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Two Harbors City Council expected to schedule recall election of mayor

City certifies refiled recall petition as mayor's ally refiles lawsuit.

Chris Swanson
Two Harbors Mayor Chris Swanson listens as residents speak during the public comment period Monday, March 28, 2022.
Jimmy Lovrien / Duluth News Tribune
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TWO HARBORS — The Two Harbors City Council is expected to call for a recall election of Mayor Chris Swanson during Monday's meeting.

City administration on Wednesday certified the most recent petition to recall Swanson after verifying 532 of the 618 signers were eligible voters in Two Harbors. That's more than the 498 signatures — 20% of the city's registered voters — required by the city's charter for a petition to move forward.

On Monday, the petition will go before the city council which must then schedule a recall election.

"The council's task, under the charter, is to call for a recall election ... The council is not required to determine malfeasance or misfeasance; that is for the public to decide," the agenda item summary said.

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

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In a 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, the News Tribune reported in March.

The recall resolution on Monday's agenda , calls for an Aug. 9 recall election, which is also the primary election. Because it is a redistricting year, it's the earliest a recall election can be scheduled.

A recall election will not be scheduled if Swanson resigns before 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, May 31. If he chooses not to resign, "he may submit a statement of not more than five hundred (500) words explaining his position on the grounds for recall," the resolution said.

Swanson has previously said he will not resign.

This is the second such petition calling for Swanson's resignation. The first 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.

On Friday, Tim Jezierski, chair of the Lake County Republicans, along with a Jane and John Doe, refiled their lawsuit seeking to nullify the recall petition.

Like the original lawsuit filed last month, it argues the petition failed to define "malfeasance" and that the petition "fails to confirm with Minnesota law."

It then goes further, claiming Interim City Administrator Joel Dhein "conspired to covertly hide this submission from the City Council with City Clerk Patricia Nordean until May 18, 2022" despite having received the petition May 12.

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Dhein did not immediately respond to the News Tribune's request for comment Friday afternoon.

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

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.

Cynthia Kosiak, an organizer and attorney for the Recall or Resign Committee, told the News Tribune on Friday that the group expected the lawsuit to be refiled.

"We're not concerned about it causing any real disruption to what's going on from now on," Kosiak said.

Earlier this month, the City Council 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 on May 4.

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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