Falcon Heights will appoint to fill council vacancy

Joe Brown Thunder

The Falcon Heights City Council set a course July 18 for filling the council vacancy created by council member Joe Brown Thunder’s resignation.

Brown Thunder tendered his resignation from the council June 25, and the body accepted it at its June 27 meeting.

At that late June meeting, Brown Thunder said he was moving to Los Angeles because his wife had accepted a position there with Orange County College.

As decided July 18, the council will accept applications for the open council seat and fill it by appointment. 

In an interview, City Administrator Sack Thongvanh said the steps needed to hold a special election this fall couldn’t be completed by an early August deadline, so the council will fill the seat the same way Brown Thunder first landed in city leadership.

He was appointed to the council in October 2014 to fill a vacancy created by Keith Gosline’s resignation.

Brown Thunder, 47, was elected to the seat in the November 2015 election, and there’s roughly a year and a half left on his term. 

He runs a creative agency and has coached lacrosse at Roseville Area High School. He did not return requests for comment.


‘We’ve been through a lot’

Brown Thunder was on the council when Philando Castile was killed by a police officer during a traffic stop in the city in July 2016, and the bonds between council members forged in the two years since the killing were apparent when the council took up his resignation in June.

“I’m going to miss your friendship and helping me through all the issues on the council the city has faced,” said council member Randy Gustafson with obvious emotion. “Thank you for your service. It’s a new chapter for everyone and change happens.”

During his remarks at the meeting, Thongvanh underscored Gustafson’s sentiment.

“It feels like I’m losing a part of my family,” he said. “We’ve been through a lot.”

Following Castile’s death, Falcon Heights City Council meetings were beset by protestors demanding council members take action and accountability for the killing. 

The council eventually put together the Task Force on Inclusion and Policing with aims of determining the community’s values when it comes to law enforcement, and this year, passed a proclamation designating two July days in honor of Castile.

Without calling Castile out by name, Brown Thunder referenced the aftermath of the killing when he took stock of his near four years on the council, during the June 27 meeting.

“I look at my first ... years, and we did a lot of ordinances, some zoning and we dealt with budgets,” he said. “And it definitely was a learning time ... but when we got hit with the national issue, I’m just proud of the work, I’m proud of what the council did.”

“I think that, faced with what we were faced with, I wouldn’t change anything that happened. For what it’s worth, we did all right.”


Council turnover

With Brown Thunder’s departure, there are only two remaining council members from the summer when Castile was killed, Gustafson and Mayor Peter Lindstrom, the longest serving member.

Pamela Harris, who served on the council for 12 years, opted not to seek re-election last fall.

“I think now is a good time to get off — the past year has been very stressful,” she said last summer, adding that “a fresh point of view is good for a group.”

Incumbent Tony Fischer, who’d been on the council for two years, came in a distant fourth place in the seven-person 2017 council race that was won by current council members Melanie Leehy and Mark Miazga.

Thongvanh said the city will be accepting applications for Brown Thunder’s vacant seat, which will be looked at by a citizen review board appointed by the mayor — Lindstrom and another council member will also be on the board. 

The board will interview applicants in September and submit recommendations to the full council, Thongvanh said, which will then conduct further interviews before making the appointment on Sept. 26.

Council applications are available on the city’s website, www.falconheights.org, and will be accepted through noon on Friday, Aug. 24.

Whoever fills the seat will serve out the 15-or-so months remaining of Brown Thunder’s term, and the seat will be up for election in November 2019.


– Mike Munzenrider can be reached at mmunzenrider@lillienews.com or 651-748-7813

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