Watertown council moves toward application process to fill vacant seat

The Watertown City Council moved closer to the idea of appointing a new city council member through an application process during its Nov. 26 meeting.

The City Council, which needs to replace Steve Crowder, who resigned Nov. 12 as his family moves to Waconia, had asked city staff at the last meeting to inquire with the League of Minnesota Cities as to how other cities have handled similar situations in the past.

Mark Kaltsas, who is serving in a city administrative role until the city can fill that position as well, said the League told him most cities use one of two methods, both of which had been discussed during the city council’s last meeting. Some cities choose to advertise the open position, accept applications and interview prospective council members before appointing one of them to the seat. Other cities have chosen to appoint candidates that ran in the last election and received the most votes among those who did not get elected. Ultimately, the city council directed city staff to schedule a workshop, open to the public, where the council could further discus what the application and questionnaire would look like and how to move forward with an appointment process.

However, that decision didn’t come without some opposition and concerns. In a 3-1 vote, Councilor Mike Walters voted against an interview process because he said he feels appointing a member goes against the idea of democracy, and could lead to council members favoring one candidate or another because they think the same way on a particular issue. Walters favors appointing the highest vote-getter from the last election.

“For you or me or anybody else to just choose somebody, to me, that’s not the democratic process,” Walters told his fellow councilors. “To me, the democratic process is to go through the electoral process. If you’re going to pick somebody who thinks like you, there is a breakdown there.”

Councilor Adam Pawelk agreed with Walters’ concerns, saying that appointing a member creates a “slippery slope” because council members may be thinking of what they want, not want the entire voting body would want.

However, Pawelk ultimately voted along with Councilor Steve Washburn and Mayor Charlotte Johnson, who both favored an application process. Pawelk said his biggest priority is making sure the public is fully aware of the opportunity, or at least that a vacancy exists, and he said he felt advertising the position is the best way to do that.

Johnson also said she felt it was important the public know about the opening.

“The public should know there is an opening and they have an opportunity to apply,” she said. “I think the application should be very simple and the interview should be very nonthreatening, more of a getting-to-know the person, what their background is and what their goals are. That, to me, is the democratic way of doing it.”

The Watertown-Mayer School Board recently faced the same scenario when it needed to replace board member Therese Salonek. The school board used an application and interview process, and ultimately appointed Jeff Jackson to the board after he and three other candidates were interviewed by the board during a public meeting.

 

In other business: 

City engineer Andrew Budde informed the city council that he found out recently that the Minnesota Department of Transportation will not allow the city to put a sign at the intersection of Highways 7 and 10 directing traffic to Watertown, even at city expense.

The city council had discussed the possibility of negotiating an easement with a property owner at that intersection that would allow the city to place the sign on private property, since the city was previously aware that MnDOT would almost certainly not agree to place a sign in its right of way. However, Budde said that city cannot place the sign on private land at that intersection either, because the land is not zoned industrial or commercial, which is necessary for such a sign to be placed there.

 

Contact Matt Bunke at matt.bunke@ecm-inc.com

 
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