Residents Petition to Reinstate Cancelled 2019 Local Elections

The Twin Cities was introduced to the bizarre world of New Brighton politics when Mayor Valerie Johnson went on a blistering rant in a video that racked up 150,000 views a few months ago.  My colleague John Hinderaker posted on Johnson’s tirade in “Meltdown in New Brighton Over White Privilege.”

Now Johnson and the New Brighton City Council confront a new controversy of their own making. Shortly after the 2017 election, they voted 4 to 1 to unilaterally cancel the suburb’s scheduled 2019 local elections in order to switch to even year elections.

But in the process the mayor and city council automatically extended their terms in office by a year without going before the electorate, provoking a petition protesting city leaders “electing themselves to an extra year in office.”

The countless communications from the Mayor, Council and City Manager justifying  changing our city elections have been designed to persuade us that this is in the best interest of the residents and city and that we should just accept it as dictated. This is not community engagement as they claim they seek.

City Hall positioned the switch as a way to save taxpayer money and increase voter turnout. But the move mobilized two long-time local activists, citizen watchdog Susan Erickson and former city council member Gina Bauman.

Gina Bauman (left) and Susan Erickson with petition supporter.

Their petition to let voters decide whether or not to cancel the 2019 local election has already garnered most of the 500 or so signatures needed to put it on the 2018 general election ballot. Erickson urged residents to sign it in a letter to the local Sun Focus paper.

There is a ballot question petition being circulated. It will be in your neighborhood soon. Signing it is not voting for or against anything, it simply puts the question on the 2018 ballot to let you decide if the 2019 election should be held. There should be no hesitation if asked to sign, it merely protects your vote. It’s difficult to engage voters when we aren’t allowed to participate in elections.

It’s your city too! We cannot ever give up our right to vote for those who represent us.

In fact, both sides have been here before. Two years ago Bauman and Erickson went to court to successfully prevent the suburb from doing the same thing. Since then, the Twin Cities suburb managed to get state law amended to facilitate the election change. The city flyer sent to residents played up the fact that just 26 of Minnesota’s 854 municipalities still hold odd-numbered year elections.

This is certainly an imperfect result, and council member discussed this issue at length. There is no way to shift to even-year elections without temporarily changing the term of the current office holders. To keep the issue in perspective–this temporary extension of terms will last only one year.

Just the same, New Brighton voters may yet get the final word. The ordinance to officially cancel the 2019 election goes on the books in August–unless the city, as expected, receives the petition to put the issue before voters by June 19.