Surprised by the election? Only if it doesn’t spawn ‘Mel for Mayor’

Mel Olson explains why the other side is full of it during a June 2 debate on the city manager proposal. (Photo by Chris Huber/Republic)

The results are in from Tuesday’s election.

The proposal to add a city manager to Mitchell’s city government was roundly rejected 66-34 percent; incumbent City Councilman Dan Allen beat challenger Tim Moon 73-27 percent in Ward 2; and Greg McCurry won the three-way race for a Ward 4 council seat with 51 percent of the vote, compared to 45 percent for Marc Bernard and 4 percent for Deborah Skibsrud-Bueber.

Tomorrow, wherever I go, I’ll probably be asked this question: “So, were you surprised how the election turned out?”

Here’s how I’ll answer:

  • I was not surprised that the city manager proposal was rejected, but I was surprised at the large margin. The crushing failure of the proposal reinforces what many of us already knew but kind of forgot: A good way to get an idea shot down in Mitchell is to get a bunch of well-heeled people to support it. Or, as Mel Olson put it, “I think there’s something to listening to the common people and not just the elites and the movers and shakers.” The city manager proposal was backed almost exclusively by politicians and business leaders, and I think regular folks distrusted some of the message and some of the messengers. Throw in a natural fear of change and an aversion to big salaries, and it was a recipe for defeat.
  • I was not surprised at the winner of the Ward 2 race, though I was surprised Tim Moon didn’t have a better showing. In the end, I think Dan Allen was just too well known and liked to be overcome by a young upstart.
  • The Ward 4 race turned out exactly as I expected. McCurry and Bernard were the clear favorites, and it was clearly going to be a close race. That was evident from a drive around Lake Mitchell, where it seemed every other yard had a McCurry or Bernard sign.

Going forward, I’ll be interested to see if the city manager proposal comes back in some other form, like a proposal to bump the mayor up to full-time pay.

And, finally, I’ll be surprised if Mel Olson does not run for mayor next spring. Having been the face of the last two major “Vote No” campaigns (on the city manager and last year’s proposal to legalize Sunday off-sale liquor), he clearly knows the pulse and has the backing of the voters. Throw in the political skills he gained from 12 years in the Legislature, and he’s got a heck of a solid candidacy in the making.

The only question is whether he wants the job, and I suspect he does. He’s been a teacher for a long time and could probably walk away from that someday soon with a nice retirement nest egg. The mayor’s job would seem a perfect way for Mel to pursue his dual passions for politics and government without being tied to a rigid schedule and with the benefit of a few extra bucks in his pocket from the mayor’s $23,024 salary.

That’s all just wild speculation on my part (ain’t blogs great?), but we won’t have to wait long to see if I’m right. The next mayor’s race is next June, and we’ll probably know the candidates by March. Mayor Lou Sebert has already said that without a city manager to take over the day-to-day minutiae of running the city, he likely won’t seek re-election.

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