Who’s next as mayor?

Interim appointment first as council gathers for first time in 2021

by Tom Coombe
Ely could have a new mayor, or at least a temporary one, as soon as Tuesday.
The council’s first gathering in 2021 brings both some drama and uncertainty - all stemming from the surprising November mayoral election victory by Eric Urbas and his subsequent decision to turn the job down.
Council members are expected to either appoint an interim mayor this week or set a process by which to choose one, and take steps that will lead to a special mayoral election - and perhaps a primary - later in 2021.
Some maneuvering toward the mayoral election has already begun, with former mayor Roger Skraba indicating that he will be a candidate for his former job.
The decision by Urbas, who made headlines by unseating incumbent Chuck Novak despite dropping out of the race months earlier, has set in motion a series of events.
First, according to an outline presented last month by city attorney Kelly Klun, the council must fill the vacant seat in the mayor’s chair.
The council could appoint from within its ranks or another Ely resident, but any council member accepting the interim mayor position would have to give up their council seat to do so, which would also set the state for a special election for a council seat.
The interim mayor would serve during an election process that could take several months, because of the state’s uniform election laws.
If more than two people file for mayor, it would trigger an April 13 primary to trim the field.
The final two candidates would then square off in a special election, which would not take place until Aug. 10.
Klun said she consulted with state and county officials, the League of Minnesota Cities and members of Ely’s charter commission before advising the council on how to proceed.
Ely set up a special election procedure for mayoral and council vacancies after controversy erupted in 1995, when the late Frank Salerno was appointed to the mayoral position after then-mayor Mike Forsman won a seat on the St. Louis County Board.
Salerno, who was picked on a 3-2 council vote before an overflow crowd at City Hall, was voted out of office 10 months later.
The city charter now requires a special election if more than a year remains in the term of the vacancy.
For now, Skraba is the only publicly declared candidate for the upcoming special election.
He served two stints as mayor, winning election in 2004, losing to Novak in 2006 and regaining the position in 2008 before being unseated by Ross Petersen in 2012.
Novak is leaving office after six years in office in what is his second stint as mayor.
Longtime council member Jerome Debeltz serves as acting mayor and will gavel Tuesday’s meeting to order.
The mayoral vacancy will be on the agenda and it will be up to the six remaining council members to decide how to proceed.
While the council could call for applicants and hold interviews, the mayoral appointment could come as soon as Jan. 5, simply in the form of a council motion to appoint someone.
The possibility brought a call from council member Paul Kess - asking for interest from residents who may be willing to serve temporarily as mayor.
Kess, Debeltz and Ryan Callen begin four-year terms on Tuesday, joining council holdovers Heidi Omerza, Al Forsman and Angela Campbell.