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Published February 12, 2014, 10:02 AM

East Grand Forks council members debate secret ballot

Former East Grand Forks City Council member Mike Pokrzywinski said he will contact the Minnesota attorney general's office about council members' apparent decision to cast secret ballots.

By: Ryan Bakken, Grand Forks Herald

Former East Grand Forks City Council member Mike Pokrzywinski said he will contact the Minnesota attorney general's office about council members' apparent decision to cast secret ballots.

After interviews of the two candidates to fill the vacant council position previously held by Ron Vonasek, who died in December, Alderman Henry Tweten suggested that council members "discuss it privately" and then use paper ballots to pick a successor at next week's council meeting.

Council members Mark Olstad, Clarence Vetter and Jim Leigh and Mayor Lynn Stauss didn't voice any objection to Tweten's suggestion and then moved on to the next item on the work session agenda.

"A paper ballot is a secret ballot and is absolutely illegal," Pokrzywinski said after the meeting. "If they end up voting by paper ballot with their names attached, that's fine by me.

"But it should be a public vote and not a secret vote."

City Attorney Ron Galstad said the city's charter states that an unsigned, paper ballot can be used when council members select their president and vice president. But Galstad said he wasn't sure if that is allowable in this instance, but would research the matter in the morning.

As far as discussing the candidates privately, Galstad said council members can talk among themselves "as long as they don't have a quorum."

Tweten said he suggested using paper ballots because a public vote "might be awkward."

The twist happened after applicants Dale "Stumpy" Helms and Erin Almlie were interviewed for about 15 minutes each. Helms touted his longevity of living in EGF while Almlie said she could provide a new perspective since she has lived in the city less than seven years.

"I don't know the history and I think having fresh eyes looking at things is good," she said.

If chosen, Almlie would be the first female council member since Laura Driscoll in 2005. The owner of Triangle Coach Service, Helms has been a council candidate several times, both in elections and for appointments.

"I probably have been a little outspoken at times, but I say what I feel," Helms said.

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