Cottage Grove mayor, council candidates differ on city charter issueA majority of Cottage Grove City Council and mayoral candidates challenging three incumbents in next month’s election support an ongoing process that may draft a new governing document for the city.
A majority of Cottage Grove City Council and mayoral candidates challenging three incumbents in next month’s election support an ongoing process that may draft a new governing document for the city.
The city’s incumbent mayor, meanwhile, said the effort represents another unneeded level of government.
A group of community activists opposed to the Cottage Grove City Council’s decision last year to construct a nearly $16 million city hall and public safety complex gathered more than 1,600 valid signatures to force the formation of a commission to consider drafting a municipal charter. A charter essentially is a city constitution that could place stricter controls on things like city spending and borrowing, and could divide the city into electoral wards.
It would also create a standing city commission that would meet to discuss charter issues. A 15-member commission appointed by a Washington County judge has been meeting monthly since April to consider such a document. Cottage Grove voters would make the final call on whether to approve a new governing document for the city.
Candidates for mayor and city council were divided on the commission during their final televised election forum, hosted last week by the League of Women Voters-Woodbury/Cottage Grove.
Mayor Myron Bailey, who is largely opposed by those who circulated the aggressive citywide petition drive that led to the charter commission’s formation, repeated his assertion that the proposed document is unneeded and would not necessarily lower taxes.
“I don’t know that another layer of government — which is what I’m hearing everyone doesn’t want — is what we need,” Bailey said at the Oct. 2 forum.
Mayoral candidate Chad Rediske didn’t answer directly as to his stance on the commission but sounded a line repeated frequently by opponents of the city’s incumbent council members seeking re-election: Cottage Grove residents, Rediske said, aren’t being heard.
Chad Magle has also repeated throughout his run to unseat Bailey that he believes the city’s elected officials aren’t listening to residents. He “absolutely” agrees with the effort, Magle said during the forum, and added a city charter would offer “more of checks or balances.”
“We should listen to the citizens,” he said, often citing a road maintenance project in his rural neighborhood he opposed. “And, I think the charter concept offers them a voice.”
@9on11:The push for a charter in itself, is “neither good nor bad on its face,” said incumbent council member Justin Olsen, repeating a statement he has made publicly throughout the process.
Cottage Grove’s current form of government, however, is doing the job, he said.
“In my opinion,” Olsen said, “it works very well.”
Council member Jen Peterson, seeking a second four-year term, said voters have an existing recourse if they’re unhappy with the council’s decisions without altering how the city is governed.
“We all have terms [and] our terms only last so long,” Peterson said. “And, if people are unhappy with our performance, then they don’t have to vote us another term.”
“I hope that’s precisely what happens,” followed council candidate Matthew Kowalski. He said he supports the formation of a charter commission because the voice of residents “wasn’t being heard.”
Tina Folch took a different tact, declining to take a side in the debate over the charter process. She said that it doesn’t matter what candidates think of the commission that is already in the process of exploring a new governing document for the city.
“What’s important is that our City Council and mayor are making informed, equitable decisions on behalf” of the city, Folch said.
Lisa Meyer said she agrees with the charter movement and added it is unfortunate “it’s gotten to this point.”
“If a charter is what the city needs for checks and balances then it is absolutely what we need,” she said.
Michael Fouts described himself as a “big supporter” of the effort.
“As people move into government,” Fouts said, “I think they forget they’re not governm