After it failed to reach consensus Monday night, the Decorah City Council scheduled a special meeting for Tuesday, July 23, at 7:30 p.m. to again consider an appointment for the Ward 1 vacancy.
If a quorum of the Council can't agree on an appointment, the city will be forced to hold a special election to fill the position until the city election in November. According to City Manager Chad Bird, a special election would cost "a few thousand dollars."
John Franzen, who had represented Ward 1, resigned June 21 after he took a new job that conflicted with serving on the Council.
Monday night, the Council voted by ballot on the two applicants for the vacancy: Jarrad Walter and Ward 5 Council member Randy Schissel. Due to redistricting following the 2010 census, Schissel now lives in the new Ward 1 and would have to run for that seat this fall if he wants to continue to serve on the Council. Schissel said he wanted to apply for the Ward 1 opening because that is the Ward he now lives in.
City Attorney Rick Zahasky said appointing a new Council member would require a "quorum" of the total Council membership, or four votes. The Council consists of seven members, but with the vacancy, and Schissel applying for the position, only five members were eligible to vote Monday night.
Council members voted twice on the two applicants, with the results the same both times. Council members Gary Rustad, Paul Wanless and Jody Niess voted in favor of Schissel, while Rachel Vagts and Carolyn Corbin voted in favor of Walter.
Zahasky said state statute requires the Council to hold a special election if it doesn't appoint a replacement within 40 days of the vacancy, which is July 31. Since the Council's next regular meeting is Monday, Aug. 5, members decided to meet again next week before that time period expires.
Bird said it takes the county auditor's office about 60 days to prepare a ballot and schedule a special election.
Mayor Don Arendt commented if the vacancy were filled through a special election, it would be a "short term." It would be late September or early October before a special election could be held, and the city election is in November, the mayor said.
"It would be a couple of thousand dollars for a few weeks," Corbin said.
After the Council scheduled the special meeting, Wanless questioned what would be different next week. Vagts and Corbin stated they would not be changing their votes.
Vagts said she preferred having a full Council. If Schissel were appointed, that would create a vacancy in Ward 5 that would have to be filled.
"We have two qualified volunteers interested in serving. We don't have to choose, it's not an either or, we can have both. I'd just as soon have both as opposed to a special election or another appointment process," Vagts said.
Corbin said Schissel has been "very diligent" and cares about doing a good job on the Council.
"I look forward to continuing to work with Randy. He'll be here one way or another. I'm going to be voting for Jarred," she said.
During the discussion of the two applicants, Wanless said he felt "torn" as to what to do.
"I've enjoyed serving with Randy, and I see the common sense in somebody serving the ward they actually live in now ... In some sense, it seems wise to go ahead with (Schissel) at the same time, I don't want to have the appearance of a good old boys club which would discourage people to become involved," he said.
In addition to Schissel, the terms of Wanless, Ward 3; Corbin, Ward 2, and Rustad, who serves at large, also will be up for re-election this fall. The term of Vagts, who serves at large, doesn't expire until Dec. 31, 2015. Due to the new city ward boundaries, drawn after redistricting, Corbin also no longer lives in her ward. In addition, Niess, who was appointed last month to fill the Ward 2 vacancy created when former Council member Julie Fischer moved out of her ward, will be up for election this fall.
Niess commented it's "frightening" that everyone except Vagts is up for re-election this fall and what that could mean for consistency on the Council.
Both applicants for the Council opening addressed the Council prior to its discussion and votes.
Walter is a Decorah native who moved to Austin, Texas, for 14 years before returning to Decorah in June of 2012. He currently serves on the Decorah Human Rights commission, a position he said he is enjoying.
He said because he returned to the area after living somewhere else for more than a decade, he could bring a "fresh perspective" to the Council.
"I have a strong sense of community ... I'm very service minded," he said.
Walter has worked for the past 13 years in sales and marketing in the information technology industry.
He said he'd like to see continued growth in opportunities for everyone to enjoy the community.
Schissel has been a member of the Council for seven years and has been involved in civic organizations such as Nordic Fest, the Elks Club, Decorah Area Chamber of Commerce and the Lions Club for the past 23 years. He is a local representative for Storey-Kenworthy.
Schissel said his experience would be valuable as the city deals with challenges of new legislation that will impact the city "significantly" over the next few years.