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Two Harbors City Council votes for recall of mayor

Mayor Chris Swanson has until May 31 to resign. If he does not, a recall election will be scheduled for August.

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Two Harbors Mayor Chris Swanson takes the stage to present a letter from six Iron Range mayors supporting the Trump-Pence campaign during Vice President Mike Pence's campaign visit to Lake Superior Warehousing in August 2020 in Duluth.
Clint Austin / File / Duluth News Tribune
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TWO HARBORS — The Two Harbors City Council voted to recall Mayor Chris Swanson on Monday.

After a tense hour-long meeting, the council voted 6-1 to call for a recall of Swanson, with only Swanson voting no. The embattled mayor now has until the end of the month to resign. If he does not, a recall election will be held in August.

The move comes after the second recall petition submitted by hundreds of Two Harbors voters was certified by the city administration last week . The recall effort was spurred by Swanson's underwater hotel and cryptocurrency pursuits and other potential conflicts of interest and ethical concerns coming to light.

In a March memorandum of opinion, City Attorney Tim Costley wrote that Swanson repeatedly used his official city position “for personal benefit or business interests” on a number of issues, violating both the city’s communication’s policy and city code.

But on Monday, Swanson said “there has not been one allegation that has been proven” against him and dismissed Costley’s findings as “issues” with the communication policy.

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“Mistakes happen,” he said.

He then spent a considerable amount of time reading directly from the amended lawsuit filed last week seeking to nullify the recall and lamenting that it was unclear exactly what the recall process was.

“I believe I have the ability to have due process,” Swanson said. “It has never been explained to this council what the process is. Can somebody show me a document that says ‘here’s what the process is’?”

“I can do that,” Costley said. “Read the (city) charter. Chapter nine.”

The lawsuit was filed by Tim Jezierski, chair of the Lake County Republicans, along with a Jane and John Doe against the city of Two Harbors and the organizers of the “Resign or Recall” effort.

The lawsuit claims the recall effort erred because it failed to follow Minnesota’s process to recall a state official, even though Swanson is a city employee.

Costley said the city charter trumps state law when the two are “in conflict,” and that the charter makes clear what the recall process is.

A hearing on the lawsuit is expected later this week or next week, Costley said.

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Swanson urged the council to table the vote until the lawsuit was resolved.

A member of the audience watching online, who apparently had forgotten to mute the microphone, responded, “Shut the f---- up.”

Costley said the charter makes it clear that once signatures on a recall petition are verified by city administration, the council “shall” call for a recall.

“There are no other alternatives,” Costley said.

“The charter is your constitution. That’s what you follow. You may not like the language in the charter, it may not serve your purpose, but it is really clear. … If you want to change (the city charter), that’s great,” Costley said. “But it’s too late to change it now.”

Councilor Cathy Erickson urged the council to follow the charter, take the advice of Costley and vote for the recall of Swanson.

“I have read the charter many times the past several months, as have people in the community, and they have an expectation that we're going to follow the charter as it is right now,” Erickson said.

Swanson has until 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, May 31, to resign. If he does not, a recall election will be Aug. 9 in which voters can vote yes or no on whether they think Swanson should remain in office.

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The first petition calling for Swanson’s recall garnered almost 1,000 signatures but organizers withdrew it after a lawsuit claimed it misled signers by promising the signatures would not become public or viewed by Swanson. The group then collected more than 600 signatures in five days with the full understanding that signatures will be public. The city last week verified 532 of those signers were eligible voters in Two Harbors, more than the 498 — or 20% of the city’s registered voters — required by the city’s charter for a petition to move forward.

“We’re just pleased that the process that’s been so clearly laid out in our charter is finally proceeding forward,” Todd Ronning, chair of the Resign or Recall Committee, said after Monday’s meeting. “We’re just disappointed with the drivel from the mayor. I couldn’t quite understand his logic, the logic of his argument.”

READ MORE BY JIMMY LOVRIEN
During a visit Tuesday, the U.S. senator said she and other legislators helped keep the base eligible for F-35s last year. Now, the Air Force needs to be convinced Duluth is the right place for the more modern aircraft.

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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