After nearly one hour of discussion, Blue Earth City Council will not let residents decide whether a council member should continue serving.
At their meeting held Monday, council members voted 6-1 to reject a petition seeking a recall election for Councilman John Huisman.
City officials hired attorney Chris Kennedy to determine whether the petition signed by 265 residents has sufficient grounds and is valid.
Although petitioners followed the City Charter and state statutes, Kennedy says that’s not enough.
“The charter is in violation of the state constitution, it requires findings of malfeasance or non-feasance,” he says. “I don’t see any allegations in the petition that indicates there was anything in his role as a councilman. I don’t see how you can have malfeasance if he was not acting on behalf of the city.”
Mayor Rick Scholtes was the lone dissenting vote, saying the charter doesn’t mention malfeasance or non-feasance and the petitioners did what was required.
He says the council shouldn’t have to decide whether a letter signed by Huisman and sent to KBEW rises to the level of malfeasance.
“I took an oath to uphold the City Charter,” says Scholtes. “I went by our charter. That’s all my vote was based on. That was it.”
Because police officers and city staff are held to a higher standard of conduct, says Scholtes, he and the council should also.
“I feel that I am always the mayor, 24/7,” he says. “How do you determine when you are a council member or not? I think that is a perception some people have and struggle with. Finding ourselves exempt is troubling to me.”
Residents at the meeting were allowed to comment prior to the council taking a vote.
Dan Brod, who helped organize the petition with four others, called the letter, “very subversive, secretive and offensive.”
Huisman and 13 people — members of the county’s DFL Party — signed a letter expressing their displeasure with the radio station airing The O’Reilly Factor and sent it to station management.
Those who signed the letter said they would encourage businesses not to advertise and people not to listen. Some members of the public took that as threats being made.
“It was so unbecoming as a councilman and it irritated me immensely. The first time I saw it I came unglued,” Brod says. “My gosh, this was improper activity.”
Sue Hauskins gathered 60 signatures with her husband and says some residents expressed their disappointment and anger.
“The community knows they were heard. You guys know that we were heard. But, the rest is up to you,” says Hauskins, who worked for the city for 21 years.
Sue Scholtes says a council member should not do or say anything that would hurt businesses financially.
As in the past, Huisman again apologized to the council, KBEW and residents of the city.
“I am really truly sorry from the bottom of my heart. I want us to move forward as best we can. I want to help this city to bring opportunities and job. I want us to move in a positive direction.”
Council members agreed that the city’s charter should be updated to provide clearer guidelines for holding a recall election.
City Attorney David Frundt says the city should get an Attorney General’s opinion on any changes being proposed to the charter.
Before making a motion to reject the petition, Councilman Glenn Gaylord asked Kennedy whether the council really had any choice.
Kennedy says if the petition is approved and Huisman takes the matter to court, a district judge would have to follow the state constitution and issue a restraining order to stop a recall election.