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Council OKs process to fill vacancy

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government River Falls, 54022
River Falls Journal
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River Falls Wisconsin 2815 Prairie Drive / P.O. Box 25 54022

Mayor Dan Toland said during Tuesday's City Council meeting, "As everyone knows, after the last election we were left with one open council seat."

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A memorandum from City Administrator Scot Simpson explained why there is a vacant at-large alderperson position, for which the term expires April 2014.

Former Council Member Tom Caflisch declined to run for re-election in District 1 during the spring election.

Sitting at-large Council Member David Cronk ran successfully for the District 1 seat.

Cronk cannot legally hold two seats, so he opted to vacate the at-large council seat he's held through several terms.

City Attorney William Thiel had outlined the city's four choices on how to fill the vacated seat.

Simpson said a look into River Falls' history shows this isn't the first time a seat has been vacated, but there is no set policy for how to fill the usually elected position.

All four of the options fill the job until the 2014 spring election, when the term would naturally expire: 1) Leave seat vacant; 2) Fill seat with an appointed person; 3) Leave seat vacant and hold special election in November; and 4) Fill seat with an appointed person and hold a special election in November.

Toland acknowledged the 'best way' to do it would be to hold an election, but that option delays action until November, costs taxpayer money, and would basically cover the position for only a few months. He said he presumed the council would prefer to find someone and appoint them to the office.

He presented the members with a copy of a potential application that he proposed be advertised and offered to the public for a period of two weeks via the city's website and hard copy.

The mayor offered to screen applications then present three finalists for the council's consideration.

Council Member Jim Nordgren wasn't sure he agreed with having someone else screen the applications. What if one of the six council members liked applicant number four or five?

"I think this is a council decision," said Nordgren.

He pointed out that the city may not get a flood of applications for the job, but if more than three people have interest, they all deserve an equal shot.

Council Member Scott Morrissette said, "I am in favor of letting the mayor lead this process," then suggested that the mayor could recommend finalists but council members would review all the applications, too.

New Council Member Katie Chaffee agreed that she'd like to see the applications and perhaps the candidates as well.

Also a just-elected Council Member, Diane Odeen asked if there was an option for a subcommittee to manage the screening. Council members liked Toland's idea of offering an application and advertising the open seat. They asked whether the appointee vote would be by open ballot, and Thiel said yes.

The group acknowledged the mayor's applicable powers. While a seat is vacant, there are six council members who could vote 3-3. If they do, the usually non-voting mayor casts the tiebreaking vote.

Toland could also veto whatever choice the council makes, which it could then override with five votes.

Council members agreed to advertise and invite applications for at least two weeks, starting as soon as possible. They want to review applications, suggest finalists if necessary then invite applicants to a meeting.

The council and mayor set a goal of voting someone into the job soon, possibly at the May 28 meeting.

Simpson clarified that to qualify for the at-large council seat, a person must have 28 days' residency in River Falls, be 18 years old and be a U.S. citizen.

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