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Wolter appointed to City Council vacancy

Fri, Feb 13th, 2009
Posted in Government

Jim Wolter was appointed to temporarily fill the Rushford city council seat left vacant when Laura Deering resigned last month; it was a larger-than-usual crowd at the Rushford City Council meeting February 9, no doubt with the anticipation of some "drama."

A backdrop to the meeting was a letter-to-the-editor which had appeared earlier that day in this paper. The letter, written by former Rushford mayor Ted Roberton, called the selection process "outrageous" because of the inclusion of the city manager, Windy Block, on the three-person selection committee. Councilors Nancy Benson and Larry Johnson were the other two appointed to interview applicants for the 9-month position.

Roberton asked citizens to sign a petition to insist the city hold a special election to fill the position. Roberton said 20% of voters' signatures were needed on the petition, which was in the possession of Jim Kitchens, local businessman.

The petition did not materialize..

A special election had been discussed by council at the January 12 meeting. Reasons given for not holding a special election were that according to the city attorney, it would take months to put in place, and it would be expensive for the city. The council decided to use an interview process that had been used in the past to appoint a council person just until November, at which time a special election could be included on the general election ballot.

Johnson began the meeting by reporting that the committee spent about 45 minutes per candidate in interviews, and then "got together a few times and kept re-voting and eliminating people. Eventually we got it down to two (candidates) and then down to one."

Wolter was that one remaining candidate, according to Johnson.

Benson contributed her thoughts that there was "an excellent group of candidates," and that she "hopes the others (not chosen) will consider running in the election in the fall."

Benson pointed out that she and Johnson were involved in this same process the last time a vacancy needed to be filled on the council, and finds it's "the hardest thing I ever have to do." Still, Benson concluded that the current process was "a hard job, but a job well done."

Benson made the motion to accept Wolter's nomination. Mayor Ladewig asked for a second and was greeted with silence from the other two councilors, Johnson and Robert Dahl. After asking a second time, Ladewig seconded the motion himself.

Dahl commented that he'd been thinking maybe there ought to have been some citizens on the committee. Ladewig reminded Dahl that he'd approved the selection process two meetings ago. Dahl said he couldn't recall the details and asked to see minutes provided by Kathy Zacher.

Benson, Ladewig and Dahl voted in favor, with Johnson inexplicably voting against his own committee's recommendation.

Wolter was sworn in and asked Ladewig's permission to say a few words.

"I know what was happening here, with the lack of a second," he said, addressing the larger-than-usual crowd. Wolter said he understands that some people were unhappy with an interview process rather than an election, and he wanted to assure all that he is "a consensus builder" with "no single agenda" and was prepared to "work with all on the board."

Ladewig again thanked those who applied, and the meeting continued.

Linda Hovland took the opportunity to speak during the citizen comment period. While a Rushford Village resident herself, Hovland says she meets socially with a group of city residents who are "a little concerned with the directions things are going."

Specifically, Hovland spoke against the building of a new library, city hall, and community center. She said her acquaintances would prefer repairing the Tenborg center rather than building a new community center.

"I'd hate to see us put a lot of money into a big fancy building that will cost a lot to operate," she said.

Hovland also voiced displeasure with the fact that the municipal liquor store was rebuilt with federal disaster funds after the 2007 flood.

Downtown changes

The council approved a recommendation from the EDA to allow changes in development plans of Stumpy Becker and Butch Johnson. Johnson has agreed to purchase Becker's property at the corner of Mill Street and Park Avenue; Becker will move his storage sheds to property adjacent to the city's water tower and Johnson will build an office building on the former Becker property. Becker's Category 1-A flood loan will transfer to Johnson.

Joyce Iverson was present to explain the situation and reminded the council that the total flood dollar amounts are not changing; they're just being moved around a bit.

The council also formally acknowledged receipt of Part II-Supplemental and Supporting Data for Part I of "City of Rushford Street and Utility Improvement Program" prepared by Otomo Engineering.

The plan puts together a systematic repair process for city streets and utilities, with some of the repairs being necessary because of damage during the 2007 flood, and others a result of systems simply becoming outdated.

Ladewig pointed out the benefit of having a plan for such projects. In a meeting with Congressman Tim Walz, Ladewig learned "those with projects ready to go would be in the best position" to apply for federal and state stimulus money.

Block reported that he'd been at a meeting with the Rural Development Division of the USDA and learned there was an opportunity to apply for loan/grant financing for the new Public Library Project. Block spoke with a representative who helped fill out a "non-binding pre-application on the spot."

"We'll be told what kind of reaction the pre-app gets, and then the real application process begins," Block said.

Other Business

• Wolter was currently serving on the EDA as a citizen; he will continue to serve now as a councilman. Ladewig will move from the EDA to the Planning Commission to replace Deering.

The city is still looking for citizen volunteers for the Airport Commission, Municipal Electric Commission and the Tree Board.

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