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Mayor appoints Wyman as interim councilor

Cloquet Mayor Dave Hallback appointed Barb Wyman to fill the at-large Cloquet City Council seat vacated by Adam Bailey after a tie vote Tuesday night.

The six remaining councilors, including the mayor, interviewed six candidates prior to the regular meeting and were unable to reach agreement on a preferred candidate in a work session discussion prior to the 7 p.m. meeting.

While they praised all the candidates, the formal vote split along the same lines that the council has split on many other issues, most notably those related to the former police chief and the hiring of his replacement. When Ward 3 Councilor Roger Maki motioned to appoint Lara Wilkinson, Ward 4 Councilor Kerry Kolodge and Ward 2 Councilor David Bjerkness voted in favor of Wilkinson; Hallback, Ward 1 Councilor Jeff Rock and Ward 5 Councilor Steve Langley voted “no” to Wilkinson.

Both Wyman and Wilkinson served one term each as at-large councilors previously, and had the most experience of the six candidates interviewed. Maki had offered Elizabeth Jaakola as a compromise candidate during the work session, but got no takers, although several councilors praised the Cloquet resident and Native American activist.

After the vote tied, City Administrator Aaron Reeves explained that state statute dictates that a tie vote means the mayor is required to appoint someone. He could appoint anyone who qualified, Reeves said, not only people who applied for the interim position, which will run through December.

Hallback chose Wyman, after noting that the six candidates were all excellent and saying that it wasn't an easy decision. The other three candidates were Randy Flynn, Andrew Korby and Les Riess.

Although there was no discussion of the appointment after the mayor's decision, Maki made a statement at the end of the meeting regarding Wyman's appointment, alleging that the newest councilor has demonstrated "clear bias" in favor of the police department in the past.

"She stood at that podium when Jeff Palmer was appointed (police chief) and declared to the police officers, 'I have your back.'" Maki said. "With what we've been through over the past 15 months, I don't think that's what we need."

In response, Hallback criticized Maki for not making that point during the work session discussion of the candidates.

"I'm not going to change my decision," the mayor said.

After the meeting Wyman said she was happy to be appointed and "for the confidence the council has in me."

In a related note, candidates for Cloquet mayor and ward 1, 2 and 3 and the at-large councilor positions can file for office between May 22 to June 5. Cloquet candidates must file with the city clerk at Cloquet City Hall. If there are more than two candidates for any seat, there will be a primary election in August.