Citizens filling the Chaska City Council chambers Tuesday weren’t there about construction issues, teardowns or dumping toxic waste in anyone’s backyard. What moved them was a more fundamental issue: the democratic process.
With two open seats on the five-member council, about 20 residents showed up to demand that the city hold a special election to fill the vacancies rather than have the council appoint replacements. Another 160 residents had already signed a petition requesting the same thing.
In the end the council agreed to hold a special election, most likely on May 14. The cost would be $8,000 to $10,000 — a small sum in the city’s budget, said City Administrator Matt Podhradsky.
“We want to do what’s right for Chaska, and I don’t think we could go wrong with a special election,” Council Member McKayla Hatfield said. She and colleague Jon Grau, both elected in November, voted to hold a special election along with Mayor Mark Windschitl. Council Member Mike Huang recused himself.
Appointments, recommended by city officials and initially favored by Windschitl, are relatively quick and simple. Holding a special election is more work, costs more money, takes longer and requires a new ordinance.
But residents argued that voters should be given a chance to choose their representatives, not because of any personal animosities or political conflicts but in the name of democracy itself.
“Right now, half the city is facing the prospect of not having a vote for one or two years,” said Sean Olsen, a resident who spoke at the meeting. “There’s nothing greater you can do than give the citizens their vote.”
“The thing I’ve been most taken and impressed by is people getting involved,” Grau said.
The seats opened when Council Member Jay Rohe moved out of his ward, making him ineligible for the position, and when another council member, Greg Boe, was elected to the Legislature.
The City Council in November appointed Huang to take Rohe’s place, but his seat would be included in the special election. The newly elected council members will serve through ’20.
Windschitl said he voted for a special election “to unify the council.” He took office in 2010 after winning a special election himself — the last time one was held in Chaska.