Former St. Peter council member tipped for vacancy

ST. PETER — St. Peter Mayor Chuck Zieman tabbed a familiar face to fill an upcoming City Council vacancy Friday, clearing the way for council members to finalize the appointment at Monday’s meeting.

Zieman recommended former Council member Roger Parras among the 10 applicants who submitted letters of interest in late November for the position, which will be open because of Council member Jeff Brand’s election victory in House District 19A. Parras last served in 2017 after losing in the 2016 election for Ward 1.

He said he’s excited to return to the council after his campaigning was cut short two years ago due to a family health emergency.

“I really enjoyed my time when I was on the council before,” he said. “It was nice to serve the community and try to make a difference.”

The seat will be up for election in November 2019. The election’s proximity allows the council to appoint a short-term replacement rather than hold a special election.

Parras said he’ll make a decision on whether to run for a full-term closer to the election. His wife sustained a stroke ahead of the November 2016 race, but he said he and his family’s lives have thankfully leveled off since then.

“It’s definitely a possibility,” he said of his interest in serving beyond the one-year term.

Interest in the council appointment was certainly stronger than it’s been for other recent mayor or council seats. Those who applied to fill the one-year council term serving the city’s north side nearly outnumbered names on the ballots over the last three elections combined. Voters in the ward chose between two candidates in 2013, five in 2015 and four in 2017.

City Administrator Todd Prafke said it was nice to see so many people wanting to be involved in their local government.

“Over the last couple elections we haven’t had 10 people run for those seats,” he said, adding: “It’s so wonderful that people are interested in serving their community.”

The council discussed the appointment process at its Nov. 26 meeting. Council member John Kvamme proposed posting the candidate applications on the city website and on social media so the public could weigh in on the decision. City officials had the information up online within a couple days.

Civic involvement was among the qualities council members indicated they’d look for in candidates. Serving beyond the balance of the term wasn’t a prerequisite.

Council members also voiced support for mayoral discretion on the choice, the typical process to fill such vacancies. Zieman interviewed each candidate before making his recommendation, which was included the council packet sent out Friday.

Council approval Monday would ensure Parras is in place for the first meetings in 2019. Brand’s resignation will take effect Jan. 1.

The nine other applicants for the vacancy included another former council member, a library director, a union president and several others involved in city boards, commissions and community organizations. The candidates included:

Joel Brinker — Two-term St. Peter council member, last serving in 2007.

David “Eli” Hoehn — Longtime educator and member of city’s zoning and planning and parks and recreation boards.

Ann Hokanson — Executive director of the Traverse des Sioux Library Cooperative.

Keri Johnson — Human resources manager at St. Peter Food Co-op.

Michael Meffert — MnDOT employee and AFSCME Local 280 union president and chief steward.

Jill Niebuhr — Past president of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Mankato chapter, and member of city tourism and visitors bureau.

Mathias Ove — Founder of Made With Love Soap Co. and general manager at Patrick’s on Third Bar and Restaurant.

Loehrl Pillers — English teacher at Kato Public Schools and returned Peace Corps volunteer.

Shawn Schloesser — Board member for Arts Center of St. Peter and the Minnesota Agriculture and Rural Leaders Program.

Follow Brian Arola @BrianArolaMFP.