Vacancy on Falcon Heights council to last through election


Randy Gustafson

The Falcon Heights City Council will bide its time when it comes to filling the vacancy created March 27 with Randy Gustafson’s move from council member to mayor.

Council members voted 3-1 to appoint one of the winners of this November’s city election to a council term that will run for most of November through Dec. 31. That person would then serve their four-year elected term come 2020.

The mayor’s seat and two council seats — Gustafson’s former seat and council member Pamela Harris’s — will be on the ballot Nov. 5. City Administrator Sack Thongvanh said the council member-elect who gets the most votes is the one who will be appointed.

This game of musical council chairs was set in motion with former Mayor Peter Lindstrom’s appointment to the Metropolitan Council, which he joined last month. With the mayor’s seat open, the council opted to appoint from within, and Gustafson volunteered to move up during the March 13 council meeting.

Sworn into his new position March 27, Gustafson said it was “an honor and a privilege.”

During the same meeting council members chose from three options as laid out by Thongvanh: they could take applications and appoint, a process that last time took about four months; they could hold a special election; or they could wait until the regularly scheduled vote and seat a winner early.

The third option previously hadn’t been discussed. Thongvanh said state statute requires the vacancy to be filled before the end of the seat’s term, but lays out no required timetable for it to happen. Council members had previously floated not filling the seat at all.

The earliest a special election could be held, Thongvanh said, was August, and it would cost the city around $10,000. No council members backed a special election as an option.

They eventually ruled out taking applications and appointing, since the soonest a person would be seated was assumed to be in July, and there would be much legwork involved as city budget season looms.

Council member Pamela Harris, herself appointed last September to the remaining 15 months of former member Joe Brown Thunder’s term, was the strongest backer of waiting. A three-term council member prior to her appointment, she had opted not to run for re-election in the 2017 election but was brought back into the fold based on her decade-plus of experience.

“I want to appoint someone after the election,” Harris said. “I just think that makes a huge amount of sense and I’m relieved to know that we can wait. And then the voters can choose someone for us.”

Council members Melanie Leehy and Mark Miazga joined Harris in voting to wait to appoint. The new mayor was the dissenting vote, saying that he leaned toward appointing on a quicker schedule.

Candidate filing for this fall’s Falcon Heights City Council election opens July 30.

 

–Mike Munzenrider can be reached at mmunzenrider@lillienews.com or 651-748-7813. 

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