Cloquet council bars city workers from elected city posts

In a 4-3 vote, the Cloquet City Council adopted an ordinance Tuesday that prohibits city employees from simultaneously holding elected city positions.

In a 4-3 vote, the Cloquet City Council adopted an ordinance Tuesday that prohibits city employees from simultaneously holding elected city positions.

The ordinance takes effect immediately but won't apply to the two city employees who currently serve on the council, Erik Blesener and Barb Wyman, until they finish their terms of two and four years, respectively. Blesener is a police officer, and Wyman is a civil engineer. If either decides to run for re-election and wins, he or she would have to take a leave of absence or quit his or her job.

The proposal did not pass easily, as Wyman and Blesener, along with councilor Herb Johnson, opposed the measure. Councilors David Bjerkness, Deb Hill, Neil Nemmers and Mayor Bruce Ahlgren supported it.

Nearly a dozen members of the Carlton County Central Labor Body attended the meeting to show their opposition.

Labor Body Vice President Mike Kuitu called the ordinance "outrageous."


"The voters chose [to elect city employees]," he said. "This says the voters were wrong."

He added that most of the city's employees belong to the union.

"Where will it stop?" he asked. "So employees who do business at the city can't be councilors, and then owners of businesses?"

Ahlgren said the ordinance was born out of a concern that cities have no current state-imposed restrictions on city employees serving on city councils. But school boards, county boards and charter cities all have measures prohibiting employees' serving in elected roles, he said.

And although the Minnesota Attorney General's Office issued an opinion to Cloquet in 1995 saying it was OK for a police officer to be a city councilor, that opinion is not legally binding, City Administrator Brian Fritsinger said. The city received an additional opinion in October from lawyer George Hoff, who concluded that the original opinion was incorrect because it relied on a Minnesota Supreme Court case dealing with service in the Legislature, not on a city council.

A meeting will be held between council members in the near future to determine the best ways to move forward together in light of the ordinance's adoption.

Blesener said he would like to know more about what other councils around the state have done. He noted that new Hermantown Mayor Wayne Boucher is also a Hermantown police officer.

Jeannette Bach, research manager at the League of Minnesota Cities, said she occasionally sees cities that incorporate similar restrictions into their charter or fold them into an ethics or personnel policy, but she hasn't seen a city adopt a free-standing ordinance barring city employees from holding a local office.


Wyman, who was elected last November, expressed frustration.

"I really don't like entering a situation where I don't know the facts," she said referring to not being able to vote on issues involving city personnel due to the data privacy act or the city budget, as it is a conflict of interest.

Ahlgren said he was concerned that Fritsinger would technically oversee Blesener and Wyman in their city jobs, but that the roles would be reversed when Blesener and Wyman were serving on the council.

Duluth News Tribune reporter Janna Goerdt contributed to this report.

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