VIDEO: Group files petition to recall Christianson
WILLMAR — Members of the Recall Ron Committee received more signatures than they needed and beat the filing deadline by more than a week when they filed the petition Tuesday morning at Willmar City Offices calling for the recall of Second Ward City Council member Ron Christianson.
The Willmar City Charter provides for the recall of council members for malfeasance or nonfeasance. The charter also requires a recall committee to obtain signatures on the recall petition from 25 percent of the registered voters of the ward represented by the officeholder.
In the Second Ward, the committee needed signatures from 737 registered voters. The committee garnered nearly 900 signatures, according to Wayne Nelson, chairman of the Recall Ron Committee. Also, Tuesday morning’s filing beat the 90-day filing deadline, which was Aug. 13.
The committee launched its effort May 18 against the longtime council member for what the committee alleged were three acts of malfeasance they said were committed by Christianson since January 2015.
The Tribune was unable to reach Christianson for comment Tuesday.
As 17 committee members and volunteers watched Tuesday morning, Nelson presented the petition to Interim City Administrator Kevin Halliday.
“We’ve come here this morning as representatives of the Recall Ron Committee to present the petition to recall council member Ron Christianson from his seat as the officeholder for the Ward 2 council position,’’ Nelson said.
“Many of us met one another for the first time on a Thursday night, April 23, at an informational meeting about the recall process,’’ said Nelson, reading a statement. “Today we have meshed as a team representing every ward in the city, but most heavily Ward 2. We are your neighbors: the ‘lunch lady,’ educators, small business owners, public servants, mothers of young children and retired citizens.
“Together, we laid out a strategic plan. And we are proud to say we have accomplished our first goal of collecting signatures in excess of 25 percent of the Ward 2 registered voters. We believe the voters of the ward are informed and engaged. As we collected the signatures, it became very clear that citizens expect their council members to represent them with honesty and integrity. This is a great city and it deserves great leadership,’’ Nelson said.
In a brief interview with reporters, Nelson said the committee believes it has adequate grounds for recalling Christianson.
“We wouldn’t have done all the work that we’ve done over these last two months if we didn’t feel that way,’’ he said.
Nelson said most of the signatures were collected on Saturday and Sunday afternoons and most were obtained going door to door. Also, petition circulators and volunteers had petitions with them to accommodate those they met on the street or in coffee houses, Nelson said.
“It was very successful when you get almost 900 signatures. I think we’re one short of 900,’’ said Nelson. “That’s a tremendous success. The citizens of Ward 2 are very engaged now, very informed, and I think that support is shown by the signatures.’’
Another one of the recall’s pluses, Nelson said, is that everybody got to know their neighbors.
Halliday stamped the petition with the time and date. Nelson thanked Halliday, and all committee members and volunteers applauded.
Halliday said the petition would be given to City Attorney Robert Scott Tuesday.
According to the charter, Scott has five days to determine if the petition is valid and legal. If the attorney determines the petition is invalid, the recall committee can appeal the decision to district court. The court will hear the matter and remand its conclusions either confirming or overruling the appeal.
If Scott determines the petition is legal and valid, Halliday said a three-person committee comprised of himself, a registered voter appointed by the mayor, and a registered voter appointed by the recall committee will determine the sufficiency of the number of signatures.
If the petition is determined to be valid and contains the required number of signatures, the clerk will present the petition to the council, which will immediately proceed to set the matter up for a recall vote in the Second Ward.
The charter allows the official subject to the recall to present to the council a statement of not more than 500 words answering the charge contained in the petition. Both the committee’s statement and Christianson’s answer must be published in the call for election.
If the election removes Christianson from office, the charter will require the council to set a date for a special election, rather than appointment, to fill the vacancy because more than two years remain in Christianson’s term, Halliday said. Christianson could file and seek re-election, Halliday said.
Christianson has served on the council for more than 20 years and was re-elected in the November 2014 general election.