ELY – Chuck Novak returned to the Ely mayor’s seat Jan. 5 after accepting the city council’s 5-1 vote to appoint him as the interim mayor.Novak was defeated in the general election …
ELY – Chuck Novak returned to the Ely mayor’s seat Jan. 5 after accepting the city council’s 5-1 vote to appoint him as the interim mayor.
Novak was defeated in the general election last fall by Eric Urbas, although Urbas had pulled out of the race last summer due to health concerns. His name remained on the Nov. 3 ballot, and Urbas was elected mayor by a 925-800 margin. Urbas declined to accept the will of Ely voters, setting up a potential temporary vacuum of leadership.
In their first meeting of the new year on Jan. 5, under the leadership of Acting Mayor Jerome Debeltz, council members approved resolutions declaring a vacancy in the office of mayor, ordering a special election for the office, and appointing an interim mayor.
In what appeared to be a pre-arranged scenario, Novak sat in the audience of the council meeting and watched events unfold as the meeting got underway. Debeltz said he could not find the mayor’s gavel as he brought the room to order. He thanked those attending the meeting that was initiated with the three re-elected council members, Ryan Callen, Debeltz, and Paul Kess taking the oath of office.
Council member Albert Forsman nominated Novak to fill the interim mayor position until a special election is held. His motion was supported by council member Ryan Callen.
Council member Heidi Omerza voiced her opposition to naming Novak as interim mayor.
“I do believe there is value in having Chuck be our mayor,” she said. “He has done a lot of great things and will continue to do a lot of great things for Ely, however, I believe the people of Ely gave us clear direction in the last election. I can’t, in good conscience continue forward with this (vote).”
Forsman, who made the motion to appoint Novak, defended his position. “I feel it is important that in this interim we have an experienced leader who can get us through to the next chance that the people have to vote on this issue. It is in the best interest of our community to stay with Chuck.”
Angela Campbell agreed with Forsman. “I vote for Chuck,” she said.
City Attorney Kelly Klun explained that the if a primary election is needed to fill the position, a general election would be held in August. “An interim mayor would fill the seat until such time as a new mayor-elect takes the oath of office,” she said.
A filing period for mayoral candidates opens on Tuesday, Jan. 19 at 8 a.m. and closes on Tuesday, Feb. 2 at 5 p.m. If more than two candidates file, a primary election will be held on April 13 and a general election will be held on Aug. 10. If no primary election is needed, the general election will be held on April 13.
Following Novak taking the oath of office, the council took a short recess. Novak returned to the council chambers wearing a necktie, with gavel in hand, and took his seat at the head of the table.
Novak first won the Ely mayoral position in 2006, following a stint as council member. He lost re-election bids to Roger Skraba in 2008 and 2010, who then lost to Ross Petersen in 2012. Novak returned to the city’s top elected position following elections in 2014, 2016 and 2018. He did not indicate his intentions on running for re-election.
Skraba jumped the gun last month on running for mayor. He published a campaign ad in a local newspaper the day after Christmas seeking support and votes from the Ely community.
Omerza’s vote against Novak’s appointment as interim mayor prompted speculation that she will also seek the job. When asked about her vote after the Jan. 5 meeting, she denied that her position on the issue was a signal she was going to run. When asked if she will file candidacy papers for the position, she said, “I’m thinking about it. but honestly, I think about it every two years. We’ll have to wait and see what happens.”
In other business, the council:
• Approved the hiring of Thomas Deyak and Kyle Lakner as probationary firefighters, pending pre-employment physical, drug test and background checks, to bring the Ely Fire Department to 35 members.
• Heard from Fire Chief Tom Erchull that the EFD responded to 51 fire calls in 2020, including four structure fires, and 190 Emergency Medical Service dispatches.
• Heard from Ely Library Director Rachel Heinrich that the library received a first-time five-star rating from the American Library Journal. Just two other Minnesota libraries were rated with four-stars in 2020.
• Heard from Clerk-Treasurer Harold Langowski that the continuing vandalism in the portable bathrooms in the city parks, with garbage stuffed in them and lighted on fire, has forced the removal of the service from Whiteside Park.
• Approved the date change of the Jake Forsman Memorial Car Show and Burnout Competition to the first weekend in October, due to weather considerations.
• Adopted a resolution establishing a $100 annual Short Term Rental License Fee, and limiting the number of short term rental units in the city to a maximum of 35 at one time.
• Approved in-kind services for the 2021 WolfTrack Classic Sled Dog Race, scheduled for Feb. 20-21.
• Approved the transfer of tobacco and off-sale liquor licenses from Northland Market to Zupancich Brothers, Inc. in anticipation of the food markets merging later this year and moving to the former Shopko building.
• Approved a residential rehab loan to Jerome and Mary Debeltz, 311 N. Lakeshore Drive for a $7,000 propane furnace replacement and garage door project.