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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Charting a path to new leadership in Ely

Filling mayoral seat will involve an unprecedented journey next year

Keith Vandervort
Posted 12/26/20

ELY – This community will be looking for a new mayor on Jan. 5, and filling the city’s top elected position could be long and somewhat complicated. City council members considered their …

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Charting a path to new leadership in Ely

Filling mayoral seat will involve an unprecedented journey next year


ELY – This community will be looking for a new mayor on Jan. 5, and filling the city’s top elected position could be long and somewhat complicated. City council members considered their next steps and a path forward at their final meeting of the year on Dec. 15.
“There are a number of issues when it comes to this really quite unprecedented event in this city,” City Attorney Kelly Klun said.
City government was humming along under the leadership of Mayor Chuck Novak last summer when Ely resident Erik Urbas decided to throw his hat in the ring and run for elected office for the first time in his life. Novak was re-elected two years ago when he ran unopposed.
In August, Urbas decided that, in light of an ongoing health issue, he was not up to the job and chose to withdraw from the race. His name remained on the ballot, however, because it was too late to make the change in time for the Nov. 3 election.
Ely voters decided to give Urbas the job anyway, voting him in 925 to 800 over Novak. Urbas took some time to consider his options while sitting in a deer stand during hunting season. On Nov. 18, mayor-elect Urbas notified the clerk’s office in writing that he could not accept the will of the voters and would refuse to take the mayor’s chair on Jan. 5.
Klun, along with the city clerk’s office, the St. Louis County auditor’s office, the Minnesota Secretary of State, the League of Minnesota Cities, and the Ely Charter Commission have been working through several issues since then.
“Furthermore, we have reviewed the election guide, State Statutes, City Code and our Charter concerning vacancies,” Klun said.
Novak’s term expires at the end of the year. The council will be required to declare the mayor’s seat as vacant at their Jan. 5 meeting, and will likely pass a resolution to that effect.
Since Novak’s term will already have expired, and the mayor-elect is declining to be seated, who is in charge of the city?
Acting mayor Jerome Debeltz will be Ely’s top dog and will control the gavel on Jan. 5. His length of term of office is yet to be determined.
“Our City Charter declares that if there is a vacancy of one year or more, we need to have a special election,” Klun said. “Our City Code makes way for a primary election and a general election.”
If three or more candidates vie for the office, a primary election would be held on April 13 and a general election would be held on Aug. 10. If no primary election is needed, the general election would be April 13. Klun noted that the City Charter assumes a special election would be held within 90 days of a vacancy.
“This is not possible given new (State) election laws regarding time allotments for elections,” she said.
State statutes allow for the appointment of an interim or temporary mayor to be seated from Jan. 5 until a new mayor is elected, according to Klun.
“Given that our City Code is silent on this issue and given the length of time we are considering before a mayor is sat, it seems most prudent that we consider appointing an interim mayor until the next election,” she said. “There seems to be no objections from our Charter Commission.”
The city council could call for applications from city residents and hold interviews to appoint an interim mayor.
A council member could, on Jan. 5, make a motion calling for a resident to be appointed, and with a second and majority vote, an interim mayor could take the gavel immediately.
The council could select one of its own members to fill the seat of mayor, but with that comes the risk of giving up the council seat because no one can hold both the position of mayor and council member at the same time.
“If you take the appointment, then you are vacating your seat,” Klun said.
Council members are not required to name an interim mayor on Jan. 5, Klun advised.
“The statutes call for ‘as soon as possible’ to fill the temporary mayoral appointment,” she said. “You could vote on a motion that night, or take interviews and elongate the process. I would not delay more than a week or so. I would move the process along.”
Novak has mostly remained mum on his reaction to being defeated on Nov.3. He expressed great surprise on election night, and his comments at the end of the Dec. 15 council meeting were retrospective.
“Well, this is it for me folks,” he said. “This is my last official meeting of this term as mayor. It has been a privilege to serve this community for 10 years on this council. We got a lot accomplished. I appreciate the council. We worked as a team.”
He said his main goal as an elected official was to “debate the issue and not the person. Conversations solve the issues.”
He listed many successful projects accomplished during his six years as mayor, including many streets improvements and the trailhead project, and took great pride in helping to maintain an affordable city budget for taxpayers.
“I hope our success continues, and on that note, I bid adieu,” he said.

Timeline for 2021 Ely Mayoral Special Election
• Jan. 5 – Ely City Council declares vacancy and orders Special Election
• Jan. 29 – City of Ely notifies St. Louis County of Special Election dates (at least 74 days before an election)
• Jan.9 to Jan. 18 – Notice of candidate filing (publish at least two weeks before first day to file)
• Jan. 19 – Candidate filing period begins
• Feb. 2 – Candidate filing period closes
• Feb. 4 – Close of withdrawal period (two days after close of filing period)
• Feb. 26 – Open absentee voting period begins
• April 13 – Special Primary Election (if necessary) or Special General Election
• June 25 – Open absentee voting period begins
• Aug. 10 – Special General Election (if necessary)
• Aug. 12 – Canvass election results at special council meeting


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