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'New' city council ready to roll

January 4, 2009
By RON LARSEN, Journal Staff Writer

NEW ULM - The New Ulm City Council will have a decidedly different look when the body is gaveled to order by the city's new councilor-at-large, Charles Schmitz, Tuesday night.

With the retirement of both Councilor-at-Large and President Dan Beranek and Third Ward Councilor Sharon Weinkauf, First Ward Councilor Ruth Ann Webster not only will be the only female councilor but the only real veteran with two four-year terms under her belt. She also remains the only lawyer on the council.

Now, Schmitz will be learning the ropes, so to speak, along with Les Schultz who won the non-race for councilor in the Third Ward as a write-in candidate. Also, Todd Olson just finished his first nearly full year on the council as a replacement for Ron Fleischmann in the Second Ward. Olson was appointed by the council early last year to fill the position until the general election in November.

Article Photos

Charles Schmitz

He then ran for the remaining two years' of the term to which he had been appointed and was unopposed in the general election. So, he basically can be counted as a "new" face, having won his first election to the post.

Then, there's Fourth Ward Councilor Ken RockVam who is at the mid-point of his first four-year term. RockVam won by default in the general election when his opponent, veteran councilor and lawyer Clark A. Tuttle III, died during the campaign.

After Beranek revealed his plan to retire at the end of his current term, RockVam threw his hat into the race for councilor-at-large. With Schmitz and Ricky Howk also filing for that position, a three-way race was created, requiring the paring to two candidates in a primary election.

The councilor-at-large contest quickly took on a life of its own after the votes were counted.

The subsequent canvass showed that RockVam was the leading vote-getter with 792 votes to 521 votes for Schmitz and 503 votes for Howk. Although only 18 votes separated Schmitz and Howk, the votes separating the two were not less than one-half of one percent which would have triggered an automatic recount.

After the vote count was approved by the Canvassing Board which included the council members, the mayor and the city clerk-treasurer, the council determined that Howk would have to come up with $2,000 cash or surety bond to get a recount. However, he chose to challenge the election on the basis that RockVam, as a candidate in the race, should not have been allowed to serve on the canvassing board. He appealed it to the Minnesota Secretary of State's office, but nothing came of it.

However, Howk then discovered the number of voters voting in the primary election didn't jibe with the total number of votes cast for the three candidates.

When asked later about those seemingly missing votes, the city clerk-treasurer reported the discrepancy was caused by the number of "over" and "under" votes. In other words, if a voter voted in other races but didn't vote in council primary, it classified as an "under" vote. If more than one name was marked on the ballot, it was an "over" vote and didn't count for either of the candidates.

Howk then campaigned as a write-in candidate for the position in the general election, but Schmitz out-distanced both RockVam and Howk.

Ron Larsen can be reached at



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