Report: Recall effort aimed at Hawkins unlawful

FAIRMONT — The Fairmont City Council on Monday released an attorney’s summary effectively nullifying the recall petition for Tom Hawkins, and Hawkins and fellow council member Randy Lubenow blamed the Sentinel for divisiveness in the community.

Lubenow spoke of visiting with Ward 3 residents when he was campaigning for his seat.

“They wanted changes from City Hall,” he said. “They wanted City Hall to be more helpful and engaging for growth and development.”

He noted that several businesses in his ward have closed in the four months since he has been on the council.

“We can’t continue to turn away new business,” he said. “Everybody’s going to deny they do that, but I’ve heard countless stories that it’s happening. It can’t happen any more, or we’re going to die as a community.

“The Sentinel has not asked me for one single comment on any of this,” he said. “Instead, they have tooken (sic) Tom Hawkins’ name through the trash, my name through the trash. Never asked us anything about this, but have just reported one side of the issue. This has to stop. The Sentinel is the one that’s dividing this community, not the council.”

Lubenow then claimed the only thing the council has disagreed on is the City Attorney’s performance.

“Otherwise, we agree on pretty much everything,” he said.

After Lubenow’s statement, council member Ruth Cyphers suggested reading a letter from an attorney summarizing the attorney-client privileged memorandum in which Robert T. Scott, an attorney with the St. Paul law firm of Flaherty and Hood, analyzed and offered advice on how the city should handle the recall petition for Hawkins. Earlier in the meeting, the council voted unanimously to make the statement public, with copies of the statement to be made available today, but Cyphers pushed for transparency on the issue and read Scott’s statement aloud.

While the City Charter provides for a recall election if the requisite number of signatures is obtained on a petition, state statutes assert that elected officials may only be removed “for malfeasance or nonfeasance in the performance of their duties,” the statement said. The city’s provisions and processes must be consistent with the state constitution.

“Even if a petition based on this recall statement is ultimately filed with the city and found by the City Clerk to be procedurally sufficient under the Charter, the City Council still should not convene a special recall election,” the statement concluded.

Because Hawkins’ recall petition does not state a specific instance of malfeasance or nonfeasance, it will not satisfy the state requirements for a special election, regardless of the number of signatures obtained.

Hawkins said he had not planned to make a statement but wanted to express his gratitude for the “volumes and volumes” of supportive messages he received.

“It’s been kind of overwhelming when you have the local newspaper attacking you over baseless charges started by others,” he said.

This comment caused Councilman Bruce Peters to speak up.

“I don’t want to start a fight, but I do want to defend the paper,” Peters said. “The paper reported from direct communications or emails that were not fictitious. I’m not trying to take a side, but I don’t think we should excoriate the Sentinel for reporting …”

“The truth,” said Councilman Wayne Hasek, finishing Peters’ statement.

“The paper said, Peters said Hawkins has three votes in his pocket,” Hawkins said. “First of all, those words have never come from my lips. Second of all, the Sentinel editor did not give me the courtesy to call and ask me if that was true or not.

“So when I talk about the Sentinel the way I do, others have done the same thing. Just like the community center. They (Sentinel) have been bashing the community center for years and never once have they called Steve (Hawkins) or Brandon (Edmundson) or anybody on that committee to ask their opinion. They (Sentinel) just throw it out there with intent, I believe, with intent to impugn,” Hawkins said. “They don’t call anybody and get the other side.”

Hawkins then turned to Peters and said, “I don’t even think you made that quote. I think they just made it up and attributed it to you.”

Sentinel Editor Lee Smith says the Sentinel has provided an opportunity for community center backers to express their opinions, in opinion columns as well as in news coverage. Most recently, he said the Sentinel published a news article Feb. 28 featuring input exclusively from Edmundson, Steve Hawkins and Mike Edman, members of the committee leading efforts to build a community center.

The Sentinel also has contacted Steve Hawkins on numerous occasions to have him connect the newspaper with YMCA officials, so the newspaper can write an update on potential programming. The newspaper has gotten no response from him.

Smith noted that the Sentinel editorial board on Feb. 27 expressed support for the city of Fairmont working with the YMCA of Albert Lea and Worthington to see if it is possible to financially meet the programming needs of both and provide adequate cash flow to operate, staff and maintain a community center in Fairmont. The editorial board called this development “probably the best and most exciting news about a potential community center in the past several years.”

In a May 7 article in the Sentinel, Tom Hawkins was given the chance to respond to the recall petition aimed at him. He provided a lengthy statement that he asked be run in full. Smith granted the request.

At an April 15 council work session, Peters said he had heard in the community that Tom Hawkins claimed to have three council votes to support his proposal to switch from an in-house attorney to a contract attorney. Smith said the phrase “three votes in his pocket” was not a direct quote attributed to Peters, but a paraphrase used in an analysis written by Smith that ran in the newspaper on May 2.

Smith said the newspaper has always made clear in its reporting that Tom Hawkins denies the allegations that he had pre-arranged an outcome in the City Attorney matter.


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