Committee outlines work needed to recall Red Wing City Council members

Mar. 17—RED WING — About 75 people showed up Tuesday night to hear leaders of an effort to recall six members of the Red Wing City Council.

George Hintz, who started the recall effort with a call to action during the public comment period of a city council meeting in February, said yard signs have been bought, a bank account has been opened and the committee is ready to collect signatures for a petition, which the group hopes to turn over to the city within a few weeks.

"Talk to friends," Hintz advised those in attendance Tuesday at New River Assembly of God Church. "Ask them to come to the next general meeting."

Hintz, former Red Wing City Council Member Peggy Rehder and Tom Wilder led the discussion about the recall steps taken so far and those that are planned.

The recall effort began as a response to the city council's 6-1 vote on Feb. 19 to fire then-Red Wing Police Chief Roger Pohlman. While Pohlman has moved onto a new job as chief of police in Lakefield, Minn., the city he's left behind is still asking how the city council can justify firing him.

Former Goodhue County Board member Ted Seifert, who ran and lost against City Council President Becky Norton in 2018, said Pohlman was the right man for the job.

"I couldn't think of anybody better to be chief of police in Red Wing than Roger Pohlman," Seifert said. "When the City Council fired him, well, they're going in the wrong direction."

MORE READING:Group looks into recalling 6 Red Wing City Council members

But Seifert said there are other concerns that show the council needs to be replaced before it does more harm. He cited the "bridge to nowhere" pedestrian bridge near Old Main Street and said the council is trying to mirror recent moves by the Minneapolis City Council.

"They have an agenda, and I don't think it's an agenda that works well in Red Wing," Seifert said.

Rehder said the next step in the recall effort is to write up 250-word complaints against each member of the city council that will outline their malfeasance or nonfeasance on the job, a statutory requirement.

Violations of the state's open meeting law, she said, is just one of the counts of malfeasance that works against the City Council members.

Other members of the audience said that firing Pohlman puts the city at risk since his job is now being done by a captain who still performs his own duties along with the chief's duties. Others complained that the whole process was done in secret without any input from the public.

During the meeting Tuesday there were several calls to action and requests for volunteers. For example, Rehder said the committee will likely need to raise funds for legal battles if the city or individual council members contest the validity of the petitions — either the signatures gathered during the two petition phases, or whether the charges meet the definition of malfeasance. Rehder asked for a volunteer to lead fundraising efforts for the committee.

"One of my big concerns is this is going to be pretty expensive," Rehder said. "We will be challenged by these council members in court."

Others suggested more grassroots efforts such as getting individuals to commit to showing up for city council meetings and talking about the recall movement during public comment periods, and writing letters to the editor to outline why the group wants to recall the six council members.

According to the Red Wing City Charter, there are several steps to the recall process. The first is for at least five registered voters from the ward (or whole city for at-large candidates) to bring a petition containing a 250-word statement of the grounds for removal to the city.

Once that petition is approved, the group has 30 days to collect signatures of 20 percent of registered voters from the last election in the ward (or whole city for at-large candidates) to force the recall of a specific candidate.

If the second petition and signatures are valid, the city would set a recall election between 45 and 60 days from that point.

Despite the hurdles, Wilder said he's ready, and from the phone calls he receives, he believes residents of Red Wing want this recall to happen.

"City Hall isn't concerned, City Hall doesn't think it's real," Wilder said. "But I get phone calls every day asking what this group has done."