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Recall committee withdraws petition against Two Harbors mayor, plans to restart effort

The committee had told signees their names would be private.

A bearded man wears "Resign or Recall" signs pinned to the front and back of his hat during a Two Harbors City Council meeting.
Tom Koehler, of Two Harbors, wears "Resign or Recall" signs pinned to the front and back of his hat during a March 2022 meeting of the Two Harbors City Council. Koehler is part of an effort urging Mayor Chris Swanson to resign or face a recall election.
Jimmy Lovrien / Duluth News Tribune
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TWO HARBORS — The committee seeking to recall Two Harbors Mayor Chris Swanson has withdrawn their recall petition, but will try again to collect the required number of signatures to move a recall forward — this time, with the full understanding that signatures will be public.

The move comes after a lawsuit filed by an ally of Swanson sought to nullify the recall petition, arguing the petition didn't define the word "malfeasance" and misled the signers by saying their names and addresses were not public and would only be read by the city administrator.

During a State District Court hearing on the lawsuit Thursday morning, Judge Dale Harris said that because the petition was withdrawn, there was no case and nothing for him to rule on. He said parties can still file a new lawsuit if a new recall petition is submitted to the city.

In a letter sent to the city Wednesday and filed with the court that evening, Cynthia Kosiak, an attorney and member of the Resign or Recall Committee, said the group will restart their effort and make it clear signatures are public.

"In order to protect the members of this community, who voiced their concern regarding Mayor Swanson viewing their names on the petition, we are withdrawing our petition at this time," Kosiak wrote. "We believe the community should be allowed to reconsider their decisions to sign, with full knowledge that Mayor Swanson has requested a copy of the current recall petition."

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chris swanson crop.png
Chris Swanson
Clint Austin / 2020 file / Duluth News Tribune

She added that she does not want "any cloud of uncertainty over the validity of the petition."

Kosiak told the News Tribune that the committee had received guidance from the Minnesota Secretary of State's office that the signatures would remain private, but that the Secretary of State's office told the city of Two Harbors that signatures would be public. She said city employees who signed the petition were particularly concerned about Swanson seeing their names.

The group will now try to collect the nearly 500 required signatures, get them verified by the city and have the City Council move the recall forward before the deadline for the August ballot later this month. Because it's a redistricting year, the August primary is the earliest the recall vote could take place. The group plans a signature drive at the Two Harbors Community Center next week.

The lawsuit challenging the recall was filed April 29 in State District Court in Two Harbors by Tim Jezierski, chair of the Lake County Republicans, along with a Jane and John Doe, two days after the Recall or Resign Committee delivered almost 1,000 signatures to City Hall calling for a recall of Swanson.

Swanson is not a party to the case; however, Brendan Tupa, a Bloomington-Minnesota-based attorney representing Jezierski and the Does, sent cease-and-desist letters in late March to the Duluth News Tribune and Duluth Monitor about their coverage of Swanson. In those letters, he wrote: “My law firm has been retained by Christopher Swanson to investigate and take legal action against you” and the respective news organizations.

The lawsuit names five of the recall organizers; the Recall or Resign Committee; the city of Two Harbors; Two Harbors City Council; Interim City Administrator Joel Dhein; and City Clerk Patty Nordean.

During an emergency City Council meeting Wednesday, Swanson said he didn't believe the city was being sued when he read the lawsuit. City Attorney Tim Costley confirmed the city was being sued.

During the emergency meeting that lasted just five minutes, the council, at the recommendation of Costley, voted unanimously to hire an outside law firm, Charles Nauen of Lockridge Grindal Nauen P.L.L.P., of Minneapolis, to represent itself and its staff. The firm's services will cost the city $395 per hour, Dhein said in an email to the News Tribune.

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Swanson did not immediately respond to an email or voicemail from the News Tribune seeking comment.

Recall efforts were spurred by Swanson's underwater hotel and cryptocurrency pursuits and other potential conflicts of interest and ethical concerns coming to light.

In a memorandum of opinion, Costley wrote that Swanson repeatedly used his official city position “for personal benefit or business interests” on a number of issues, the News Tribune reported in March .

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Jimmy Lovrien covers energy, mining and the 8th Congressional District for the Duluth News Tribune. He can be reached at jlovrien@duluthnews.com or 218-723-5332.
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