Righting a serious wrong

Mayor Mary Olson may not be the slickest politician Marion has known, but she deftly maneuvered the City Council into at least partially righting a serious wrong Monday while simultaneously exposing a schism that often runs as an undercurrent within council meetings.

Nearly two months ago, she nominated Diana Holub, who had been instrumental in overturning City Administrator Doug Kjellin’s unilateral approval of a twice-as-tall radio tower at the county jail, to serve on the city’s Planning Commission.

Swayed by arguments from Kjellin and Councilman Todd Heitschmidt, the council initially rejected the appointment, 3-2. The two questioned whether Holub should serve simultaneously on the Planning Commission and the Zoning Board of Appeals, which had overturned Kjellin’s action. Their objections came even though Holub’s term on the appeals board was due to expire, there is no law against joint appointments, and another person, Chamber of Commerce secretary and city recreation director Margo Yates, already sits on both groups.

Invoking a seldom-used legal provision, giving the council 45 days in which to provide written justification as to why a rejected nominee is unsuitable, Olson lined up a statement Monday from zoning board chair Ruth Herbel attesting to Holub’s diligence and the value of joint membership. Olson also read from Planning Commission minutes how that body had unanimously endorsed Holub’s nomination at its most recent meeting.

She then resubmitted the nomination. Although going out of his way to say he had nothing against Holub or her qualifications, Heitschmidt still voted against her, as did Councilman Chris Meierhoff. Their initial concerns no longer applicable, neither offered reasons for their continued opposition. Councilman Jerry Dieter, however, switched his vote, joining Olson and Councilman Jerry Kline in confirming the appointment, 3-2.

Olson then attempted to reappoint Holub to the appeals board, but Dieter, citing continued concerns about dual membership, joined Heitschmidt and Meierhoff in denying the appointment.

Settling for half a loaf, Olson did not press the matter further. However, her determination ensured that Holub will be able to continue her community service, the value of which no one has questioned. At the same time, she was able to shed light on what may motivate the often-palpable tension between her on one side and Heitschmidt and Kjellin on the other.

— ERIC MEYER

 

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