RED WING -- The Recall Commission has submitted six petitions to recall six council members. The City Council has declined to hold any special recall elections.
On Monday, July 12, the City Council voted on the sixth and final petition, which was to recall Dean Hove. Now that the petitions have been received and voted on, the community awaits next steps.
Attorney Greg Joseph represents the Recall Committee. He appeared before the Red Wing City Council on Monday. Joseph told the council, “What I'm doing here tonight is I'm trying to stop you from making a terrible mistake, which would be very large and unnecessarily costly.” Joseph added:
“Your current position was that the conduct of various council members does not rise to the level of malfeasance. Fine. You may be correct about that. But you have to hold the election to find out. Because you see, this has been litigated before in this state and lost.”
Joseph said after the meeting that he was citing Leroy Schaffer v. City of St. Francis from 2008. The Republican Eagle was unable to obtain a copy of the court order as Anoka County no longer has the file due to the age of the case. However, Minnesota news organizations covered the case in 2008. The Pioneer Press reported in August 2008 that a committee began collecting signatures to recall LeRoy Schaffer from the St. Francis City Council.
Unlike the recall effort in Red Wing, the Pioneer Press reported that the committee accused Schaffer “of behaving offensively, misinforming the public and disrespecting the government process.”
Before August 2008, the committee wrote that Schaffer had been censured after allegations of sexual remarks to a young woman, a lack of respect and the Pioneer Press explained the committee claimed Schaffer “misinformed the public about property sales, employee pay increases and the effect of zoning on property value.”
Red Wing City Attorney Amy Mace said of the Schaffer v. City of St. Francis case, “Please note that the order is an order of a district court that is not binding on any other district court. The Minnesota Supreme Court and the Minnesota Court of Appeals create precedent for district courts. The case also did not involve alleged violations of the Open Meeting Law.”
Mace based her recommendation that the city is not required to hold recall elections on Minnesota Supreme Court case Jacobsen v. Nagel and Minnesota Supreme Court case of Claude v. Collins. Mace said of Jacobsen v. Nagel, “the city of Fridley declined to call a special election based on a recall petition filed by citizens of a charter city on the basis that it did not allege malfeasance or nonfeasance. ... The Minnesota Supreme Court agreed; no recall election was held.”
The Claude v. Collins ruling states in part, for “the constitutional removal of a public official under the Open Meeting Law, it must be established that three intentional, separate and unrelated violations of the law occurred after the official had a reasonable amount of time to learn the responsibilities of the office.”
The wording of the Red Wing City Charter has been debated and will likely be important if the Recall Committee challenges the City Council in court.
Mace has stressed that the charter states registered voters may form a committee to recall an elected official “for malfeasance or nonfeasance in office.” Mace has added on multiple occasions neither malfeasance nor nonfeasance has been shown to have occurred.
Joseph said of the charter on Monday, “Language in 6.15 is unambiguous and it cannot be ignored. ‘You shall direct the election to be held.’ Period. It is not your decision to decide whether malfeasance has been committed here or not.”
At the time of publication the Recall Committee has not announced next steps. However, the committee’s website has a “closing statement,” which states “See you in court” and “Make no mistake, the summer heat isn't going away anytime soon and neither are the voices of Red Wing citizens.”
Joseph added during his statement to the City Council, “The cost of an election is real, but it would pale in comparison to the cost of litigating this matter.”