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North Bend Eagle



Democracy Inaction

With no one running for city council, North Bend may be left begging. Again.

by Nathan Arneal
posted 10/21/08

When citizens of North Bend go to the polls Nov. 4, they’ll be choosing among six candidates for three spots on the NBC school board. They’ll be making a historical choice in the presidential race.

Update: Within two days of this story running, three people filed as write-in candidates: Jeff Kluthe, Mike Williams and Henry Rahlfs.

But when it comes to voting for the North Bend City Council, the people will not get a choice.

Why not? Because no one is running.

There are two spots open on the Council. One will be filled by incumbent Kevin Ferguson, who has filed for re-election, but the seat that opened when councilman Mark Johnson did not file for reelection remains open.

According to Dodge County Clerk Fred Mytty, Oct. 24, this Friday, is the deadline to file as a write-in candidate for the empty Council seat. In order to run as a write-in candidate, a person must pay a $25 filing fee with the North Bend city clerk, then file an affidavit with the county clerk in Fremont. If an affidavit is not filed with the county clerk, Mytty said, any write-in votes cast would not be binding.

Empty seat
Anyone want to have a seat?

This is not a new problem in North Bend. In the past 10 years, North Bend has had 11 different people fill its four council seats and three different mayors.

Of the seven people who have become council members since 1998, current council member Renee Rasmussen is the only one who was elected before she began serving. The rest have been appointed to fill seats opened by resignations and recall votes.

With no one running for office, it is left up to the mayor and council members to recruit people to fill out the council. Councilman Al Wochnick said when a council seat opened in June 2007 after a resignation, he talked to eight or 10 people before Ferguson agreed to fill the post.

“I talked to the people that call me the most, that complain and have issues,” Wochnick said. “Here’s their opportunity to step up, and they just don’t want to step up.”

Wochnick himself was appointed to the council in 2005 after a resignation. He was then reelected to a full term in 2006.

Mayor Karan Legler agreed to take a seat on the council in 1996 when no one ran for an open seat. Thirty-six people wrote in Legler’s name, and she agreed to take the position. She was then appointed Mayor in 2004 when then-mayor Mike Williams was recalled. She was elected to a full term in 2006.

In her four years as mayor, Legler has had to appoint four council members. If no one files as a write-in candidate for next month’s election, she will be doing it for a fifth time.

“For a while I was having trouble because I was having so many people to (appoint to the council) that I ran out of people to call,” Legler said. “This time is going to be a major problem because I’ve gone through a whole bunch of people already.”

Councilman Mark Johnson was appointed to the council to finish a term left open by a resignation in 2003 and was then elected to his own term in 2004. He said he is disappointed that more people don’t want to get involved in their community. He partly blames apathy.

“Generally people don’t know what goes on,” Johnson said. “Unless they have a problem with the city, I don’t think they’d bother running for something like that.”

Legler said that the job gets a bad wrap because people really don’t know what the city council does except when it comes time to complain to someone.

“It’s not a negative job,” she said. “It’s a positive job. We do a lot of things that nobody realizes we do. We don’t even have anyone come to the meetings so they can understand what we do. And that’s wrong. There should be a bunch of people there.”

Johnson said the job does take a bit of a time commitment with two meetings a month, but he said if potential candidates are worried about their phones ringing off the hook, that’s generally not the case.

“I’ve had people discuss issues with me,” Johnson said, “but not to the point where it’s been a bother.”

Wochnick admitted that he too said “no” several times before agreeing to serve on the council, but he said there’s no reason why the city should have to beg people to be on the council.

“I don’t think I’m the best person with the best experience to be on the council in this town,” Wochnick said. “I try to make honest decisions and do the best I can, but by far I probably don’t make the top 100 people that should be sitting on this council right now, and really they’re to blame for not being there.”

The jobs are not done on a volunteer basis. With recent pay raises, council members will get $2,500 per year while the mayor will collect $3,500.
Legler isn’t looking forward to the prospect of searching for another city councilman.

“I wish those people that said ‘I’ll do it when I have more time’ would think about doing it now and come forward,” she said. “There’s a lot of people out there that are highly qualified for this job. Everyone is qualified as long as they have common sense.”

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