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LWV kicks off membership drive

NEW ULM — The League of Women Voters (LWV) held their annual membership kickoff meeting at Hermann Heights Park Pavilion, Friday.

The event included a speech from Mayor Terry Sveine and information from LWV president Ruth Ann Webster on potential changes to New Ulm’s city charter.

Sveine spoke on what it was like to be New Ulm’s Mayor. Sveine said he has been mayor for three months and nine days. He became mayor after being appointed to replace Mayor Robert Beussman who resigned for health reasons.

Sveine said he had previously applied to serve as the Second Ward City Councilor, but Eric Warmka was appointed. He said it could be argued mayor is a fallback position.

Sveine said he was ultimately chosen for mayor because of his love for New Ulm and desire to have others love it too.

Sveine’s appointment as mayor will last through 2022, after which he will need to seek re-election to hold the position. At this time he is uncertain if he will run.

“It is turning out to be a busier position than I thought,” he said. In a given week, he puts in 15 office hours. Along with babysitting his grandson, Sveine said it is like having two part-time jobs. This raised the question of whether a non-retired person could serve as the city mayor.

Sveine asked this question several times to the league members and was uncertain if the position could be filled by a person with a full-time job. Much of his office time was in the day, with various meetings in the evening. Sveine was uncertain if the mayor’s role could be scheduled around a full-time job.

The New Ulm mayor position is unique in that the city has a strong council, weak mayor system. The mayor is a non-voting member of the council. The mayor can make suggestions and offer opinions during meetings. The mayor has the power to veto financial decisions, but few mayors have used this power. The mayor also has some control over the National Guard in emergencies. It is also the mayor’s responsibility to fill committee and commission seats if necessary.

In his three months as mayor, Sveine learned that his biggest responsibility was to be the face of the city and help steer people with questions in the right direction.

“The people come to the person they know,” he said. Most citizens might not know which city official to speak with if they have a problem, but everyone knows the mayor. “The mayor is a well-meaning volunteer and an access point for citizens.”

Following the mayor’s speech, LWV President Ruth Ann Webster addressed the member on an informal study conducted over the summer on New Ulm’s City Charter. The charter states that it is incompatible for the mayor or city council to have an immediate family working for the city. In the last year, this provision in the character has had a significant impact on the city. In October 2020, Second Ward City Councilor Lisa Fischer was forced to resign from the council because her son worked for the city. Newly elected Council President Andrea Boettger’s husband was forced to leave a part-time position with the Park and Recreation.

The provision preventing a council member or mayor from having family work for the city was part of the first charter in 1887. It was left out of the charter in 1932 but was brought back in 1973. The provision was not well-known among city officials. Before Councilor Fischer’s resignation in 2020, none of the council was aware the provision existed.

Webster said the league studied the history of this provision and ultimately asked if it should be changed. A vote was taken among active league members with the majority believed the provision needed to change.

There was a second vote on how the provision should be changed. A few members favored redefining the definition of “immediate family” or limiting the provision to full-time city employees. The majority of members prefer to eliminate the provision from the charter altogether.

Webster said the next step was to bring this issue before a council work session and lobby for the removal of this provision. Webster said she would bring it to the council’s November work session.

Webster later said they could not find another city with this specific provision. The state does have a law that prohibits a mayor or city councilor from working for the city, but New Ulm expanded that law to include immediate family.

The New Ulm League of Women Voters has around 36 members. The league’s primary mission is to promote voting rights, as well as promoting respect for diversity, equality and inclusivity. The group is also involved in voter forums. Each election, LWV holds candidate forums.

Membership dues are $65 a year. Anyone interested in being a member should contact Membership Chair Rosie Geer at ramblingrosie@gmail.com.

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