February 10, 2023 at 12:38 p.m.
Process of filling Lindstrom mayor, council seats formalized
There will be interviews held in open session, not yet scheduled.
The city has heard from 15 people interested in being considered. But, these people will be re-contacted by staff to make clear their names and information will become public in the appointing process. Presumably the city is ensuring applicants know what is public data versus private data, seeing as there was no formal standard application used.
The applicants will be set up for interview time slots.
About 20 citizens attended the midweek special session and were encouraged to ask relevant questions.
Lindstrom’s interim Mayor Judy Chartrand stepped aside as Council members Brian Norelius and Linda Merkel were deciding, in discussion with the city attorney and the acting city administrator, how to go about filling the mayor seat.
Merkel and Norelius will separately provide a list of questions they want, for staff to type up.
Chartrand did not wish to be involved in creating interview questions, as she is vying to be appointed mayor.
Past Mayor Kevin Stenson ran unchallenged and was re-elected in November 2022. He stunned the town when he resigned in early January. Council member Laurie Burington also gave up her seat, effective immediately, at that same meeting.
Chartrand, elected to the council in November was quickly named interim mayor by Norelius and Linda Merkel.
One issue with how Lindstrom went about soliciting applicants (deadline to apply was reported as February 3) was that no formal application was made available, and no formal process was used to declare and announce the vacancies. So some interested persons reportedly submitted brief letters and others provided even less information.
City Attorney James Monge said statutes are silent on the process to fill vacancies, and they mandate only that the city has to fill them. His advice was that a public call for applicants is a formality, not a requirement under Minnesota laws and the council could theoretically unilaterally place somebody into a seat when certain conditions such as length of term remaining are met.
Interim Mayor Chartrand shared her opinion that the official city response to the resignations was indeed “fluid” and her purpose convening this special open formal meeting was to “add consistency and structure.”
Chartrand remarked that having 15 people apply to be appointed was “awesome” and “a good thing.”
Council member Norelius also commented on the resignations response, explaining that he will promote transparency in every action he’s involved in. Extending this to the matter of hiring a city administrator, he added, this task might be the most important thing council does for the city and “...we want to do this right.”
Norelius added the written resignation statements submitted by the ex-mayor and council member were, in his mind, “misguided.”
Council looked at filling the administrator position in a special session, after the former administrator gave nine days notice. Norelius said Stenson and Burington wanted to promote deputy administrator Missy Glenna into city administrator. The action was opposed by Merkel, Norelius and Chartrand.
The resignation statements both refer to council wanting to take the city in different directions, and that Stenson and Burington felt at-odds with council. Norelius feels this declaration is tied to that administrator vote.
The council, with the newly seated Norelius and Chartrand, did vote 5-0 later to hire a third party consulting firm to recruit and narrow down a field of administrator candidates.
A member of the audience questioned why there couldn’t also be an independent process to handle these appointments; to which the city attorney replied that state law requires council shall do this task.
Glenna, who is the acting city administrator, added she consulted with County Auditor Bridgitte Konrad and was advised a special election is a city cost. Lindstrom would have to print ballots, hire election judges and administer balloting and the necessary lead time could mean an election wouldn’t happen until August.
Some audience members pursued this line of thinking though, asking how the selection process obviously preferred for these appointments can ensure existing council members don’t just name two people whom they know already agree with them.
Norelius said he simply wants “great people” and he has no other agenda on his part, saying this will be a “good, honest judgment call.”
As for the council appointment process, all three members will provide their questions to staff to be put in written form and culled to not be repetitive.
There may be a need for additional special meetings but the goal is to have a vote and fill the seats by the end of this month.