City elections in New Brighton this fall have been called off.
A judge has decided that the city’s decision last year to switch to even-year elections, changing the terms of council members, was invalid under state law.
Ramsey County District Court Judge Lezlie Ott Marek also ruled Thursday that the city’s denial of City Council Member Gina Bauman’s petition challenging the switch — on the grounds that it didn’t follow the law — was wrong. Marek said the petition did follow the law.
Mayor Valerie Johnson said she was “disappointed in the ruling, but I have to say that I believe the city did everything properly.”
A dispute on the issue led last spring to Bauman’s censure by the council and the resignation of City Attorney Troy Gilchrist, whom Bauman had consulted about the petition.
Ryan Furlong, spokesman for Secretary of State Steve Simon, confirmed that Simon’s office had just received the judge’s opinion and was “informed by Ramsey County that pursuant to this order they were removing the New Brighton council race from the ballot.”
The dispute stems from the City Council’s decision on Nov. 10, 2015 — a week after the last election — to switch from odd- to even-year voting, lengthen the mayor’s term by a year and reduce the terms of other council members by a year.
Bauman dissented, saying the council didn’t have the right to overrule voters on terms of office and that the question should have been put to the people.
In May, Bauman formally petitioned for a referendum. The city denied it, saying she hadn’t followed required technicalities. The judge this week disagreed, saying that she had “complied with all of the requirements.”
Bauman and a resident, Susan Erickson, went to court this month to appeal.
Marek said the City Council was wrong in making the election switch in November because state law permits such changes only between January and June. And it was wrong in failing to honor Bauman’s petition, which the judge said should have been acted on, given the number of signatures on it.
The judge ordered the ordinance making the elections switch to be stricken from the city’s municipal code — thus canceling this fall’s election, which falls in an even-numbered year.
City Manager Dean Lotter called the censure a “public shaming,” but the council accused Bauman of using the city attorney for personal matters — in this case, a cause she was championing. The council also voted to relieve her from her appointed positions representing the city.
“We have strict rules as elected officials that we can’t use city assets for our own benefit,” Johnson said earlier this year. On Friday she said the council is exploring all options, including an appeal.