WINTHROP - A Winthrop resident who circulated a petition calling for a referendum vote on whether the City of Winthrop should participate in a proposed $70 million fiber optic project in Sibley and Renville counties said he'll run for city council this fall, after city councilors approved a resolution determining his petition was insufficient.
Dale Malheim, a retired U.S. Army sergeant, said he was asked to run for city council by petitioners while collecting 89 signatures last month. He turned the petition in to the City Clerk on April 24.
The petition read that it is neither for or against the RS Fiber (high-speed Internet, cable TV and telephone service) project. "We, the undersigned feel that a decision of this magnitude and commitment requires input from the residents in a referendum vote," it read.
According to the resolution, the City Clerk determined that the petition does not contain the adequate number of signatures as required by City Charter.
According to Winthrop City Charter Chapter V, Initiative and Referendum, Section 5.02, Petitions, an initiative or referendum shall be initiated by a petition signed by registered voters of the city equal in number to 20 percent or a minimum of 50 registered voters of those who voted for mayor in the last city election.
The resolution went on to read that the petition does not apply to a qualifying action of the City Council under the Charter and therefore, does not trigger the requirement of a referendum as the council did not create legislation through its decision to enter into the fiber project.
According to Section 5.04, Disposition of Insufficient Petition, If the Council determines that the petition is insufficient, the City Clerk shall deliver a copy of the petition together with a written statement of its defects, to the sponsoring committee. The committee shall have 30 days in which to file additional signature papers and to correct the petition in all other particulars.
If at the end of that period the Council finds that the petition is still insufficient or irregular, the City Clerk shall file the petition in his office and notify the sponsoring committee. The final finding that the petition is insufficient or irregular shall not prejudice the filing of a new petition for the same purpose nor shall it prevent the Council from referring the ordinance to the voters at the next regular or special election at its option.
Winthrop City Administrator Mark Erickson said investors are attracted to buying into the project because its interest rate is a bit higher than most government investments because there is more risk involved.
"You may go into debt at first but the benefits far outweigh the risks," Erickson added. "The project can transform government, education, health care, and personal lives, to say the least. It's our modern day electricity."
Erickson said rural Minnesota is stuck without high-speed Internet, cable TV and phone service. He added that Oppenheimer, which is financing the project "wants nothing to do with something that will fail."
Edwards said the project wasn't created just to be compete with existing businesses like Winthrop Telephone Company.
"Competition is the American spirit," Edwards said. "It's about choice, not running out local business."
Erickson said a private, third-party vendor, not the government, would operate RS Fiber.
For more information, visit www.rsfiber.com
(Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at email@example.com).