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Gardner recall effort not ready for Nov. 4 election

Signs calling for the recall of Duluth City Councilor Sharla Gardner sit in a lawn near the S curve on July 1 on South Lake Avenue on Park Point. Some area residents are unhappy with some of Gardner’s votes, including her support for the failed plan that would have moved the curve closer to the Lift Bridge. (2014 file / News Tribune)

The effort to recall 3rd District Duluth City Councilor Sharla Gardner will enter its ninth week Thursday, but no petition has yet been filed with the Duluth City Clerk’s office, and organizers remain mum about how many signatures they’ve gathered in support of their campaign to oust her from office.

“Everyone keeps asking us that, but we’re not letting it out yet,” said Mike Medlin, a Park Point resident who is helping to lead the call for Gardner’s removal.

The group will need the support of at least 585 people who are eligible to vote in Duluth’s 3rd District to trigger a recall vote. Duluth’s charter stipulates that a recall will occur only if a petition is signed by enough constituents to represent one-quarter of the voters who participated in the last district election.

Gardner ran unopposed for her second term on the council in a 2011 election that drew only 2,338 district residents to the polls.

Even if recall advocates gather enough signatures, their petition will come too late to allow for the vote to occur in conjunction with the general election this November, according to Duluth City Clerk Jeff Cox.

He said a special election would probably be required to prompt a recall and estimated that such an exercise would cost “somewhere in the ballpark of $10,000 to $12,000.”

But Medlin remains unfazed by the prospective price tag of a special election.

“That’s a small price to pay when you consider that the cost of moving the S-curve on Park Point, like she wanted to, would have been $10 million to $12 million,” he said.

Gardner’s support of a long-range plan to reroute traffic traveling down Park Point and to improve access to the waterfront stirred the ire of many in the neighborhood, including Medlin.

Medlin also has criticized Gardner for failing to shield the Park Point fire hall from closure.

“What’s the cost of a life?” he asked, noting that emergency response times could be greatly increased on the Point, especially if responders encounter the Aerial Lift Bridge in an upright position.

Gardner said she spoke out against plans to close the hall and tried to persuade city administration to keep it open, but could not singlehandedly block the shutdown or the subsequent sale of the fire hall property.

“This recall effort feels somewhat dishonest,” she said. “They’re providing misinformation about my positions.”

Gardner described the push for a special recall election as fiscally irresponsible.

“The recall campaign is not based on any allegations of malfeasance or anything I’ve done wrong. They’re cherry-picking issues and then trying to find constituents who disagreed with me to sign their petition,” she said.

Medlin said he expects to collect substantially more signatures than required for a recall. He estimated that 340 lawn signs calling for Gardner to be removed from office have gone up across the district.

“I’m amazed at how many people are not happy with her,” he said of Gardner.

As for the time the campaign is taking, Medlin said: “A lot of people have been on vacation or they’ve had company. Plus, most of us also have full-time jobs.”

He pledged to continue the recall petition drive for “as long as it takes.”

Gardner said the city charter provides no time limitations for the recall campaign. While she proposes no change at present, she said she would support future efforts to provide a narrower window.

“If you can’t get 600 signatures in 60 days — that’s 10 per day — it ought to tell you something,” Gardner said.