The newly-elected mayor of North Branch, Minn., and a four-term city council member could be censured and stripped of their committee assignments by fellow council members, irate over testimony the two gave before the Minnesota Senate last month.
Mayor Kirsten Hagen-Kennedy and Council Member Kathleen Blomquist face censure at Tuesday evening's city council meeting after they testified in an official capacity against legislation the majority of the council supports.
It all started with a number. Last year, four of the five council members voted in favor of expanding the city's Water and Light Commission from three members to five. Hagen-Kennedy and Blomquist -- the lone vote against the expansion last year -- argue that a five-member board would bog down the public utility commission's decision making.
When State Sen. Sean Nienow, R-Cambridge, introduced legislation that would allow the city to expand the commission, the two opponents asked the council to reverse its support for the plan. When that motion failed 3-2, they headed to St. Paul to testify against the legislation themselves.
Every Minnesotan has the right to testify before the Legislature. The censure resolution, brought by Council Member Joyce Borchardt, blasts Hagen-Kennedy and Blomquist for testifying as the mayor of North Branch and a four-term city council member, rather than as private citizens.
According to Borchardt's resolution, the city attorney had instructed the council that members were free to weigh in on the Senate bill, "but must qualify it by saying that this is their individual position and not the position of the city of North Branch."
At a March 16 meeting of the Minnesota Senate State and Local Government Committee, Hagen-Kennedy opened her testimony with this statement: “I am before you today as the mayor of the city of North Branch, along with council member Kathy Blomquist.”
Blomquist, who served on the city's Water and Light Commission from 2002 to 2008, told committee members that a bigger board would mean longer wait times for utility projects.
“My biggest concern is that more people on the commission will cause delays in needed expenditures,” she testified. “Unless we can appoint people who have an extensive background in utilities, I believe decisions will take too long and could impact the electrical and water service to the people in our city.”
Nienow noted that the two officials "are not here speaking on behalf of the city, just to clarify." But the majority of the committee, unwilling to wade into a divisive local political issue, voted down the bill.
If the censure motion passes Borchardt's resolution calls for a second vote that would remove Hagen-Kennedy and Blomquist from all their commission and committee appointments as well, "due to [their] demonstration of failure to represent the Council as a whole and the Council's positions on matters concerning the city."
Censure motions carry no legal weight, but are a way to show public disapproval of an elected official's behavior. Last year, the Maple Plain city council voted unanimously to censure their mayor and remove him from most of his public duties, citing his "extreme anger" and complaints from a female city employee that he was creating an "unsafe and unfriendly" atmosphere in the workplace.
The censure motion is a first in North Branch, a community of 10,000 in Chisago County. Hagen-Kennedy, Blomquist and Borchardt have not yet responded to calls for comment.