Candidates reflect on Richfield election, victor’s campaign finance questioned

 

The next city council member to represent Richfield’s west side will be Simon Trautmann, who defeated fellow candidate Gordon Hanson by 20 votes in a special election May 23.

Trautmann, who emphasized his Richfield roots during the campaign, emerged from a field of four candidates – Hanson, Brandt Krueger and Zack Olson.

According to results posted on the city of Richfield’s website, Trautmann collected 327 votes to Hanson’s 307, Krueger’s 64 and Olson’s 63. There were two write-in votes, with the 763 total voters comprising a turnout rate of 10 percent.

Trautmann, an attorney for small businesses and nonprofits, campaigned with an emphasis on commercial development along the Penn Avenue corridor, enhanced law enforcement training and a walkable city infrastructure.

“I’m grateful to the voters of Ward 1 for the privilege of serving Richfield, a city I love, a city I’m very proud of,” Trautmann said following his narrow victory.

He will take over a Ward 1 seat that has been vacant since March, when then-Ward 1 Councilmember Pat Elliott won a special election to become mayor. Elliott replaced Debbie Goettel, who vacated the mayorship mid-term after winning a seat on the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners. Trautmann’s term lasts through 2020.

The Richfield High School graduate was the only of the four candidates to have never run for public office, but he carried endorsements from members of Richfield’s political establishment. Those figures included Goettel, Ward 2 City Councilmember Edwina Garcia and Ward 3 Councilmember Maria Regan Gonzalez.

With their support, Trautmann campaigned in the neighborhood where he remembers going door to door selling candy bars for basketball fundraisers as a boy. Elaborating on those memories, he playfully noted he was also able to thank certain neighbors who he gave out full-size candy bars on Halloween.

Despite that bond with potential voters, “I tried real hard not to have expectations. I just worked as hard as I can and knocked on as many doors as I could,” Trautmann said.

Hanson, another longtime Richfield resident, saw the campaign as a contest of connections. “I don’t think there was one really unifying issue in this campaign,” he said. “ … So I think it was a matter of everybody working their network.”

For Hanson, it was another tight race. He remembers losing to now-Mayor Pat Elliott by a similar share in a contest for the same seat in 2008.

Having finished fourth by the slimmest margin possible, Olson looked forward as he reflected on the campaign. “The next step for Richfieldians is to accept our newly elected council and exercise our thoughts to issues and concerns that we have,” he wrote in an email to the Sun Current. “ … I look forward to continuing to serve my neighbors and would not turn down a handshake or two.”

Krueger, however, was not ready to put the special election in the rear view.

Campaign finance questions

In a Facebook post, Krueger raised concerns over Trautmann’s campaign finance report, which was filed May 24, the day after the election. Krueger noted the timing violated election rules that state the report must be filed within 14 days of a campaign first raising or spending $750. He also pointed toward incomplete information on

Trautmann’s finance report that included the omission of dates of contributions.

“I’m deeply disturbed by the fact that Richfield’s council member-elect, Simon Trautmann, filed his campaign finance report the day after the election,” Krueger wrote.

“ … I ran on a platform of communication, transparency, and accountability. I must admit, I was disappointed with the fact that those values didn’t resonate more with the voters, but what’s done is done and those are still my core concerns.”

Trautmann called the late filing his mistake. “I take responsibility for the error. This embarrassing mistake happened because I misunderstood the criteria for first filing,” he wrote in a press release.

He wrote that the finance report was compiled hastily when his campaign learned of the timing problem.

“When we learned of our untimely filing, my treasurer, who had been out of town, hastily prepared the report and submitted it as soon as we were able. I approved of his filing the report,” he wrote.

Trautmann acknowledged the report had a number of errors. “I contacted the finance board, and reported all errors immediately to the proper authorities,” he wrote.

An amended report includes the dates of contributions, showing $1,700 received, including in-kind donations, and $2,434 spent.

Hanson chose not to weigh in on the finance questions. “I kind of want to take the position of the gracious, defeated candidate,” he said.

But Krueger, in his Facebook critique, preempted Trautmann’s explanation that the late filing was simply a mistake.

“Upon filing for candidacy, each one of us is handed a packet that includes the campaign finance laws, summarized for convenience. They are not complicated, or filled with ‘legalese,’ they’re actually pretty straightforward,” he wrote.

“ … Mr. Trautmann, a lawyer, and backed by veteran politicians and an experienced campaign treasurer, seems to have failed to follow those simple instructions. As the packet states: ‘Once a candidate or committee raises or spends more than $750, it must file the reports below until it files a Final Report.’”

Krueger also pointed out that a contribution of $800 from Goettel exceeded the $600 per person limit. The limit per household, though, is $1,200, Trautmann noted. His amended finance report labels the course of the $800 contribution as Goettel and her husband, Torove Leiknes.

The city of Richfield does not enforce campaign finance law or process complaints on the matter, according to City Manager Steve Devich.

Campaign finance complaints are instead heard by the Office of Administrative Hearings, a state agency, he explained.

Contact Andrew Wig at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter
@RISunCurrent.