For the second time since the spring election, the Superior City Council failed to elect a new president.
The Council was again split 5-4 on Tuesday between councilors Brett Fennessey and Ruth Ludwig for the post, but one abstention stood in the way of Mayor Jim Paine voting to break the tie.
Councilors Dan Olson, Jenny Van Sickle, Warren Bender, Tylor Elm and Ludwig favored Lugwig for the post. Councilor Jack Sweeney, Fennessy, Keith Kern and Esther Dalbec voted for Fennessey, and Council Vice President Craig Sutherland opted to abstain from the vote Tuesday, May 7.
On April 16, Sutherland consistently voted for Fennessey through eight rounds of voting, and a similar vote Tuesday would have resulted in a tie.
Sutherland said he abstained from the vote because he believes the Council should decide its own leadership without input from the mayor.
"I believe this will send us into a divide," Sutherland said of the mayor being involved in the Council's leadership decision. "We are just fixing our wounds from the elections and I didn't want to go deeper into a divide and we were. This is something we need to figure out amongst ourselves, and we will do that."
By city charter and state law, Paine is considered a member of the Council.
Even before Tuesday night's meeting, Paine emailed councilors to advise them of the law, parliamentary procedure and League of Wisconsin Municipality guidelines, all of which support the right and duty of the mayor to cast tie-breaking votes, and obligate elected officials to use a deliberative process in decision-making unless there is a conflict of interest. Paine advised councilors in the email that none existed in the election of the council president.
"Only six votes of councilors, or councilors and the mayor, can elect a council president," Paine wrote in the email. "As I am willing to vote to break a tie, only further abstentions by one or more councilors can prevent the election of a president."
Twice, Sutherland abstained before the meeting adjourned without an elected president.
Acting in the capacity of the president as the duly-elected vice president, Sutherland submitted committee appointments he said he worked with Ludwig and Fennessey over coffee to fulfill as one of the first obligations of the council president. Committees work through many issues facing the city before they are sent to the Council for consideration.
Committee appointments were approved unanimously Tuesday by the Council.
"Our city is functioning well without a sitting president," Sutherland said. "It's not something that has to be done, and we can take our time to do what's best for the city."