Stillwater Likely to Look Into the Appointment Process to the City Council

The Charter Commission will likely take up discussions about the appointment process to the Stillwater City Council.

The Stillwater City Council appointed a Ward 2 representative this week without a formal process in place.

“There is no process for appointment in the city charter,” Stillwater Mayor Ted Kozlowski said on Thursday. “The council has to basically reinvent the wheel every time, which in my opinion, is flawed.”

In the past, the appointment process was criticized for being too private and not open to the public, Kozlowski said. This time the council wanted to open the process up, so interviews with each of the candidates were done in public, applications were submitted and a ranking system was used to bring some order to the vote.

Here’s how the process was conducted:

  1. The city solicited candidates to submit resumes, cover letters and answer a series of questions.
  2. Group interviews of the candidates were conducted at City Hall.
  3. Council members used a ranking system to prioritize the order in which the candidate names would be presented to the council for possible appointment.
  4. If a motion was made — and seconded — to appoint a candidate, a vote takes place.
  5. After a majority vote is reached, the candidate is appointed.

The way it played out, Eric Hansen ranked the highest of the five candidates with a score of 17, but no one made a motion to appoint him to the council.

Dave Junker, the second highest-ranking candidate, was then unanimously appointed to represent Ward 2.

Ward 2 Rankings

 Ted KozlowskiDoug MenikheimTom WeidnerMike PolehnaTotal
Eric Hansen544417
Dave Junker235515
Tom Corbett353213
Sean Hade12238
Jerry Clark41117

After news of the appointment was shared on Stillwater Current’s Facebook page, commenters congratulated the newly appointed representative, but questioned the process.

Why wasn’t there a motion to appoint the candidate with the most votes in the ranked voting process?

Mayor Ted Kozlowski ranked Hansen as his top choice to represent Ward 2, but didn’t make a motion to appoint him to the council.

“If I had made a motion to approve Eric it more than likely would have died for lack of a second,” Kozlowski said. “If none of the other three council members were willing to make a motion for our highest-ranked candidate, it was a fair bet that Eric was not going to get three votes for appointment.  I felt it was better to just move on to the next candidate.

“In hindsight,” Kozlowski continued, “I should have made the motion myself, but I’m pretty sure the end result would remain the same.”

The other three council members ranked Hansen as their second-highest candidate.

If the motion had come up, Council Member Tom Weidner said he’s not sure if he would have seconded it or not.

“If there was a second, I’m not sure how I would have voted,” Weidner said. “He very well may have been appointed if a motion was made, that motion was seconded and there was a vote. I don’t know. It never came up.”

After Hansen’s appointment failed to gain steam, Weidner made a motion for Junker’s appointment, and Council Member Mike Polehna seconded it.

The council went on to unanimously approve Junker’s appointment to the council.

“It was an awkward ending to a fair process,” Weidner said. “Eric is a great candidate and a wonderful guy, but he wasn’t my top top choice, so I didn’t make a motion for his appointment.”

Polehna echoed Weidner’s statement.

“Every one of the candidates would have done a good job, but Dave was my top choice because he has been here before — he has experience,” Polehna said. “I have no doubt Eric would have done a great job, and I’m not sure how I would have voted if I had the chance, but I didn’t make a motion because he wasn’t my top guy.”

Junker was on the Joint Commission when a lot of the annexation discussions were happening with Stillwater Township, Polehna said. It’s going to be nice to have his knowledge on the council.

Council Member Doug Menikheim ranked Tom Corbett as his top choice.

Note: I haven’t been able to connect with Menikheim upon publication of this post. His comments will be added in the near future.

A ‘Flawed’ Process

Ranking the candidates made for an interesting process, Weidner said. Sometimes being the highest-ranking candidate doesn’t mean that is going to be the person with the majority vote, because the majority of council members may agree that the second-ranked candidate is best for the job.

“Before the vote, we discussed the ranking system and why it made more sense to follow that as opposed to opening up the candidate for criticism in the voting process,” Kozlowski said. “We thought that ranking the candidates was fair.”

So the ranking system was used to prioritize the order in which the candidate names would be presented to the council for possible appointment.

“The ranking process is flawed,” Weidner said, “which is why you still vote.”

The ranking system was not binding to the vote, Kozlowski said. The intent was so the council would not have to debate each candidate’s merits and faults publicly.

“We have to be careful how we debate about candidates in public,” Polehna said. “The idea is to make the process as public as possible, but not embarrass any candidates along the way.”

In the past, candidate appointment discussions have had a tendency to get “nasty,” and that is something Kozlowski said he wanted to avoid.

Polehna was appointed to his first term on the city council. When he was appointed, Polehna said the interviews — and vote — were done in private, and the council got in trouble for conducting business in that fashion.

“We did not discuss or decide beforehand who we thought we should appoint,” Kozlowski said. “I was surprised that there was no motion for Mr. Hansen. Again, in hindsight I should have made the motion myself.”

Polehna was also on the council when a Ward 2 representative was appointed after Ken Harycki was elected mayor. That time, Polehna said people were lobbying to get a candidate into office, and he wasn’t comfortable with that.

But Polehna doesn’t like the ranking process, either.

“The best thing to do would be to have an election, but that is too expensive and too tough to get residents to turn out for a special election in such a short time span,” Polehna said. “I’d like to see council members make a motion for an appointment from a pool of candidates. If the motion is seconded and receives a majority vote, the candidate would be appointed. If not, someone else makes a motion.”

No matter what, Polehna said, it’s a tough process and he’d like the Charter Commission to look into making it formal.

“I really wanted to open this process up in a way that would avoid all of the pitfalls and back room discussions of the past,” Kozlowski said. “I realize that we still have work to do and I’m hoping the council, along with our Charter Commission, can build a process that can be fair to the candidates and open to the public. I feel like we’ve done a much better job than in the past, but I realize that we still have more work to do. I’m open to suggestions.”

How would you like to see the process played out? Leave your comments below.

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