New Arden Hills city councilmembers faceoff with mayor in power struggle

Some Arden Hills residents are questioning a series of moves made by a block of aligned, newly-election city councilmembers as they voted Monday night to strip the mayor of some power.

The votes on Monday created controversy, with some residents accusing the new councilmembers of orchestrating a "coup".

During a meeting on Monday, the new councilmembers, Thomas Fabel, Tena Monson, and Emily Rousseau, moved forward with a series of votes limiting the mayor's powers while appointing themselves to positions on multiple city boards.

The councilmembers ran all ran together as a contingent using the name "Advance Arden Hills" joining with mayoral candidate Gregg Larson in November's election. For this election cycle, in a rare occurrence, three empty spots were up for grabs on the city council due to the death of a councilmember. The Advance Arden Hills group won all three council seats, but Larson lost his race to incumbent Mayor David Grant.

But, as a result of capturing the council seats, the Advance Arden Hills group had earned a council majority. Meaning, as long as they vote together, all decisions run through them.

The group thinks a change of direction in the city is needed as the mayor and former councilmembers have failed to get something done with the former Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant (TCAAP). Mayor Grant says the council has done its best but has put the blame on the county and past lawsuits for delaying the process.

"For four months, they said the county's bad, the city's good," argued Councilmember Fabel during Monday's meeting, discussing the election. "The county's the problem, they're not."

During their first meeting in council, the group let their majority power be felt as they moved to strip Mayor David Grant of some powers, including his ability to make appointments. In a letter to the council, Councilmember Fabel also proposed naming Mayor Grant's former opponent Gregg Larson as chairman of the Joint Development Authority while removing Mayor Grant from his position with the authority.

However, during the meeting, Councilmember Monson called an audible, and successfully motioned to leave the open chairman job up to an application process.

"Quite frankly, I think Gregg is a really great choice. But here is going to be my olive branch," Monson added. "Rather than appointing Gregg, I'm going to open it up and support going through an application process and may the best person win."

Monson and the other Advance Arden Hills councilmembers expressed displeasure with the mayor and previous city council moving ahead with appointments to the JDA board in December, just before the new council took power.

Councilmember Brenda Holden dismissed the issue, however, saying the appointments weren't unusual.

"Every December, we've always appointed people, so it wasn't a big dig at you people, we were just trying to get things in order," said Holden.

Holden also shot back at the "olive branch" move to drop Larson's appointment.

"By taking Mayor Grant off the JDA -- what's the need to replace him?" questioned Holden. "He is such an asset, he is not a threat... The institutional history that he carries on this project is vital to move forward."

"This is just payback for having your friend defeated," argued Holden. "[Mayor Grant's] not going to have any authority to speak on behalf of the city, let alone govern it."

Councilmember Fabel argued the voters had made their decision, and the mayor's and Holden's arguments for why TCAAP development had taken so long were exactly what was argued during the campaign.

Mayor Grant argued that while the council has the ability to remove anyone from a board by majority vote, that doesn't mean they have to use the power.

Speaking with FOX 9 on Tuesday, Grant says while the voters spoke by electing the three councilmembers, they also voted to let him keep his job. As some residents expressed during Monday's meeting, Grant thinks the actions may be a form of retribution.

"Three of them won election, their mayoral candidate did not win," said Mayor Grant, speaking with FOX 9 on Monday. "I won re-election, and it seems that it is a little bit of retribution."