Rushford is the only municipality in Fillmore County, and one of only 28 municipalities in the state of Minnesota, to hold off-year elections for two of its four council seats. Even more of an oddity, this year the seats up for grabs had no candidates on the ballot.
The Secretary of State’s Office shows 1,075 registered voters in Rushford’s precinct. Yesterday, just 152 ballots, roughly 14% of total voters, were cast. City Clerk Kathy Zacher can’t recall a time when both seats were open with no candidates on the ballot. In 2015, with only one candidate on the ballot, write-ins put two new people in place and in 1997, there was no mayoral candidate, so it, too, was filled by write-in. She also notes that in the past, it was not unusual for incumbents to stay in office and not get challenged.
“In the late ‘70s the terms of office were changed. Some people say that four is a long time to commit, but it’s not really when you consider it takes a few years to get up to speed on things if you haven’t been involved,” says Zacher. “It’s often helpful if people have been involved in commissions or boards or committees as they understand a little better the processes involved in city governance.” The city sends newly elected officials to the League of Minnesota Cities for training, which gives them a crash course and provide additional resource information.
If there is nothing specifically something to get fired up about, people might not be as motivated to serve either, according to Zacher. “They have an obligation to everyone to use their best judgement for all and sometimes the hard decisions they make are not appreciated or understood fully.”
Voter turnout is also generally low for city elections unless there is some controversy or other issues. “In 2009 we had the school operating levy referendum at the same time as a city election and turnout was almost 700 voters. In 2011, we had the liquor store issue on the ballot and turnout was 660 voters. In 2013 with all incumbents running unchallenged we had 100 voters, so 100-300 is a normal range for a non-controversial year.”
Zacher believes citizens can also be unaware about elections. “You know these voters came specifically to do their duty and cast their vote because they were aware. In a presidential year election, you may get 800 people voting, but that doesn’t mean they are informed or aware of who or why they are actually voting for in the smaller venues of city, county or school board.”
Still, she doesn’t overlook the lack of voters. “People can’t use the excuse of being able to get away to vote on election day; your employer has to let you go vote and the ‘no-excuse’ absentee voting process has been made so much easier for people to plan in advance,” says Zacher. “It always surprises me that we have various newspaper stories, official newspaper publications, postings around town and Facebook postings, there are still people not aware of the election.”
Until the end of the year, the council seats will be held by Councilors Vern Bunke and Mark Honsey, along with Terri Benson and Jim O’Donnell, who have two remaining years in their terms. Bunke and Honsey were elected to their posts in 2009, when the Rushford Council underwent a near clean sweep and a new mayor and three councilors were voted in. Both were reelected in 2015 to their current terms.
While neither man sought reelection in 2017, Bunke did begin a write-in campaign, just weeks before the election when no other candidates came forward. In last night’s election, Bunke garnered six of the 20 write-in votes for mayor and 12 votes for the council seat. Incumbent Mayor Chris Hallum ran unopposed and was reelected to his post by 126 votes.
In all, 250 votes cast for the council positions with 24 names submitted. Andrew Linder and Sally Ryman were the highest write-in candidates, earning 90 and 81 votes respectively. Zacher contacted both upon receiving official election results and both are willing to serve.
Ryman is a Rushford transplant, having moved to the city in 2013. In that time, she’s forged a robust background in community service, serving on the board of directors for the Rushford Peterson Valley Chamber of Commerce, Rushford Economic Development Authority, Foundation for Rushford-Peterson Schools, and Rushford Area Historical Society. She has previously served as Director of the Minnesota Rural Electric Association and as an organizer for ExpoCulinaria, Taste of the Trail, the Bluff Land Tri, and the Rover Run. Additionally, Ryman brings a professional background in marketing and advertising to the position. She is self-employed as owner of Ryman Marketing Communications, LLC.
Linder also brings a bit of an outsider’s perspective, having moved 1993 and graduating from Rushford-Peterson High School in 1996. He grew up in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. and moving to Rushford was an adjustment, but one he was happy to make. “Growing up not living here, I thought, boy this is a fairy tale. Nobody locked their door and most people have never left. It’s pretty awesome,” he says. “I really like it and take pride in it.”
“I felt like nobody was stepping up and I want our community to move forward,” he adds. “I have a lot to learn and I know there will be challenges.”
Linder holds a telecommunications degree from Dakota County Technical College and is employed by Anderson Auto as service manager. This is Linder’s first foray into civic service.
Hallum is excited to move into his third term as Rushford Mayor. “The office of Mayor belongs to the citizens of Rushford and I’m honored they continue to allow me to occupy such an important position,” he says. “Mark Honsey and Vern Bunke served admirably these last eight years and I thank them for their effort and sacrifice. Congratulations to our new city council members, Sally Ryman and Andrew Linder. It will be a pleasure to work with them in this exciting time for the city of Rushford.”