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Scannell resignation called for at county board meeting

Commissioners Hakes, Martinson and Hall. Photo: Stephan Hogland
Commissioners Hakes, Martinson and Hall. Photo: Stephan Hogland

During a public comment period held prior to the Dec. 11 county board meeting, county resident Jason Zimmer asked that commissioners call a special session to request the resignation of Cook County Attorney Tim Scannell.

Commissioner Bruce Martinson responded that there was a process in place that the board would follow.
Scannell is the subject of a restraining order. The prosecutor has been ordered to stay away from a 17-year-old girl and her parents after being accused of an improper relationship with the girl.
Commissioner Jan Hall began the meeting by saying the board was aware of the situation and the public concern, that no findings had been made so far. She said that the board was monitoring the situation.

Commissioner-elect Garry Gamble briefly reviewed the legal recourse for the removal of an elected official.

According to Minnesota Statute 351.15 the avenue for removing an elected county official is through a petition of registered voters prompting a removal election. The petition needs to carry names of at least 25 percent of the number of people who voted in the election where the official in question was on the ballot.

In the case of Scannell that would be the general election of 2010. According to County Auditor-Treasurer Braidy Powers, 2,391 voters cast ballots in that election, making the number required for a removal election just under 600 names.

The petition must allege specific malfeasance or nonfeasance in the performance of official duties. Only examples of wrongdoing, misconduct or failure to perform a legal duty would apply. Misfeasance, or performing a legal action that has collateral harm, does not apply.

Once a petition is presented to the county auditor, the signatures are verified and within 15 days the petition, not the signatures, is passed on to the clerk of appellate courts to review. The petition next goes to the chief justice to determine whether it properly represents the alleged facts.

The final step in the legal review process would be if the chief justice assigns the case to a special master for a public hearing. If the hearing supports the facts of the petition, the entire matter reverts back to the county auditor to set a removal election within 30 days.

Nothing in the law prevents the board from requesting that Scannell resign. The board has no authority to force the issue. In short, an elected public official must be removed by the election process.