Cottage Grove charter commission organizes, seeks guidance from expertsA group that could wind up changing how the city of Cottage Grove is governed met for the first time and they’re seeking some guidance on what comes next.
A group that could wind up changing how the city of Cottage Grove is governed met for the first time — and they’re seeking some guidance on what comes next.
The 15-member Cottage Grove Charter Commission gathered last Thursday to elect officers, establish a meeting schedule and attempt to determine how, exactly, it will approach the purpose of its existence: to draw up a new governing document for the city that would go before voters in a referendum.
Karla Bigham, a former Cottage Grove City Council member and state lawmaker who is on the city’s Environmental Commission, was unanimously appointed commission chairwoman. Commission members selected Economic Development Authority member Tony Jurgens as the group’s vice chairman.
A group of community activists opposed to the Cottage Grove City Council’s decision last year to move forward with a $16 million project to build a new city hall and public safety complex gathered more than 1,600 valid signatures to force the formation of the charter commission.
The group seeks to place more controls on the city’s ability to bond for large capital projects and to elect council members via a ward system.
In a letter to Washington County Judge John C. Hoffman, the judge who appointed Cottage Grove residents to the commission, the group, Cottage Grove Citizens’ Voice, complained about the group’s makeup, saying he unfairly selected a large proportion of applicants from those who applied through the city, rather than through its group or directly to the judge.
In a response to the group’s attorney obtained by the Bulletin last week, former Maplewood Mayor Diana Longrie, Hoffman disputed the claim that the appointment process was not equitable. State statute leaves charter commission appointments to be made at the judge’s discretion.
Jurgens laid out the group’s goal as he called the commission’s first meeting to order in a Cottage Grove Public Works building meeting room: “If we do go forward with a charter, I just want it to be the best possible document for the city.”
The commission’s next meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. May 17 at a location to be determined. At that meeting, commission members will seek guidance on the charter process from League of Minnesota Cities representatives.