5 Interesting Things in the West St. Paul City Charter

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The West St. Paul Charter Commission meets this week, so let’s look at some interesting things in the city charter. You can read the city charter in full online.

Check out our interview with Charter Commission Chair Mark Tessmer to learn more about the city charter.

1. Force an Audit

Get the signatures of 100 registered voters in the city and you can force an audit by the state auditor (Section 2.08).

2. Special Meetings

The mayor or any three council members can call a special meeting. But the fun part: The notice of the meeting has to be delivered to the other council members in person (or left with a “responsible person”) with at least three day’s notice. (Section 3.01)

3. Five Votes for Money

Most business of the council requires four votes to pass (regardless of how many members are present), but the city budget and the annual tax levy require five votes. (Section 3.04)

4. By the People

Citizens can petition for a proposed ordinance to be considered by the city council—or to repeal an ordinance passed by the city council. It’s known as initiative and referendum. All it takes is the signatures of at least 10% of those who voted in the last city election (which was around 9,000 votes, so you’d need in the neighborhood of 900 signatures).

If the ordinance is voted down by the council, it will go to the public for a vote. (Section 5)

5. Recall an Elected Official

The only way to remove a sitting council member is for them to resign or to be recalled by the citizens. Much like petitioning for an ordinance, this requires signatures from 15% of the voters in the last election (so 15% of everyone who voted in the city for the mayor, or 15% of ward voters for a council member). (Section 5.13)

(If a council member or mayor is disqualified for office—if they move away or are convicted of a felony—then the council can declare a vacancy and appoint a replacement.)

This issue came up in 2012 when the council voted 5-1 to censure Council Member Ed Hansen and urge him to resign. Four months later he announced his resignation, citing time commitments. Hansen was eventually charged with misconduct of a public official and disorderly conduct, but he was acquitted in 2014.

(Thanks to City Attorney Kori Land for confirming I had my information correct, though any errors or mischaracterizations are my fault.)

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