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Help wanted in Dennison
Voters in Dennison, Minn., need a new mayor, but no one's running for that office on this year's ballot. It's possible a write-in candidate will win. But if no votes are cast the city council will have to appoint a mayor. That's a problem too, since only two people have volunteered for four open council seats.

Dennison, Minn. — Dennison is one of those tiny towns that defines the joke, "If you blink, you'll miss it."

A bank, a church, a bar, a grain elevator, a gas station and a cluster of homes -- that's what makes up the town of Dennison.

Many people who live here commute to Northfield, Rochester or Cannon Falls for work. And that's why there aren't many people willing to run for local office on this year's ballot. Katy Gillispie is one of 168 residents in Dennison. She's a city council member.

"In recent years, homes have been bought by young families who couldn't afford houses elsewhere," Gillispie says. "And they're not part of the long term community. I think that is partly why they don't get involved in city affairs."

The current mayor, Ann Laue, commutes to Rochester for work. She has three small children. Laue says she doesn't have the time to devote to mayoral duties any more.

It may be a part-time job, but it requires a full-time commitment. All that for a stipend of $100 a month. Laue says being a small town mayor means she's the first to be called when there's a problem.

"Their neighbor might not be mowing their lawn, or their yard may be a disaster," says Laue. "Somebody's parking in front of their house or their dog's running loose. Just anything they may be concerned about or might want some action taken on it."

Laue says the mayor isn't always the most popular person. Council member Katy Gillispie agrees. She says as the leader of a changing town, it's difficult to please both lifers and newcomers.

"Sometimes it can get kind of contentious, and it's tough to do things that might affect your neighbors," Gillispie says. "People can get very critical. Hard feelings develop. And that sort of thing will burn out a council member in a hurry."

Gillispie is retiring her city council seat after 18 years in a public office. So five city positions are open, and only two people have put their names on the ballot.

On a recent brisk sunny morning, the convenience store at the gas station was bustling. Many farmers came in before harvest for their morning cup of coffee.

In a small town like Dennison, it's easy to run into a former mayor or city council member. Bill Gillispie, Katy's brother-in-law, was mayor about 10 years ago.

"It takes up a lot of time," he says. "When I was mayor we had a bad flood here. We had an elevator fire. We realigned the sewers."

Dennison resident Dave Nash believes in the spirit of volunteerism. Nash is one of two people to put his name on the ballot. He's served as city council member for almost a year. Nash says he's even willing to serve as mayor if enough people write him in. Nash says the town is going through some growing pains.

"I'd like to see the town grow," Nash says. "To get it to grow we've got to get some things done -- like a storm sewer system and streets paved -- so getting some infrastructure started. I'd like to see us get some things done."

But in order to get things done, Dennison first needs some leadership.

Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer says the situation could force city officials to resort to a rarely used state statute -- if there aren't any votes cast in the race, the Dennison City Council would appoint a mayor.

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