City attorney says holding a special mayoral election to fill an unexpired term isn't allowed by charter.
After more than a month of hand-wringing and drama, with exactly zero drama the Crookston City Council unanimously approved Wayne Melbye as mayor at their meeting Monday evening. He will serve until the end of 2018, when Gary Willhite’s first term would have expired had he not been elected Polk County Commissioner and subsequently been required by statute to resign as mayor.
The City will hold a mayoral election in November 2018.
“I thank you for your confidence, I thank you for this process, now let’s get to work,” Melbye said after reciting his oath of office and receiving applause.
After several weeks of divided council votes and a subsequent public application process that resulted in Melbye and three other mayoral candidates – Frank Lindgren, Dillon Fenno and Patty Dillabough – being interviewed by a 14-member selection committee last week, Melbye emerged as the committee’s choice on a 10-4 vote.
The committee was made up of the entire council as well as six citizens representing each of the City’s six wards. While council members on the committee last Wednesday didn’t unanimously support Melbye, they did on Monday. There was nary a comment from them prior to the vote, either, which came after a motion and a second from council members Dennis Regan and Jake Free, respectively. The only comments came in the council meeting’s closing reports, where several council members and City officials congratulated Melbye.
Last week, Lindgren offered up congratulations to Melbye and thanked his fellow mayoral applicants. Monday, Fenno attended the council meeting to thank the City for the opportunity to run for mayor, and also congratulate Melbye.
The new mayor then presided over the council’s Ways & Means Committee that followed the council meeting.
Election not possible
While much of the spirited council debate several weeks ago centered on the merits of seeking public applicants versus holding a special mayoral election, City Attorney Chuck Fitzgerald on Monday, weighing in publicly on the matter for the first time, said the City would not have been able to hold a special election even if that’s what the council wanted.
The city charter in its current form, Fitzgerald explained, gives the council the authority to fill council member and mayoral vacancies through an immediate appointment or a public application process similar to the one that eventually resulted in Melbye’s appointment. What the charter doesn’t do is give the council authority to call a special election, he added.
“It does not allow the council to delegate that authority to the electorate,” Fitzgerald said.
The Charter Commission, which meets once a year in December to see if any changes to the charter are necessary, has the authority to change the charter so the council has the ability for call for a special election, Fitzgerald said. The commission could hold a special meeting if it wanted to, he added, instead of waiting until December.
There didn’t seem to be a vibe in the council chambers indicating a rush to change the charter in rapid fashion or hold a special charter commission meeting. But it’s likely the topic of filling future council or mayoral vacancies for unexpired terms will come up at the charter’s next scheduled meeting in December.