Former Northfield City Council person and former Charter Chair David Ludescher sent this “Letter to the Editor” regarding recent developments within the Charter Commission:
On June 22, our charter suffered another blow to its authority. It continues to be my concern that the charter is not being honored nor obeyed. Some background on my reasoning is in order.
In 1776, our forefathers signed the Declaration of Independence. They stated their intention to create a self-governing nation. A short time later, our forefathers completed the Constitution. In that sacred document, they set forth limits on government and reserved rights to the people. Among these rights include the right to free speech, freedom of religion, freedom to bear arms, and the other rights that we know as the Bill of Rights.
About 70 years later, Minnesota created its own sacred, self-governing Constitution setting limits on state government and reserving individual rights. 50 years after that, the citizens of Northfield voted to adopt their own charter. In this charter, the people created the City Council, and further set forth the Council’s powers. This principle bears repeating – the people approved the Charter – which Charter told the Council the principles of governance, including what actions they could not take – such as giving away money to private people.
In my opinion, the Council (and many other governments) have lost sight of their birth. Like a defiant teenager breaking parental rules, the Council continue to challenge the Charter, daring the Charter Commission and the people to reign them in. And, like a defiant teenager, the Council seems to have forgotten the origin of its birth. Instead of following the parental rules, the Council has argued that obeying the state government is good enough.
The most recent dispute involves whether the Council should have a voice in Charter Commission appointments (apparently without regard for the fact that just 7 years ago, by a unanimous vote, the Council agreed not to be involved). The current Mayor was one of the 7. Because the charter required me, as the Charter Commission chair to oversee the process, I refused to seat two applicants who went around the Charter process. In my opinion, if a person applies to be on the Charter Commission and cannot follow the rules, he or she cannot adequately protect the people from Council defiance. Sadly, both applicants doing so are attorneys; one applicant also sits on the City Council (by an appointment pursuant to the Charter).
I resigned when the charter commission members voted to allow two statutorily appointed members to join the ranks of five charter appointed members. I truly appreciate the graciousness shown by David Roberts when he agreed to give up his seat just so the other applicants could properly follow the Charter, and preserve its sanctity. That magnanimity was rejected. I wish the new commission luck with carrying on their appointed task of making the Charter alive and relevant to all citizens, and especially to the people’s representatives – the Council.