New blood in Columbia

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Pictured, from left, are new Columbia elected officials Paul Khoury, Doug Garmer, Bob Hill and Andrew Hitzemann. Khoury and Garmer will serve on the city council, Hill will be mayor, and Hitzemann will serve as city clerk. 

There will soon be new blood in Columbia City Hall after three individuals who have not served in city government won election Tuesday night. 

Monroe County Coroner Bob Hill beat Columbia City Clerk Wes Hoeffken with 75.28 percent of the vote to Hoeffken’s 24.72 percent in the mayoral race. Hill received 1,532 votes, while Hoeffken got 503. 

“I’d like to thank the voters of Columbia for entrusting me with this responsibility,” Hill said. “I ran a clean, positive campaign and I believe that resonated. I’ve enjoyed talking with so many residents throughout the campaign, and I look forward to being their voice at City Hall. With the election now over, I hope the council, old and new members alike, can come together and we can move the city forward.” 

In the other contested races, two challengers prevailed. 

Doug Garmer won a term on the city council after beating longtime incumbent James Agne, 62.4 percent to 37.6 percent. 

Garmer, who will represent Ward I, got 302 votes to Agne’s 182. 

“It feels awesome,” Garner of the win. “I’m happy to be part of this team going forward. I’m excited about the possibilities for Columbia going forward. I couldn’t be more thrilled to be chosen by the people of Columbia.” 

In Ward III, Paul Khoury unseated longtime incumbent Gene Ebersohl, who was recently chosen to serve as interim mayor following the resignation of Kevin Hutchinson after Hutchinson pled guilty to a federal charge of lying to investigators about his business dealings with the city.

Khoury got 79.55 percent of the vote compared to Ebersohl’s 20.45 percent. That means Khoury got 459 votes and Ebersohl received 118. 

“It’s fantastic,” Khoury said. “I think the results speak for themselves. I’m very pleased with them.” 

Those totals are with 100 percent of precincts reporting, though they do not include write-in votes or mail-in votes that can come in over the next week. 

Voter turnout, not including those numbers, was 12 percent in the county overall and 24 percent in Columbia.  A total of 3,210 ballots were cast in the election. 

Columbia council anticipates election

Based on those results, the Columbia City Council may become more contentious, according to speculations from some aldermen at the council’s meeting Monday  night. 

During the aldermanic comments portion of the meeting, Ward II Alderman Mark Roessler alluded to a time in the mid-2000s when city council meetings were marked by animosity while a “good ol’ boys system” was seemingly in place.

Roessler began by saying the recent events, such as the resignation of former Columbia Mayor Kevin Hutchinson, criticism of the city’s response to businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic as well as discussion of possible “conflicts of interest” regarding the upcoming election reminded him of a time when city government was not handled as professionally as he believes it has been in the past decade.

He referred to the time when he began as alderman 12 years ago “turmoil that I don’t want to go through again,” adding it “is something we need to maybe be prepared for in the next few weeks.”

Roessler continued by saying “some of the political rhetoric… sounds very reminiscent of what happened here many years ago.” 

Ward IV Alderman Mary Ellen Niemietz “strongly agreed” with Roessler, saying city government “isn’t about friends and family and favors, and I think that’s what most of us here have worked for,” adding that Columbia should reflect professionalism in government especially since the city is “not a small municipality anymore.”

Ward II Alderman Kevin Martens also agreed with Roessler and Niemietz, adding he was upset after recent comments during the campaign that the city “hasn’t done a darned thing about COVID-19.”

The issue of a potential conflict of interest in holding the offices of Monroe County coroner and Columbia mayor were discussed next, with attorney John Long acting as city attorney in place of Terry Bruckert during Monday night’s meeting.

Long, a partner in a law firm with Bruckert, offered his opinion that if Bob Hill – who intends to keep his position as county coroner if elected mayor – wins on April 6, he would automatically forfeit his position as county coroner. He cited legal precedence in which a township supervisor and county executive pose an “incompatibility of office.”

Long stated that he would say with “at least 75 percent certainty” that a court would find an incompatibility of office if asked to rule on the matter, pointing out that any taxpayer in the city could request that such an investigation take place.

Long also noted two instances that could lead to conflict of interest are when Columbia and Monroe County enter into a contract that Hill “can’t be on both sides” of that contract and also that the coroner acts as sheriff if the sheriff’s department is “vacant,” which would result in him acting as a county executive while at the same time being a representative of the city – something Long believes to be “completely incompatible.”

“The problem doesn’t go away just because the person involved wants to hold both offices. That doesn’t remove the problem or potential for lawsuits. It just doesn’t,” Long said.

Other election results

In Valmeyer, voters approved a referendum that will change how the village elects school board members. 

Individuals can now be elected to that body regardless of residence, as the village decided to stop restricting membership based on residence. 

All board members will be elected at-large in subsequent elections. 

66.53 percent, or 159 voters, voted for that change; 33.47 percent, or 80 voters, did not OK it. 

In Waterloo, the park district has one new board member. 

Gina Pfund was elected with 30.11 percent. 

Incumbents Keith Buettner and Michael Nolte also won two of the three open seats with 24.85 percent and 24.39 percent of the vote, respectively. 

Pfund got 258 votes, Buettner got 213 and Nolte got 209.

At the county level, Richard Heine will continue to serve as commissioner of Road District No. 6 after getting 75.41 percent of the 183 votes cast in that contested race. 

Likewise, incumbent Don Voelker was successful in his re-election bid as Road District No. 7 commissioner as 52.99 percent of the 134 voters who participated in that election selected Voelker. 

For Road District No. 9, Jason Niebruegge will serve as commissioner after he got 70.37 percent of the  55 votes cast. 

Finally, in Dupo, two incumbents and two challengers won the contested races in that village.

Mayor Jerry Wilson narrowly won re-election, beating Chris Ragsdale with 49 percent of the vote to Ragsdale’s 47 percent. Wilson won by just 15 votes.

In the village board race, the three top vote-getters were incumbent Dawn Keys 74 percent of the vote followed by newcomers Ron Dell with 40 percent of the vote and Tammy Taylor with 38 percent of the vote. There were 734 ballots cast in Dupo’s contested races.

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