Mayor makes choice after council splits two votes
Thirty-six days after Jeff Klein resigned from the Forest Lake City Council, Mayor Chris Johnson on Tuesday, Oct. 1, appointed Klein’s replacement on the five-seat board.
Molly Bonnett, 37, will take the oath at next Monday’s council meeting. She will serve until next fall’s city election. At that time, residents will elect a council member to serve through 2016, when the term Klein was elected to expires.
A mother of four, Bonnett moved to Forest Lake four years ago. A former loss prevention manager for U.S. Bank, she currently is a part-time substitute teacher.
She emerged from a field of seven candidates for the vacated seat. Her appointment at last week’s special meeting came after the council could not find consensus. Twice, the members cast a 2-2 vote.
The first tie came on a motion to appoint former mayor and Economic Development Authority member Stev Stegner. Councilman Mike Freer made the motion, which was seconded by Councilman Ben Winnick.
No discussion took place before that vote, but Johnson was pressed to explain his no vote afterward.
“I’m really curious on this one,” Freer said. “(Stegner is a) former mayor, many years of service in Forest Lake, knows the budgeting process and pretty much everything about the city, has a great relationship with residents, active in many organizations in the community. I don’t understand it.”
Johnson at first said his preferred practice regarding appointments is to refrain from discussing reasons for not supporting candidates. After further discussion, though, he addressed the vote.
“I like Stev, I consider him a friend,” Johnson said. “I think he did generally a decent job as mayor. But I think that what’s in the interest of the city going forward, I think that a fresh start is worthwhile. … I think that some of these candidates were more in keeping with the positions of Jeff Klein and the things Jeff stood for and got elected for, and that’s kind of the direction that I personally prefer to see.”
Under state statute, Johnson could have made his appointment after the first split vote. However, more debate ensued.
Councilwoman Susan Young acknowledged that her top choice was Jim Dufour, a former council member, but she said she recognized that he did not have the support for a majority vote. Young then motioned to have the council appoint Bonnett.
Young said Bonnett, in interviewing with the council the prior night, articulated reasonable points about goals for the city and portrayed a positive outlook.
“She has put a great deal of thought into what attracted her to the city and how she would like to make a difference in the city,” Young said. “She would like to be a bridge that has not been a part of issues on either side.”
In reference to the council’s common 3-2 votes during Klein’s tenure, when Freer and Winnick were in opposition and the minority, Winnick said he expects Bonnett to be “a great yes vote.”
Freer questioned her knowledge of Forest Lake and city governance.
“I’ve never seen her at a City Council meeting,” he said. “I’ve never seen her at any city meeting previous to this. She admitted she knows nothing about the budget process. I don’t think she is the best-qualified person to step in.”
He also expressed concern that Bonnett’s open support of a community center may lead to imminent council action on another significant building project in the wake of a sizable levy increase to support construction of the new city hall and public safety facility.
When Winnick reiterated support of Stegner based on his familiarity with the city and its issues, Johnson responded with an endorsement for Bonnett, based in part on her status as a relative newcomer.
“I see Molly as the best hope to start to bring the city together rather than to reach back,” the mayor said. “I think going forward and finding somebody like this that comes in with a fresh look, that doesn’t have the history that we all do, is a move in a direction that I think is needed. I like the fact she’s new to the city. I like the fact that we get a perspective that is different from someone who has been here their whole life or most of it.”