Jean Nielson, who helped usher Burns Township to the status of city in a special election Monday, was one of several voters to call the day "exciting" and "historic."

"It's always fun to be on the cutting edge of something new," she said. "You feel like you have a say."

Voters in the new city of Nowthen, in northwestern Anoka County, took a final step in the long process of incorporation Monday, voting for the first time for a mayor and a four-member City Council.

Bill Schultz will take the helm as mayor, having defeated Randy Bettinger and Ken McKnight. Orval Leistico and Laurie Olmon will hold two-year City Council seats, while Jeffrey Pilon and Harlan Meyer won four-year seats.

The new council will have its first meeting July 8, and the city is planning an incorporation celebration in September.

The process of incorporating really got going at the township's annual meeting in March 2007. Township residents, fearing encroachment by adjacent cities, say they took the counter-intuitive step of becoming a city to preserve the rural flavor of their community. The proposal was approved soon afterward.

"For the most part, we were operating as a city," Bettinger said. He noted that the township already had zoning and platting authority, and issued its own building permits.

Until residents voted to adopt the name for their city last fall, Nowthen referred to the area near the intersection of County Roads 5 and 22 in Burns Township, home to the town hall, Bill's Superette and Greenberg Implement.

The unusual name came from an 1869 misunderstanding caused by resident James Hare, who prefaced the initial township name proposals with the phrase, "Now then..." While Burns Township remained the area's legal name, residents embraced the misnomer, attaching it to the park, a church and a handful of local businesses.

For the past 10 years, the township has gained an average of 100 people a year, Bettinger said, adding that he thinks that is a manageable rate of growth. As of the last count, about a year ago, the city's population stood at 4,367.

It's not that people are against development, Meyer said.

"You can't stop progress, because if someone decides to sell a 160-acre farm to developers, there's nothing we can do to stop it," he said. "But we can still control the development."

Gail Westbrook, who took her children, Jefferson, 10, and Emily, 6, to observe her vote, was one of several who settled in Burns Township because it held the rural feel that her hometown, Brooklyn Park, had lost to development.

When she and her husband moved there 12 years ago, their land faced a 150-acre dairy farm. Within a few years, though, the farm was sold, and now it's a housing development.

"I still miss the combines running over there and the cows," she said, adding that they've befriended a few families in the development who share some of their interests. "I was sad because we were hoping to stay more in the country per se ... but you gain it in a different area, I guess."

Meyer and others, leaving the town hall after casting their votes, talked about the importance of keeping the 5-acre average lot size to preserve the rural character, and about keeping property taxes low, even if that means giving up some amenities such as shopping centers and local police coverage.

"I like the idea that we're plain, simple people who don't need high-class anything," said resident Steve Thompson, a fourth-generation township resident. "If you want that, you can go to the Cities for an evening. "

Maria Elena Baca • 612-673-4409