City Clerk Wanda Hemesath, right, administers the oath of office to Emily Neal after Neal was appointed to fill a vacancy on the Decorah City Council Monday night. (Photo by Sarah Strandberg)
City Clerk Wanda Hemesath, right, administers the oath of office to Emily Neal after Neal was appointed to fill a vacancy on the Decorah City Council Monday night. (Photo by Sarah Strandberg)
Emily Neal was appointed to fill the Ward 2 vacancy on the Decorah City Council Monday night on a 5-1 vote.
Council member Randy Schissel voted for the only other applicant for the position, Dan Kirkeby, and the rest of the Council voted for Neal. The Ward 2 position became open July 31 when Council member Dan Bellrichard moved out of the ward.
After Neal’s appointment, Winneshiek County Republican Chair Tom Hansen of rural Decorah, who sat next to Kirkeby during the meeting, told Decorah Newspapers he had already started a petition calling for a special election to fill the seat. He said he believed he would be able to receive the required 39 signatures from Ward 2 voters by the end of the week.
Hansen said Neal loudly voiced her opposition outside Council chambers after he made a proposal to hang President Donald Trump “Make America Great Again” flags along Water Street for the president’s birthday in June.
“We need level-headed, open minded-people on the Council and that’s not her,” Hansen said.
The Council chose to fill the position by appointment to avoid the costs of a special election and due to the short term the appointed Council member will serve. The position will be up for election Nov. 5.

Special election
If the city receives a petition calling for a special election, it takes 32 days to schedule an election with the county auditor. A special election costs about $1,500, according to City Manager Chad Bird.
During the Council’s discussion Monday night before Neal was appointed, Bird said there was “speculation” about a petition for a special election being filed depending on which candidate was appointed.
In “light of some things that have come up,” and due to concerns expressed about “divisiveness,” Council member Randy Schissel made a motion to table action and to take additional applications for the Council seat until Sept. 12. He said the Council could make an appointment at its Sept. 16 meeting. Council member Andy Carlson voted in favor of the motion, while the rest of the Council voted against it.
Johanna Bergan said it’s important to have a Council person seated and representing Ward 2. She said it was “great” the city received two applicants for the position.
After Schissel’s motion failed, the Council members voted by paper ballots. There were four votes for Neal, one vote for Kirkeby and one ballot without a vote for either candidate.
City Attorney John Anderson advised the Council members they would need to make their votes known. Schissel voted for Kirkeby and Council members Kirk Johnson, Steve Luse, Johanna Bergan and Ross Hadley voted for Neal and Carlson said he had abstained. Hemesath told Carlson he would need to give a reason for his abstention. Carlson said he didn’t have a reason and then cast his vote for Neal.

Speeches
Before the Council voted on the candidates, Mayor Lorraine Borowski gave Neal and Kirkeby an opportunity to address the Council.
Kirkeby guaranteed he would give “110 percent” to the Council. He said he served on the city’s cable commission for more than 15 years and always put the best interest of Decorah first.
Decorah is at a crossroads, according to Kirkeby, who said he has always been a problem solver.
“A lot of people are talking about what’s going on in the city … rather than listen, it’s time for action,” he said.
Neal said she has a “wealth of experience” that would help her to make the best decisions on behalf of Ward 2. She’s held leadership roles in her job as assistant director for the Center for Sustainable Community at Luther College and through her involvement in the community. Neal is a member of the Upper Iowa Audubon Society, Montessori and Oneota Coop boards.
She said she deals with people and financial resource management issues, balancing the needs of people, economics and the planet.
“They are all connected. It’s really important for us to look globally at that system,” she said.