Fairmont City Councilman Tom Hawkins could face recall vote

FAIRMONT — A committee of Fairmont citizens has filed the necessary papers at City Hall to initiate a recall election of Tom Hawkins, Fairmont councilman at-large, stating his recent actions constitute “an abuse of power.”

The petition is referring to Hawkins initiating efforts to eliminate the current in-house city attorney position, held by Elizabeth Bloomquist for 30 years, without any prior discussion or input from the majority of the other council members.

The recall committee is comprised of 19 people from all demographics: men, women, business owners, retirees, supervisors and blue-collar workers.

Committee members bear the responsibility of collecting 881 signatures of Fairmont citizens who are registered voters, according to Patty Monsen, city clerk. That number equals 15 percent of the people registered at the end of the voting day at the last general election on Nov. 6, 2018, which includes the 301 individuals who registered that day.

The committee is utilizing social media to reach out to potential signers. The group also plans to go door to door, as well as attend local functions.

The recall process is experiencing a few snags, with the city charter and state statutes offering differing guidelines. The city has secured the services of Flaherty & Hood, a St. Paul law firm with expertise in the matter, and will work with one of the firm’s attorneys throughout the process.

“This is the first time the city has ever had anything like this,” Monsen said. “Our charter says one thing, and the state statutes say something different. We just want to make sure that we’re doing everything correctly.”

“We want a council that will work together in the spirit of compromise,” said Sara Pierce, a member of the recall committee.

She stressed that the recall is not just about Bloomquist’s job, but more about having a council representative who represents Fairmont as a whole, “not just push his own agenda.”

C.J. Johnson, another committee member, also felt strongly that Hawkins is “creating his own agenda.”

“We need a strong city,” he said, adding that some of Hawkins’ positions, such as his staunch support of a community center, “poses a threat to business owners.”

“I’m concerned about the community as a whole. Tom has too much of a hidden agenda,” said Jodie Whitmore, another committee member.

Sara Cyphers got involved with the committee after learning about the council work session in which Hawkins’ actions were discussed.

“I was surprised by how Tom Hawkins had approached the issue, seemingly leaving the council, with the exception of Randy Lubenow, completely blindsided,” she said. “The main consensus of the people I have spoken with is that they do not believe it was handled correctly.”

Cyphers encouraged people who are unaware of what happened to do their research.

If the required number of signatures is gathered, the city clerk must verify that all the signers are registered voters in the city of Fairmont. City Code states that an election must then be set no less than 30 days and no more than 45 days after signatures are verified. However, Monsen said the state statutes incorporate other language about an election so the Flaherty & Hood attorney also will be consulted about the timetable.

Hawkins issued a statement Monday about the recall petition:

“I am saddened that a small group of people are taking false accusations from Mayor (Debbie) Foster, which were amplified by the Fairmont Sentinel editorial board, to create a movement that I should be recalled from office. I have done nothing that warrants being removed from office. All actions taken were above board and done with care and advice necessary in employment situations.

“Everything I have done for the city since being elected is with the best interests of the whole city in mind, and this is no different. Everything I do is with the knowledge that I have the support of a majority of our citizens. Any city official has nothing to gain and MUCH to lose in dealing with important city issues. Our family has been a strong contributor to the betterment of Fairmont due to donations through our business and time devoted to helping Fairmont become a better city. To have an act of vengeance advanced by a small group based on false information is disheartening.

“I want to thank the many, many people who have called, visited, texted, left voicemails and Facebook messages of encouragement and support. Issues like this can be hard to bear, but thankfully your support helps me to know that we can get through this and have a stronger and more vibrant Fairmont.”

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