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City council invites public to seek vacant seat

The Wadena City Council is short a member, but likely just for a few weeks.

At its July 8 meeting, the council opted to seek letters of interest from residents who would like to temporarily fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Councilman Brian Hillesland. Letters are due to City Administrator Brad Swenson by August 1. The city council plans to interview applicants before making a decision.

Earlier in the meeting, the council accepted Hillesland's resignation "with regrets echoed by all," as Mayor Wayne Wolden put it.

Wolden said he'll miss Hillesland's "words of reason and wisdom. I appreciate the time you gave us."

Hillesland, a Wadena businessman who served for about 18 months, stepped down effective Tuesday because he's moving outside of city limits.

City Administrator Brad Swenson outlined the parameters of appointing a short-term replacement to serve until the end of the year, when the person Wadena voters elect in November to complete the final two years of Hillesland's term takes office.

By law, Swenson said, the council needs to appoint someone by Sept. 15.

"There are no hard cut rules as to how you fill the position ..., he said. "There's all kind of different ways."

At the meeting, Swenson distributed messages from two one-term former council members who conveyed their interest in the post.

Pete Phillips, who served from 2005 to 2009, placed third in the 2012 council race, behind Hillesland and Councilwoman Gillette Kempf. He pointed to that runner-up status in his message.

Don Niles, a council member (from 2009 to 2013) during much of the planning for the Maslowski Wellness and Research Center, wrote that "he would be honored to be a member of the city council at a time of the opening" and "expect that my knowledge and experience would be useful as the project moves through completion of construction to an operational setting."

In the past, Swenson said, councils have either decided to appoint the third place finisher in the previous election or they've invited the general public to apply via an ad in the Pioneer Journal.

Without dissent, the council agreed to the second option.

"That's initially how I became a council member," Toby Pierce informed his colleagues.

Late last week, Phillips called the council's decision a waste of time (calling special council meetings for interviews) and money (running the ad in the PJ for two weeks cost $50).

"I think it's very foolish when you have two very qualified people step in. If it came down to that, I'd gladly step aside," Phillips said, adding he has no plans to run for another full term on council.

In an email to the council on Monday, he removed his name from consideration.

"Please consider simply appointing Don Niles and ending this so you can get down to the business," Phillips wrote. "He will serve citizens well."

Wolden said he doesn't believe opening up the process is at all wasteful.

"In an open government process," he said, "I think we should hear from anyone with the intent to serve."

For his part, Niles voiced similar sentiments. "I think it's the right thing to do," he said.

Niles said he hasn't decided whether he will run in the November election.

Filing period

Four out of the five elected city positions will be on the November ballot, including the mayor and three council members - the one two-year term and two four-year terms.

The filing period opens Tuesday, July 29 and ends August 12. To get on the ballot, candidates - who must be 18 or older and Wadena residents - need to fill out a form at city hall and pay a $2 fee.

Mayor Wayne Wolden has said he intends to seek a fifth term.

On Monday, Pierce said he hadn't decided whether he will seek reelection.

The other council member with an expiring term, Jeanette Baymler, said last week that if she does run, she'll file right away on July 29.