Local elections signal changeIt seems there is a sea change afoot following Tuesday’s general election in Carlton County. The county results seemed to reflect the nature of this year’s overall elections on the regional, state and national levels, with voters seemingly expressing a mandate for self-examination and change in the local races.
By: Wendy Johnson / Jana Peterson, Pine Journal
It seems there is a sea change afoot following Tuesday’s general election in Carlton County. The county results seemed to reflect the nature of this year’s overall elections on the regional, state and national levels, with voters seemingly expressing a mandate for self-examination and change in the local races.
Voter turnout in Carlton County was substantial, with 13,780 ballots cast out of 19,786 registered voters, for a total voter turnout of 69.65 percent. Here are some of the election results of special significance:
The Carlton School Referendum sailed on to resounding victory while two of the board members who helped craft it fell to defeat. On the other hand, the city of Moose Lake, which has traditionally lent its support to the past two school district operating referendums, chose this particular time and place to turn the current proposal down.
Cloquet School Board
To predict who would win three seats on the Cloquet School Board, one only had to look at the primary election results from August. While the vote tallies differ, the rankings are exactly the same. Dan Danielson got the most votes, with 2,475, followed by Dave Battaglia, with 2,200. Incumbent Sandra Crowley claims the third seat, with 2,079 votes, according to figures posted on the Minnesota Secretary of State’s website.
Danielson told the Pine Journal Wednesday he was very excited and encouraged by the amount of support he received from the voters. While the father of three didn’t expound on any particular theory for his popularity, he did note, “With me, you will get a community member, father, husband and a now a school board member who believes in our school district.”
Incumbents Ron Gittings and Rose Scheuer were not re-elected; their terms end Dec. 31, 2010.
The newly-elected board members will join sitting incumbents Gary Huard, James Crowley and Duane Buytaert on the Cloquet School Board.
As a district, Cloquet is in relatively good shape, with a healthy fund balance and respectable class sizes. Like all Minnesota school districts, however, in this time of a diminishing state budget, money is the biggest challenge.
Carlton School Board
As he anxiously awaited voting results at the Carlton County Courthouse Tuesday night, current School Board Chair Randy Schmitz said he was most concerned with voters passing the excess levy referendum. Since that passed with 60 percent voter approval, he said he could live with not being on the board anymore. (Schmitz, who has been on the board for eight years, was just 32 votes shy of regaining a seat on the board.)
It seems Carlton School District voters expressed their dissatisfaction with the district’s shaky finances through their votes in the school board election, rather than the referendum. The top three vote getters and new board members were all newcomers: vocal school district critic Julianne Emerson, with 700 votes, Stephanie (Bahen) Gibson with 684 votes and Timothy Johnson, with 593 votes.
Neither of the two incumbents on the school board ballot was re-elected; instead the board will have three new members come January
Gibson said she was ready to work hard for the district.
“The message that I take from the voters in this race is that they do not want ‘business as usual,’ they want change,” Gibson told the Pine Journal the day after the election. “I want to thank them for supporting our school district and valuing their community by voting yes on the referendum, and I want to assure them that I will be diligent in watching how their money is being spent. It’s an exciting time for Carlton and I am very optimistic about the future of our district. I am looking forward to getting to work on the issues the district is facing.”
All of the board members have their work cut out for them. The district faces a number of issues, including adherence to the state-approved plan for getting out of statutory operating debt (SOD). Fortunately, the plan the district must follow is the least damning, thanks to passage of the seven-year $1,100 per pupil unit referendum. Had the referendum not passed, the board would have had to cut all extracurricular activities for the 2011-2012 school year, which likely would have led to more students open-enrolling outside the district, which would further diminish district revenue and likely lead to eventual closure of the district and its schools. Even with the referendum passing, some cuts are still likely, although not nearly so dramatic.
The newly-elected school board members will join incumbent board members Peggy Kiehn and Tim Hagenah, plus a third member who will be appointed at the board’s Nov. 22 meeting to replace Mike Soderstrom, who resigned from the board for personal reasons.
The Carlton School Board is accepting applications from residents to fill the remaining two years of Soderstrom’s board term. Those are due at the district office by 4 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 17.
After serving for 12 years on the Cromwell City Council and 21 years as mayor, Richard Huhta was defeated this year by newcomer Sam Clark by a margin of 10 votes.
Former Scanlon Mayor Marshall Johnson launched a comeback effort to defeat his successor, Jim Putnam, only to lose by a narrow eight-point difference.
“I gave it my best shot,” said Johnson, who indicated that because of the close election, he may be interested in requesting a recount if eligible.
“I didn’t anticipate the election to be as close as it was,” admitted Putnam. He said he believes that the decision for Scanlon to join the Cloquet Area Fire District may have swayed a few voters, but he said he believes it was something that “eventually had to happen” and said he believes it will be “a very good decision that will help the city in the long run.”
Looking ahead, Putnam said he is now hopeful of “seeing things get accomplished, with the mayor’s office and the council working together to solve problems and keeping things on a local, small-town keel.”
When it looked as though no one would step up to the plate to lead the city of Kettle River as mayor this year, resident Steve Gerdes woke up Tuesday morning to discover he’d won the top job in the city by a write-in ballot of 10 votes. Likewise, when no one filed for the two open posts on the Kettle River City Council, voters elected Judy Marsyla (16 votes) and John Wallace (6) by write-in ballot. At this time, none of those candidates have indicated whether they will accept the posts.
Political newcomer Bob Olean defeated challenger Tony Sheda to earn the right to represent Carlton County’s Fourth Commissioner District, soon to be vacated through the retirement of long-time commissioner Gordon Aanerud, who held the post for 19 years.
“I did a lot of meeting with townships, the fair board and talking with the people of the district,” commented Olean. “Now that I’ve been elected, I intend to do a good job, give it my best effort and be a voice for my people. My door and my phone line will always be open.”