New Brighton city elections moved from odd to even years, again

The New Brighton City Council at its Dec. 12 meeting voted to change the year of the city’s elections from odd to even years, again. 

If the ordinance holds, 2019 municipal elections are canceled and moved to 2020.

The action was supported by everyone on the council but council member Gina Bauman, who has been against the even-year election shift since the last time it was considered.

In 2015, the New Brighton council voted to switch the city’s municipal elections from odd to even years, meaning this year’s municipal elections would have taken place alongside 2016’s county, state and federal elections, if the action had not been reversed by a judge.

According to City Clerk Terri Haarstad at the time, the city would have saved an estimated $13,380 every other year by not holding odd-year elections. Other reasons for making the switch, according to council member Brian Strub, included increasing voter turnout, by holding city elections alongside other high-interest races.

The November 2015 decision meant shortening Bauman’s and Strub’s terms, and lengthening the term of then-mayor-elect Val Johnson. 

However, it was ultimately deemed unlawful by a judge after residents, headed by Bauman, petitioned the city to rescind the action. 

The main issue with the council’s last try was the timing of it. The vote to switch from odd-to even-year municipal elections — and change term lengths to do it — came just weeks after the 2015 elections took place, meaning voters weren’t getting what they voted for — their candidates’ expected term lengths. 

 

This time around

In an effort to make this attempt stick, the change is being made  more than 180 days before filing day for the next municipal election. 

City staff maintain the change will save the city money, especially personnel costs. 

Council member Mary Burg said she continues to support the shift and that she has supported it for years. 

“More people come out,” she said. Strub said the city can’t pass an opportunity to “engage three times as much voters.”

Council member Paul Jacobson said he is torn on the issue, pointing out that only 19 of 854 Minnesota cities hold odd year elections, but that those places include big cities like St. Paul and Minneapolis. He said having odd year elections can increase the focus on local elections. 

Bauman said tacking city elections to the end of a ballot with county, state and federal elections may not necessarily lead to better voting engagement. 

“By the time you turn that ballot over, [voters] ... don’t pay attention,” she said. 

Bauman pointed out changing city elections to even years would include extending the terms of the two new council members elected on Nov. 7, Graeme Allen and Emily Dunsworth, as well as Johnson’s term, by one year. Allen and Dunsworth will get five-year terms, Johnson will serve a three-year term. 

“What you just voted for in November has now changed,” said Bauman. “To me, this is pretty self-serving.” She also said the council hasn’t done enough to notify New Brighton residents that terms will be lengthened. 

“As for the argument that it is self-serving,” Johnson shot back, “given the high rate of pay that I get and all the fun I’ve had the last two weeks, I don’t see how extending terms is self-serving, by any means.”

Johnson said she doesn’t see how the council is hiding anything from the public and that the terms were clearly stated during a public work session meeting. 

Bauman said the decision to shift election years should be left to New Brighton’s citizens, adding that she will again — as she did in 2015 — start a petition in an effort to move the decision to a ballot vote. 

After the discussion, the ordinance change was brought to a vote. It passed 4-1, with Bauman voting “nay.”


– Solomon Gustavo can be reached at sgustavo@lillienews.com and 651-748-7815.

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