“No confidence” vote doesn’t hold

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 23, 2004

Tribune staff reports

(update as of 5:30 p.m. city council meeting)

The doors were locked into the Albert Lea City Hall chambers until precisely 5:30 p.m. for an emergency meeting held by the city council. Once unlocked, the room filled with a few community members, but there were mostly reporters touting cameras and notepads eagerly anticipating the vote which was to take place.

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The emergency meeting called today by Councilors Jeff Fjelstad, Mary Kron and George Marin began with a statement by City Attorney Steve Schwab who informed the public that any actions by the council would be open to the public through his interpretation of a Minnesota state statute.

Fjelstad immediately motioned for the council hold a vote of no confidence for Mayor Jean Eaton, who was charged Wednesday with one count of felony theft for allegedly defrauding a retail clothing store through a pricetag-switch scam. Fjelstad requested council members to vote &uot;aye&uot; if they had no confidence the mayor was able to do her job, or &uot;nay&uot; if they believed she should remain in office.

Before the council agreed to vote, some members questioned its value. &uot;What will it accomplish whether it succeeds or fails?&uot; asked Amundson.

City Manager Victoria Simonsen was sure to mention that a vote, if positive or negative, would have no affect on Eaton’s position as mayor. &uot;There are four ways a vacancy can be created,&uot; she said. &uot;By resignation, failure to qualify for office by refusing or neglecting to take oath, conviction of a felony or absence of duty for 90 days.&uot;

If for some reason, a vacancy occurs before the mayor is sworn in Monday, a mayor pro tem would step into the position. If the vacancy occurs after the January meeting, a special election would be held to replace the position.

Additional statements were made by council members before the vote was held.

&uot;When this nightmare started and this media circus started, as a council we weren’t going to make any statements unless we did it as a council,&uot; said Councilor Randy Erdman. &uot;I was not elected to be judge and jury. I think we should let the legal process handle this one. If Mayor Eaton is guilty of these charges, she will have to answer to them,&uot; he said.

&uot;We will not accomplish anything from this vote except create greater ugliness for the community. I agree that it’s a little selfish for the mayor to continue holding office,&uot; said Councilor Warren Amundson.

Marin said the issue has affected everyone in the community in some way. &uot;If you throw a stone into a pond, the ripple affect reaches the shoreline. We are at a crossroads,&uot; he said. He addressed Eaton directly: &uot;The situations that have transpired, your honor, affect all of us.&uot; He asked her to decline being sworn in, January.

Eaton also had a personal statement to make. &uot;An accusation does not equate to guilt,&uot; she said. Eaton has not received written confirmation of her charges and said she is entitled to her day in court.

The vote was held with some apprehension, but it did not pass. Three council members, Marin, Fjelstad and Kron answered &uot;aye.&uot; A quorum of four votes was needed to pass the motion.

Fjelstad, noticeably disappointed, explained he had made the motion because he felt there had been no communication during the time Eaton had been under scrutiny. &uot;We have 18,000 people here that I feel are being held hostage by your situation,&uot; he said.

Fjelstad again asked Eaton to resign, but she declined.

Before the emergency meeting was adjourned, council members elected Brooks to fill the mayor’s position if a vacancy were to occur between now and Monday.

Mayor’s felony charge forces decision by council

By Jennifer Rogers, Tribune staff

Three council members approved the calling of a special meeting Thursday to discuss updates of

Mayor Jean Eaton’s alleged theft charges.

Eaton was charged Wednesday with one count of felony theft in a tag-switching scheme at several Marshall Fields stores.

Albert Lea 4th Ward Council Member Jeff Fjelstad called for the special meeting, which requires agreement from two other council members; George Marin and Mary Kron provided the necessary approval. Whatever the council decides will be brought to Monday’s council meeting for official action.

Because of early holiday newspaper deadlines, the recommendation is being published on the Tribune’s Web site and the council will vote on the matter Monday.

&uot;I asked for the meeting, because I want to call for a vote of no confidence in the mayor,&uot; said Fjelstad. &uot;I am also going to ask for her resignation.

&uot;I think the rest of the council is going to vote the same way. I hope they do, if they are representing their constituents,&uot; he said.

Kron agreed.

&uot;I think she should resign,&uot; she said. &uot;I think it would be better for the city, so that we can put this behind us and go on.&uot;

Warren Amundson, 1st Ward, said the city should present a unified front for the sake of the community.

&uot;I think it is fairly selfish of her to use the city as a pawn, because I really believe that is what she is doing,&uot; said Amundson. &uot;The council needs to send a message to the community saying that we are unified and that we are taking a stance.&uot;

In other council agenda notes:

– Mayor Jean Eaton will ask city staff to draft an ordinance that would take Sudafedrine off the shelves and behind counters at business in Albert Lea at the Dec. 27 city council meeting.

&uot;It is important to put the Sudafed behind counters, because it is the main ingredient that people use to make meth and it is important to put up any barrier that we possibly can for people who are making and using,&uot; said Albert Lea Mayor Jean Eaton. &uot;We need to stop it, because it is going to affect all of us in our pocket books whether or not we like it, and it is going to affect all ages of our community.&uot;

– The council will hear a number of public hearings Monday night. Two public hearings will be held for the new stormwater and public lighting utilities, concerning the utilities’ new rates.

&uot;We expect some community input will be shared on this topic,&uot; said Victoria Simonsen, Albert Lea city manager.

Public hearings will also be held for the new sewer and water rates, as well as spending the interest earnings for the Police and Fire fund. And a public hearing will be held concerning the Cubby Hole’s consumption and display permit.

– Appointments will be made to the Port Authority and Greater Jobs Boards.

– Newly elected council members, Vern Rasmussen, 1st Ward, and John Severtson, 5th Ward, will be sworn in. Rasmussen is taken over Warren Amundson’s seat, and Severtson is taking over Mary Kron’s seat.

– Three budget items will be addressed: the adjustments for the 2004 budget, union and non-union staff salaries for 2005, and a resolution will be passed setting the Gross Receipts Tax in 2005.

&uot;The Gross Receipts Tax is a standard thing, it says what we think we will be collecting in taxes for the year,&uot; said Simonsen.

– The council will be discussing an agreement with the Shellrock River Watershed Board about the local sales tax option.

For more agenda notes check out Albert Lea’s Web site at www.city.albertlea.org and click on City Council Agenda. The City Council meeting is at 7 p.m., Dec. 27, in the council chambers in City Hall.

(Contact Jennifer Rogers at jennifer.rogers@albertleatribune.com or at 379-3439.)