Group looks into recalling 6 Red Wing City Council members
Firing of Police Chief Roger Pohlman ignites recall effort, but many steps need to happen.
RED WING — If you talk to George Hintz, you'll hear a litany of disagreements with the Red Wing City Council.
Hintz, a member of the city's Advisory Planning Commission, isn't happy with the pedestrian bridge proposal. He disagrees with aspects of the Advisory Team on Government Policies and Practices, a group started to deal with issues of race and policing.
But, like many in town, he was willing to let processes play out until Feb. 19, when the city council voted 6-1 to fire Police Chief Roger Pohlman, citing a lack of trust, defensiveness on his part and poor communication with council members and city residents.
"The underlying thing is the firing of the chief," Hintz said, who is among many in town who say the council's reasons for firing Pohlman are bogus.
Hintz is not alone. In fact, a quickly called meeting on Feb. 23 drew 75 people interested in talking about recalling the six council members – Dean Hove, Andy Klitzke, Evan Brown, Becky Norton, Erin Buss and Laurel Stinson – who voted to oust Pohlman. The group has more meetings planned, Hintz said, and is working on the steps for a recall. Eventually, the group hopes to force a recall of the council members at a special election.
Tom Wilder is one of those who showed up at the Feb. 23 meeting, and he is one of two individuals who will lead the charge to gather signatures for a recall in his ward, he said.
"What piqued my interest was what I saw as an unjust action of the city council to oust a fine police chief who has a stellar track record up until the council moved the goal posts and changed the rules," Wilder said.
Hintz said there are several steps needed before a recall would happen. First, the recall group must write a statement showing the cause for recall. In this instance, he said, they are looking at malfeasance, a term that is spelled out in the Minnesota Constitution as the act of "intentionally doing something unlawful or wrong while performing duties of the office; the act must be substantially outside of the scope of duties and substantially infringe upon another’s rights."
It's this first hurdle, said City Council President Becky Norton, that she believes will stop the group's efforts.
"I’m not concerned about the rumors about a recall," Norton said. "(Firing Pohlman) doesn’t rise to the level of malfeasance or nonfeasance. It doesn’t rise to the standard."
Norton said she's heard from Red Wing's city attorney about the process for a recall.
She believes she and her fellow council members are safe from a recall measure.
"I believe, mainly it’s the lack of the city council providing public safety for our citizens," he said. "Chief Pohlman was a fantastic and well-respected chief here. The council has been just out of control."
If the group can clear the hurdle for cause, the next step is gathering signatures. According to Red Wing's city charter, for each elected official being recalled, the group seeking recall must collect enough signatures to meet 20 percent of the registered voters at the last election.
So, for example, if there were 2,000 registered voters in a ward, recall organizers would need to collect 400 signatures in the ward to force a recall of that council member.
Wilder said he sees the recall effort as one to unite the city by taking back power from a group – and he includes those six city council members in that group – that is working to divide the city.
"We have people on both sides of the aisle asking to support us," Wilder said.
And many in that group feel, as he does, the city council was unjust in its firing of Pohlman.
"Roger never got to speak on his own behalf," Wilder said. "This has got me riled up, because I feel a great injustice to a fine man was done."
Steps to recall Red Wing City Council members
1. A committee of at least five registered voters may bring a petition for recall of any elected council member or mayor for malfeasance or nonfeasance in office. The committee must be made up of voters from the ward or city as a whole that elected that individual.
2. The committee shall certify to the clerical officer the name of the officer whose removal is sought, a statement of the grounds for removal in not more than 250 words, and their intention to bring about this recall.
3. Within 30 days after the filing of the original certificate, the committee shall file the completed petition in the office of the clerical officer.
4. Petitioners must be registered in the ward or wards said Council Member is elected from, and the number of valid signatures must be no less than 20 percent of the registered voters of the city or of the ward or wards said Council Member is elected from.
5. If the petition or amended petition is found sufficient, the city council would at its next meeting provide for filing dates and other provisions necessary for a special recall election not less than 45 nor more than 60 days after such meeting.