Second Ballot Makes Joel Sipress Duluth City Council's 2017 President

Heidi Enninga
January 09, 2017 10:39 PM

A divisive contest between two Duluth city councilors vying for the same leadership role is now over, after the council chose Joel Sipress as its next president. 

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After three tied votes, the office would have been settled by a coin toss, but it took just two paper ballots Monday night. 

Sipress and and Councilor Noah Hobbs both made their respective pitches to their fellow council members. Then, in a second ballot, Sipress who is was serving as council's vice president, won the office five to three. 

The office was ultimately settled when three councilors changed their votes. Former president Zach Filipovich and Councilor Elissa Hansen flipped to both support Sipress in the second round. Councilor Howie Hansen did the opposite and switched to Hobbs in the final vote. 

Councilors Em Westerlund and Gary Anderson voted Sipress both times. Councilor Fosle voted for Hobbs on both ballots. The contest became controversial after the candidates disagreed about the role of the council and its president. 

Sipress argued that tradition dictates the role be one of service rotated on annually on the basis of interest and experience, and that the office should not be won on the basis of a political platform. 

"I'm an outspoken person, but I also know how to set aside my advocacy and to be a fair, even-handed council president, and I pledge to you that if you make me your council president, I will do that for all of us," Sipress said. 

A candidate who tries to use the gavel to control what issues are tackled and how, Sipress said would be problematic and noted that the president doesn't have the authority to control what resolutions councilors do or do not bring forward.

However, Hobbs said the president does have a large role in setting the tone for the council. Hobbs was critical of council spending what he considered significant time spent on votes involving Polymet and Standing Rock resolutions while other Duluth issues remain unresolved. 

"It's also, I think, a balancing act in how do you maintain focus on issues that I think a lot of us ran on," Hobbs said. "Roads and the opioid epidemic, housing and all of those issues, and how to remain diligent on that -- not saying we don't have time for other issues -- but that should be the impetus for a lot of the work that we do."

Next year, the process to choose the council's president, could look entirely different. Hanson said he intends to author a resolution that he believes would remove politics from council's choice for president. He proposed offering the office to the council's most senior member who has not previously served. 

The council also chose Elissa Hansen as its vice president. She was unopposed. 

Legislative Priorities

The city of Duluth's lobbyist down at the state capitol is now armed with a short list of priorities. 

Duluth's steam plant conversion tops the list approved by city council on Monday. The city will once again make a $21 million bonding request for efficiency upgrades there. 

The city will also push to maintain its local government aid. The allocation typically makes up about $30 million dollars and a third of Duluth's general fund. 


Heidi Enninga

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