By Ivan Raconteur
NEW GERMANY, MN Long-time New Germany City Council Member Steve VanLith resigned during Tuesday’s city council meeting.
Controversy that had been building over several weeks came to a head during the meeting. At issue was the fact that VanLith has served for many years as both a city council member and the city’s fire chief, offices that the city attorney and others have deemed incompatible.
VanLith and others, including members of the fire department and city residents, have argued that things have been this way in the town of 372 residents for decades, and there is no reason to change now.
There was some general discussion, and the council was asked why the issue has come up now.
Council Member Jim Paul said he has been bothered by VanLith holding both offices.
VanLith said he has been the fire chief as long as Paul has been on the council, and as long as Council Member Marc Trujillo has been on the council.
During its Jan. 3 meeting, the council voted not to allow a person to hold incompatible offices. Mayor Jason Kamerud, Paul, and Trujillo all voted in favor of the motion.
The council did not approve the slate of officers presented by the fire department until Tuesday. The council approved all officers except the chief (chief 1) position on a 3-2 vote, with Kamerud, Paul, and Trujillo in favor and VanLith and Council Member Shirley Jaeger opposed. Kamerud noted that the council could not approve VanLith as chief, because doing so would result in him holding incompatible offices, which is exactly what it was trying to avoid.
After that vote passed, VanLith resigned from the city council.
Kamerud made a comment to the effect that the council has been clear that it is not going to allow incompatible offices.
VanLith replied that it has been going on 20 years, and asked what has been the problem.
Then, VanLith said, “I’ll say right now I resign from the council, thank you very much. It’s been a very good honor and a privilege to be on the city council, but I’m stepping down tonight and I’m done with this council. Trust me, guys, I will be back.”
Some members of the audience expressed dissatisfaction with the result of the vote.
The council accepted VanLith’s verbal resignation.
VanLith said the department could not run without a chief, and recommended that the council go back to the slate of officers and approve the chief position. The council then approved accepting VanLith as fire chief for 2012.
The council had previously noted that VanLith could hold any other fire department office other than chief, as those offices are not considered incompatible. VanLith showed no interest in this, and Assistant Fire Chief (this position is now called chief 2 in Carver County departments) Dan Ruschmeier said the fire department has voted on the slate of officers with VanLith as chief twice, and this is the only slate of officers the department would present to the council.
During the Dec. 3 meeting, VanLith had offered a compromise under which, if the council allowed him to continue to hold both the council seat and the fire chief office through the end of 2012, he would submit his resignation from city council effective Dec. 31. Other members of the council expressed opposition to allowing VanLith to continue to hold incompatible offices.
The council, later in Tuesday’s meeting, agreed to accept applications to fill the vacant council seat. Applications can be picked up at city hall during business hours.
Odds and ends
In other business, the council:
• agreed to invite Carver County Sheriff Jim Olson to a council meeting to discuss the department’s handling of a recent drug arrest in the city. VanLith said he had questions about this, and wanted the sheriff to attend a meeting.
• the council approved posting meetings of the city’s 125th anniversary committee, since there may be a quorum of the council in attendance.
• heard from Jaeger that she applied for a grant to help pay for expenses related to the history book that is being produced in conjunction with the city’s 125th anniversary.
• approved asking the city attorney to review and update the city’s fire department contract. Among the deficiencies in the current contract, according to Kamerud, is the fact that there is no language regarding when the contract partners will pay.