New Brighton petitioners force vote on election year change

Just as she promised after the election loss that ended her 12-year tenure on the New Brighton City Council, Gina Bauman is working to stop the council’s latest attempt to move city elections from odd to even years. 

She’s teamed up with New Brighton resident and former city council candidate — and current Minnesota House candidate for New Brighton’s District 41A — Susan Erickson to pass a petition around New Brighton to put the decision of changing the election year to a referendum vote.

Bauman and Erickson’s petition recorded enough  signatures necessary in June to force a city-wide vote on the the election year change ordinance, and the petition was approved by the New Brighton council in July.

A question about repealing the ordinance will be on the ballot in November. 

The two were successful in stopping another election year switch back in 2015 through a petition and lawsuit. That time around, the petition was rejected by city staff and Bauman was censured by the New Brighton council, prompting her and Erickson to sue. The switch, said to be rushed by a judge, was ultimately deemed unlawful. 

The New Brighton council at its Dec. 12, 2017, meeting, argued even-year elections save the city money and engage more voters, as it did originally in 2015, and council members voted to change the year of the city’s elections from odd to even years, again. 

The change would include extending the term of Mayor Val Johnson as well as those of recently elected council members Graeme Allen and Emily Dunsworth by one year. Allen and Dunsworth will get five-year terms, while Johnson will serve a three-year term.  

In an effort to make this attempt stick, the change was made more than 180 days before candidate filing opened for the next municipal election. City staff maintains the switch will save the city money, and, in a letter sent to all residents, the New Brighton council said more people turn out to vote in even years. 

In the letter, New Brighton said some 4,800 people voted in last year’s municipal election in November, and that nearly 13,000 people voted in the 2016 election, with more than 8,800 in the 2014 midterm. 

If the latest ordinance holds past Election Day, Nov. 6, the 2019 municipal elections will be cancelled and held in 2020.

 

A vague question?

The ordinance approved by New Brighton in 2017 was to change the year of city elections. The ballot referendum asks voters if they wish to repeal the ordinance. 

The ballot question will read, “Should Ordinance No. 857, An Ordinance Changing the Year of City Elections; Amending City Code, Section 2-16, be repealed?”

“It’s a very vague question,” Bauman said in an interview. She argues her petition had nothing to do with changing the year of city elections, but is only about the New Brighton council canceling the 2019 election. 

“Everyone who signed it knew that was wrong,” said Bauman. Erickson said nearly 600 New Brighton residents signed the petition. 

Bauman and Erickson argue the even-year election switch was a self-serving move by the council to extend their terms. “Okay, we can change the year,” said Bauman. “But that doesn’t mean they get an extra year.”

Erickson said city arguments about saving money and staff efficiency are not concerns that voters have. Bauman said, during her time on the council, people were not coming to meetings pushing the idea of even-year city elections, and claimed the council decision was not about saving residents money. 

“They are fighting hard to stay in office another year,” Bauman said.

New Brighton City Manager Dean Lotter said in an interview that a well-written ballot question is one that is vague — it presents an unbiased question. 

Lotter said ballot referendum questions are written by an attorney, likely one who works for the city. He said no New Brighton council member or city staffer, or those who submit a petition, get to write the ballot question. 

The city’s argument that even-year city elections will lower taxes, make the city more efficient and engage more voters, he said, is hard to counter.

“As a result, Bauman and Erickson have tried to reframe the argument,” he said, pointing out that any claim council members are looking to extend their terms through an ordinance is a “complete mischaracterization of the truth.”

 

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

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