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Commission to change council vacancy language

BEMIDJI - The Charter Commission wants to set when a special election would be held in case of a vacancy on the Bemidji City Council.

During its Tuesday meeting, the commission suggested that if a vacancy is declared with a year or more remaining in the term, a special election should be held. If a vacancy opens up within a year of the term ending, however, the council would appoint someone to the seat.

City staff will present the Charter Commission with a draft at a later date, city attorney Al Felix said. Commissioners spent much of the discussion Tuesday determining when a special election should be triggered.

"I like a year simply because of the cost of special elections," Commissioner Rod Witt said.

The discussion was prompted after the Bemidji City Council chose to appoint Reed Olson last January to the vacant Ward 4 seat. Rita Albrecht left that seat when she became mayor in the middle of her term.

Charter commissioners have since said that spot should have been filled by an election, considering Olson is filling in for the last two years of the term.

The talk over city council vacancies also tied into a discussion over if councilors should be able to file for mayor while still holding their city council seat. Currently, city councilors, who are elected to four-year terms, can run in the middle of their term for mayor, which is elected every two years. Should they lose that election, however, they would still remain on the council for the remainder of their term.

Charter commissioners had previously expressed interest in changing that setup.

"As a home rule charter city, there's nothing I think that states we can't write our own rule on this," Commissioner Chuck Stombaugh said.

"Yes there is," Felix quickly interjected.

He explained the state constitution sets up eligibility requirements for positions like the city council. Requiring city councilors to vacate their seat in order to run for mayor, as Stombaugh suggested at the June 11 meeting, would change those eligibility requirements, Felix said.

A so-called "resign to run" rule exists in five states, Felix said. And, with the exception of judges, it doesn't in Minnesota.

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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