A group of Lakeville residents is questioning the process used to appoint a City Council member to fill a vacant seat, saying the council should have at least interviewed a candidate who received more than a quarter of the vote in November.
Luke Hellier left a council seat open when he was elected mayor two months ago. Two other incumbents — Michelle Volk and Joshua Lee — were re-elected to fill two at-large vacancies.
After Volk and Lee, candidate Richard Henderson received the third-most votes, 12,277, or 26% of the total. But he wasn't among those interviewed for the vacancy — and his supporters are upset.
"We're definitely taking up this fight for him," resident Kirsten Hancock said. "If our vote matters ... show us our vote matters. Do the right thing here."
Legally, the city had two options: It could have held a special election or appointed a person to fill the empty seat until the next regular election in 2024, Hellier said. The City Council chose to appoint someone because holding a special election, which can run from $30,000 to $40,000, is cost prohibitive.
Cues from the past
The city is also following precedent. In 2013, it filled a council seat by appointment after Matt Little became mayor.
"I think if the city had held special elections in the past, the conversation would have maybe went differently," Hellier said.
After discussing each council member's thoughts on who to appoint at a special meeting last week, the council will likely choose Dan Wolter to fill the seat Tuesday, he said, unless a council member changes their mind.
Hellier said he understands the point of view of Henderson's supporters.
"But it was a fair process, and I think at the end of the day, Dan [Wolter] is going to do a great job," he said.
Henderson and nine others applied to fill the seat. Each council member ranked the top four or five people they wanted to interview, Hellier said. Two wanted to interview Henderson.
The three candidates interviewed all had experience on a city board or commission, he said. Henderson, who has has run for City Council twice, hadn't served on any, Hellier said.
Henderson, a retired Navy captain with 30 years of military experience in active duty and reserve roles, said he understands that "the ship has left the pier." But he said there's a larger question to consider related to the fairness of the process and respecting the will of voters.
"I think performance in an election should have been given some strong consideration," he said.
Henderson, a magazine publisher, said he has a strong leadership background from his time in the military and learned a great deal about residents' opinions on issues while campaigning. Both experiences would have helped him as a council member, he said.
Henderson's supporters collected nearly 500 signatures on a petition they created urging council members to appoint him, Hancock said.
Henderson said he may pursue serving on a city committee, possibly the Planning Commission.
What other cities did
Other metro-area cities are in a similar situation because of a council member vacating their seat after being elected mayor.
Shakopee has appointed an interim council member to serve until a special election can be held in April, said newly elected Mayor Matt Lehman. He said the council's attorney said this was the only option because more than two years remain in his term.
In Rosemount, a council seat was left open when Jeff Weisensel was elected mayor. City administrator Logan Martin said the city is reviewing 15 applications for the vacancy and will interview seven or eight of the candidates before choosing one.