The Superior City Council’s selection of a new president could come down to chance after all.
City Attorney Frog Prell drew that conclusion after researching the matter to render an opinion about the legality of using a deck of cards to determine who would lead the Council.
Councilors Brent Fennessey and Ruth Ludwig were both nominated to serve as council president during the Council’s reorganization meeting in April, following the election.
Since then councilors have been evenly divided over who should fill the post.
Fennessey and councilors Jack Sweeney, Craig Sutherland, Keith Kern and Esther Dalbec have all voted in favor of Fennessey, while Ludwig and Councilors Dan Olson, Jenny Van Sickle, Warren Bender and Tylor Elm have favored Ludwig through a variety of votes that took place April 16, May 7 and May 21.
During that time, Olson, Sutherland and Dalbec, respectively abstained from voting during one of the meetings. Voting would have created a tie Mayor Jim Paine said he intended to break.
All three councilors have said the Council’s leadership should be decided by members of the City Council, not the mayor.
Wisconsin law specifically mandates ‘drawing’ lots to resolve tie votes for certain public elections,” Prell wrote in a six-page memo to the Council. “Wisconsin law allows local governing bodies vast discretion in how it selects leadership from among the group.”
Prell cited numerous examples where elections were decided by chance, such as a 2014 card-draw that determined a three-year term on the Baraboo City Council after the candidates tied in the election, 137-137.
La Crosse, Wisconsin, formalized a coin flip when the Council their adopted an ordinance to address the practice for breaking a tie to fill a vacant seat on the Council. Even the Douglas County Board used a coin toss to determine its vice chairman in 2018 after a 10-10 tie between nominees Supervisor Alan Jaques and Vice Chairperson Mary Lou Bergman.
And drawing cards wouldn’t be unprecedented in Superior.
In 2009, Olson became council president after drawing a queen of diamonds, which beat former Councilor Tom Bridge’s three of clubs.
Former City Councilor Dave Stannard also won a place on the ballot when he drew the high card in 2005 after the primary election resulted in a 31-31 tie with Marge McGinnis for the 10th District seat.
“The common council may, but is not obligated to, utilize the drawing of cards or some other method of chance to resolve the … impasse for council president,” Prell concluded from his research, which was done in consultation with Wisconsin League of Municipalities legal counsel Claire Silverman.
Prell said if the Council decides not to end the impasse, it could continue with Vice President Sutherland serving as acting president until after next year’s election.
The Council is slated to consider selection of a president at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 18, in Room 201 of the Government Center.