In Changing the City's Election Years, New Brighton Leaders Extend Terms in Office

December 26, 2017 10:27 PM

The New Brighton City Council decision to change the timing of municipal elections is getting criticism from voters, since several leaders will get an extra year on their term as a result.

The ordinance change was voted on and approved at the council's Dec. 12 meeting. Council Member Gina Bauman was the only "no" vote among the five elected members which includes the mayor.

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As discussion on the agenda item began, Bauman spoke out against the change, saying voters did not make their decisions in November with this information in mind.

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"You now voted for an extra year for all of these people," Bauman said. "To me, this is pretty self-serving. They're not shortening terms."

New Brighton's city clerk explained to Mayor Val Johnson and the four council members that changes in Minnesota statute allowed an opening for municipalities to change their city elections from odd-numbered years to even-numbered years. The ordinance states that because of the change, "the 2019 City election is hereby cancelled."

The effect of the new ordinance means Johnson and two council members – Mary Burg and Paul Jacobsen – will retain their seats until 2020 instead of running for re-election in 2019.

"It's very unusual, and I think the public should be aware of it," said Sharon Doffing, who lost the mayoral race to Johnson.

Doffing said she felt voters got duped in the process, since the council did not begin discussing the ordinance change until after the November election.

"When you run for office, and it says on the ballot that you run for two years, and then somebody wins and suddenly they're in for three years – that doesn't seem fair," Doffing said.

At the Dec. 12 council meeting, Mayor Johnson reacted to criticism from Bauman.

"I don't see where extending a term is self-serving by any means," Johnson said. "I also do not believe that we are hiding anything from the public."

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Johnson said her motivation for the change was to increase voter turnout.

"My only goal in going to even-year elections is to get more citizens involved in the voting," Johnson said during the meeting. "There's proof in the pudding here that more people vote on even-year elections, and wouldn't it make more sense that you would want your representation to have the most possible votes voting for your representation?"

Johnson had not returned multiple requests for comment.

Bauman, whose term on the council expires at the end of the year, said she plans to start a petition for a referendum that would let voters decide when the election should be held and how long the terms should be.

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Kirsten Swanson

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