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Newly elected judge appointed early

A new municipal judge has been appointed to finish the uncompleted term of James Utecht.

After 24 years on the job, Utecht resigned his post just weeks before the completion of his elected term.

On a 5-0 vote, the New Richmond City Council voted to appoint Jane Esbensen Schmaltz as municipal judge through May 2. Schmaltz was elected to the post during the April 5 election, but she does not officially take office until May.

Utecht, however, unexpectedly resigned leaving the judge post empty for several weeks. Utecht declined comment on his reasons for resigning.

"We've got a window of three weeks where we don't have a judge," said city attorney Ron Siler.

Siler told the council they could appoint a temporary replacement, or leave the post open until the new judge is sworn in.

Siler said all active cases, which were scheduled to be heard over the next several weeks, could be pushed to the May court calendar.

"You'd certainly have a load to deal with at that point," he said.

Schmaltz told the council the only problem with waiting until May is that arrests for outstanding warrants require the signature of a judge. If New Richmond does not have a judge for a time, she said, there could be a problem.

If appointed judge, Schmaltz said she would not be able to serve from April 17-24 due to a planned vacation. The next court date is slated for April 20, so most of the cases would be delayed until May anyway.

Council member Fred Horne asked if Schmaltz would resign her court clerk position if she was appointed judge now.

Esbensen Schmaltz had previously requested that the judge and clerk positions be combined, but the council rejected the idea due to potential conflict of interest issues.

Esbensen Schmaltz said she is counting on the salary from her clerk position at least through the beginning of May. Her plan was to advertise for a new clerk after her May 2 swearing in, then hire someone shortly thereafter.

Esbensen Schmaltz said she would not accept the temporary judge position if it required her to stop being clerk immediately.

After further discussion, the council voted 5-0 in favor of appointing Esbensen Schmaltz.

In other business:

• The council voted to refinance its 1996 bond issue and borrow an additional $610,000 to cover the cost of planned construction projects. Due to lower interest rates, the city will save about $106,000 over the course of the next 10 years by refinancing.

Steve Apfelbacher, with financial advisors Ehlers and Associates, Inc., said the city's bond rating continues to be strong. Moody's has rated New Richmond A2 for borrowing purposes.

Apfelbacher said as more development occurs in the city and if the city continues to manage its finances well, that rating is likely to improve even more.

• The council approved special assessments resolutions for work along 140th and 125th streets. The resolutions included residents in the city and in Richmond Township. The Town of Richmond board adopted a resolution allowing for the city to assess town residents for the work.

• The council will consider the final approval of the New Richmond master plan at its April 19 meeting.

Robert Barbian, director of Planning and Economic Development, told the council the plan needs to be adopted soon to give the city's upcoming grant applications a better chance for approval.

• The city's Street Committee has rejected a resident's request to install a speed bump on West First Street to slow traffic.

Council member Pat Becker said the city will install signage and increase enforcement in the area to try and solve the problem.

The committee also has directed the city crew to extend yellow-paint no parking areas on Oak and Riley avenues by the high school. Becker said several residents complain that they can't get out of their driveways due to parked vehicles.

• The council approved the purchase of a street sweeper at a cost of $120,622. The first payment will hit the city books in June 2006.

• The council approved a $6,170 bid to replace the carpeting in the library. Council members also approved projects to install eye wash stations in 12 city offices and garages, and to upgrade plumbing in the fire hall.

Jeff Holmquist
Jeff Holmquist has been managing editor of the New Richmond News since 2004. He holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and business administration from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. He has previously worked as editor in Wadena, Minn.; Detroit Lakes, Minn.; Hutchinson, Minn.; and Bloomington, Minn. He also was previously owner of the Osceola Sun, Stillwater Courier and Scandia Messenger along with his wife. Together they previously founded and published The Old Times newspaper for antiques and collectibles collectors; and Up!, a Christian magazine of hope and encouragement.
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