Red Wing recall takes next big step with lawsuit
Suit seeks remedy for city council not approving special recall election after group gathered the required signatures.
RED WING — Late Friday afternoon, the Recall City Hall committee in Red Wing took the next step in its efforts to bring six members of the city council to a special election.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Red Wing residents George Hintz, Peter Lang, Judith Kjome, Stephen Lind, Betty Kalember and Sheryl Voth, asks the 1st District Court "for correction of a deliberate ballot omission or, alternatively, for a Writ of Mandamus directing the City of Red Wing to hold an election for the recall of six city councilmembers in accordance with the strictures of the municipal charter."
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The petition points to what it calls several undisputed facts. They include that in each ward or wards at least 20 percent of registered voters signed petitions to recall council members Becky Norton, Evan Brown, Erin Buss, Andy Klitzke, Dean Hove and Laurel Stinson. However, the city council voted 6-1 – with all six council members up for recall voting no, and council member Kim Beise voting yes – on multiple occasions not to hold a special election.
In the petition, Greg Joseph, a Waconia, Minn.-based attorney representing the recall group, notes how the Red Wing City Charter states, "the clerical officer shall transmit it to the Council without delay and shall also officially notify the person sought to be recalled of the sufficiency of the petition and of the pending action. The Council shall, at its next meeting, by resolution provide for filing dates and other provisions necessary for the holding of a special recall election not less than 45 nor more than 60 days after such meeting."
Joseph said it's that directive to order an election that the city council has rejected, and that is the reason for the lawsuit.
However, not every resident of Red Wing sees it the same way.
Carol Overland, a local attorney who has expressed her support for the city council and its actions, said the public does not have a legal right to a recall election, and a firm case of malfeasance or nonfeasance – the justification for a recall – is absent in the recall effort.
The idea that the voters could determine what meets the legal definition of malfeasance or nonfeasance, she said, is absurd.
Council President Becky Norton agrees.
"The (Red Wing City) Charter and the Minnesota Constitution are clear that elected officials can only be recalled for malfeasance or nonfeasance," Norton wrote in response to questions from the Post Bulletin. Norton went on to cite a case from 1959, Jacobsen v. Nagel. "The Minnesota Supreme Court has held that the same malfeasance and nonfeasance standard that applies to state officials applies to council members of a charter city."
If the conduct of the council members does not constitute malfeasance or nonfeasance, Norton concluded, there is no obligation to schedule a recall election, which is why the city council was justified in its action.
Kent Laugen, another local attorney not directly connected to the case, said while the lawsuit does not focus on whether the burden of malfeasance or nonfeasance has been reached, there is precedent from the courts saying that decision is left up to the voters.
Whether or not there is a special election, the next election the six council members face is going to be tough, Laugen said.
The court has yet to set a hearing date for the lawsuit.