No. 4: Political upheaval results in change
Editor's note: This story is part of a series looking back at some of the biggest stories of 2018. Find the rest of the series here: Top Ten 2018.
At times the 2018 political world felt like a roller coaster — in the nation and in Red Wing. Now that there is a full City Council and the election season is over (for now), it feels like the local rollercoaster has stopped long enough for motion-sick passengers to disembark.
The Red Wing ride began on April 9 when the city accepted Dustin Schulenberg's resignation due to his family's pending move outside city limits. Then, on April 28, Dan Munson resigned. In a story at the time, Munson cited a growing business and the need to focus on his family as the reasons for terminating his term prematurely.
On May 7, Council member Peggy Rehder dropped off a resignation letter at City Hall. Rehder explained her choice to the Republican Eagle by saying: "I just reached the point where I was tired of waking up with headaches and an upset stomach every time something went on at City Hall."
In August, Ralph Rauterkus and Becky Norton were elected to fill the first two vacancies. They served for about three months before the general election in November, when their seats were both up for re-election. Norton again won her Ward 3 race and will begin her first full term in January 2019. Rauterkus lost his race to political-newcomer Laurel Stinson.
Along with Norton and Stinson, Erin Buss was elected to the council. She also won both the special election Nov. 6 for Ward 4 to fill the seat left by Rehder through 2018 and was sworn in on Nov. 26. Buss will be sworn-in again in January for her first full term. Stinson, Buss and Norton are the first three women to be elected to Red Wing's City Council during the same election.
The 2018 election saw other female "firsts" throughout Minnesota: Ilhan Omar became one of the nation's first Muslim women in Congress, Peggy Flanagan will be the first Native American lieutenant governor of Minnesota, and Angie Craig is Minnesota's first LGTBQ congressperson after defeating Jason Lewis in the 2nd District.
Plus, Minnesota had the highest voter turnout in the nation — 64.25 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot. Goodhue County's turnout topped 80 percent.
The last three City Council meetings of 2018 were tense as members debated the budget, levy and rental inspections. Now attention is turning to issues ahead. The RE asked new and returning members what they need to focus on in 2019. Here are their responses:
"Taxes and spending are two perennial issues that Red Wing needs to address. Going forward, Red Wing City Council needs to become much more disciplined about saying no.
"I believe a key element in becoming disciplined is government transparency tools. The public needs to be able to see exactly how local government is spending taxpayer money. This creates accountability."
"One of the biggest for me and I think the entire council is to consider the tax impact of Xcel in our community. Finding stability in our tax base is critical for our community, especially in considering the 2020 budget.
"I mentioned when we voted on the 2019 levy that Xcel has told us they are committed to seeking tax relief. I think we need to work even harder to diversify our tax base as well as see where we can find solutions that work for both Xcel and us. One of the solutions is a House bill that has been under consideration for several years, HF1985.
"Additionally, we need to continue our long range planning understanding the future of (Prairie Island nuclear plant). Right now that future is being considered by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission. We are, and need to continue to stay engaged about that future. I have been doing that as a member of our Prairie Island Nuclear Generating Plant committee with Mayor Dowse and Council member Hove.
"I also hope that the council will consider ranked-choice voting and supporting a local options bill in St. Paul that helps local communities plan and implement RCV in their local races. Recently, the League of Women Voters hosted a forum at the library that was very well attended and received. As more communities in Minnesota implement RCV, and as the state of Maine just held their first RCV election for federal offices, I think the time is now to bring the issue back forward in Red Wing.
"And I think we need to come to some resolution on the Rental Housing Licensing code. There is a lot to discuss there, and I think the time is right to resolve that aspect of our city code."
"The new year is a perfect time to really examine our goals and priorities from previous years. Are they still relevant? Are they still in line with our residents' priorities? We have invaluable community feedback available to us with the recent completion of the Red Wing 2040 plan. I'm excited to see how it will influence the conversations at our January workshop and into the rest of 2019."
"I'm looking forward to 2019. We have the opportunity to stabilize payments from Xcel, which will allow for better long-range financial planning. I hope to begin a transformation of Old West Main Street that will include more parking and better access to the riverfront. There will likely be unexpected challenges. I am confident that this new council is ready to work together and get things done."
"Among the top priorities I'm looking forward to working on are the following:
• Reviewing the budget is, I think, high on everyone's list.
• Discovering what efforts Red Wing can invest in to support our residents in need, including the homeless and others.
• Considering the new 2040 plan and what that means for Red Wing.
• The Downtown Action Plan and Economic Development are at the top of the list as well.
• I'm also excited for the community to learn more about ranked choice voting.
• And finally, now that we have a full council again, rental inspections will also need to be looked at.
There are other items as well that always need attention and I look forward to moving the needle on, so I know it will be a busy and productive year."
"I think one big thing the City Council will have to address is our new 2040 strategic plan and which parts of it we want to prioritize; especially with regards to our budget. I also think that homelessness in Red Wing is a major issue which will come up."
Note: Council President Kim Beise was out of town and did not provide a comment.