just had an election 10
    months ago,” Johnson said. “We had over 8,000 people attend and vote.
    The next person selected by the voters was Jim Dufour. If the sentiment
    is truly that we want to follow the sentiment of the voters, I think
    that’s the closest we can come to doing that.”

    The mayor did get it correct, the people spoke. Loud and clear they did NOT
    want to reelect Jim Dufour. Since each voter cast 2 votes 3rd place in this instance is the first loser, not the ‘next choice’ by the people. With the rationale of the
    mayor maybe we should have Council-member Ben Winnick decide the
    election as he had a significantly higher number of votes than the mayor
    did! If you want the choice to be the people, hold an election.

  • Eric Langness, I hope you’re a legal resident of Forest Lake and eligible to run for FL city council? I think, both in FL and especially in Wyoming, it’s time to draft, urge, force citizens for Responsible City Govt., to actively seek office. In fact even do all we can to get them elected as in, you, Mr. Langness and Steve S. in Wyoming, since you have the solutions for all our woes. Look forward to your next campaign.

    • Eugene Huerstel

      I’m sure the people of Wyoming will still be around to pay those high progressive taxes in 5 years. Jay, they have plenty of money, your City Government just does not have it all yet.

    • Arnie Lahd –

      Many people have recently brought forward the idea to me and I’ve made two decisions about it already. First is that I do not intend to run for city council next year. The second is that I will not apply to the short-term opening on the city council. It did cross my mind, however, the process is more about who’s friends with the mayor (I’m not) than anything fair. I could easily show a history of public service, competency to understand city politics/decision making, leadership background and interview well (professionally I’ve been a college director of career services for 10 years) but none of this would mean anything as Mayor Johnson has already publicly indicated who he intends to appoint. The only way to circumvent that is to obtain all three council votes from members Freer, Winnick and Young. I have serious doubt anyone will be able to do that.

      I do thank you for your vote of confidence. You can be sure that I will be active in upcoming campaigns next year and once candidates announce I will vet each of them and give endorsements!

      • Thank you Eric Langness for the thoughtful reply. Yes, I see your point. You want to remain altruistic as in a honest broker, so to speak. To do so, you can’t be seen as trying to gain from your constant conservative critiques of municipal bloated over spending and rampant cronyism.

        As to vetting candidates, how do we get around disingenrious campaign promises, by prospective officer holders, versus being able to hold them accountable after? Seems many will says anything, be all things to all people (various groups, different truths told to each) so as to grab hold of a four year term.

        • I’ve never been anything other than honest in all my campaigns, even when I knew that my beliefs might hurt me. On the other hand, opponents and their campaigns have quite often smeared my reputation with lies and false statements!

          I vet candidates most often by sitting down and talking with them either prior to them filing for office or immediately after. It’s common that local candidates mention to me sometimes years in advance they are considering it. I ask tough questions and look for signs they are not telling the truth. In my line of work I interview on a daily basis so it’s rather easy for me to pick up on someone that is not being truthful.

      • I see Eric Langness you never touched the question about disingenuous campaign promises. You’re not a RINO are you? Seems there’s those, locally, who seem to pick their suggestions, or professed attitudes /advice, from any political party. That is, depending on the moment, or who they’re talking to. The old be all things to all people. In sales jargon that’s oft referred to as the “There’s a sucker born everyday” ideology.

        • I’ve been accused of being ‘too far’ to the right and would hardly consider myself a RINO. I do have some libertarian view points on some social issues but almost never agree with the DFL. I must have missed your question about disingenuous campaign promises. Many candidates choose to campaign on what they believe the voters will want to hear whereas I always attempted to convince the voters what I had to say was the best method, even when they disagreed. In a long term strategy I care much more about the path our city, county, state and nation go than I do about my own personal political ‘agenda’ … and that is why I focused on educating the voter rather than tell them some poll results.

  • Food on a Stick

    Is it true that

    Eric Langness is a former Forest Lake School Board member who lost his reelection bid.

    He a lost a election bid to the Forest Lake City Council
    He a lost a election bid to the Washington County Board from District One.
    He lost to Karin Housley in the last Republican Primary for MN Senate District 39?
    Just wondering

    • Guest

      Am I the only one that feels like posting Abraham Lincoln’s resume in response to this pointless and off topic smear?

      • Food on a Stick

        I believe you are using smear in the context of this definition
        Smear – a harmful rumor
        + A damaging rumor about somebody

        I was asking a question for my own clarification

        Smear? Are you saying or am I to assume (you’re good at assuming) that it is the same Mr. Langess that was rejected by the voters in those elections?

        You may not believe it pertains to the conversation, but since people seem to be encouraging Mr. Langess to run for the open council seat, I and maybe some others would like to know if Mr. Langess has already Been There, Done That as far as the city council

        I bet you assume I am in favor of the appointment rather that the election for the vacancy
        In your postings, you sure throw around words that sometimes result in lawsuits; Slanderous, libel, smear

        • Frankly I think it would be better for Mr. Langness to either run for office or move from the area. The point being it does little good to keep offering endless comments and not having any weight behind them. I’d done all I could, in Wyoming for instance, to make a difference but, the citizens choose a different path. Luckily, I’m in the position where I can afford to move somewhere else, where the community is more in keeping with my ideas.

          Eric, every considered Texas or Arizona for a new residency?

          • Jay – I’ve served public office and remain active in helping others get prepared for the positions of importance at the local level. If we don’t agree and you’re not able to handle living nearby me, maybe you ought to move (since you’re the one that can’t handle it) rather than suggest to me that I do.

          • No, seriously, Eric, wouldn’t you feel more among the brethren in Arizona or parts of Texas? Minnesota is well known as a liberal stronghold? As to your suggestion of moving, I am. I’ve considered that as a serious option for years. Otherwise, if one stays put and finds themselves out of step, they are seen as a Paul Revere without a audience.

    • I also won quite a few political positions as well.

      Forest Lake School Board of Education (both a primary and general election)
      Metro Educational Service Cooperatives Board of Education (2 elected terms)
      Minnesota Service Cooperatives Executive Board (elected)
      Senate District 52 GOP Deputy Chair (twice elected)
      Senate District 39 GOP Liaison to CD6 (chair appointed, executive board approved)
      City of Forest Lake Community Center Task Force (mayor appointed, city council approved)
      Congressional District 6 Vice Chairman (elected twice)
      … and a plethora of committee appointments and other task forces.

      What exactly have you been elected for? What is your point in your negative bashing post?

      • Food on a Stick

        Merely asking a question; why so defensive

      • Food on a Stick

        You have no idea if I have ever been elected;

        • Hence the reason I asked! You’d rather hide in the shadows online but have no problem blasting half truths in your posts.

          • Food on a Stick

            So you are posting half truths? Maybe they deserve to be l
            Blasted. Typical politician, half truths and distortions

        • Guest

          Ah yes, the Fabulous Food on a Stick. We get it, we don’t know who you are and have no right to assume anything about you, all of which could be solved by taking a stand on an issue and then writing about it here. I’m curious – why would a person hide behind a pseudonym and continually remind people that we don’t know who he/she is, where he/she stands on an issue, and that we can’t assume anything by his/her writing. Whats the point? Whats the point of being involved in a discussion where you aren’t discussing anything?

          • Food on a Stick

            Because it seems to get your attention and you respond

            And do you really think you don’t know?

          • Guest

            Of course I respond, I am passionate
            about the direction of our city and am concerned with a lot of the
            misinformation that is being spread to the public.

          • Food on a Stick

            Humours, you write these things but yet I was notified by Disqus that you signed up to be a follower of my comments

          • Guest

            I much prefer the new system of
            notifications over the old system of having to check every post every day in
            case something new shows up. Following people allows me to keep track of the
            comments (on this and other posts) that may be of interest to me. In your case,
            my sincere hope is that you will actually engage in a meaningful discussion. I
            must say that thus far I have been disappointed as I outlined above.