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Newsmakers in 2019: Baker takes a hot issue directly to the voters

December 30, 2018

RED WING — Bill Hanisch already has about 1,000 or so signatures, and he hasn’t even tried.

Hanisch, who owns the eponymous bakery in Red Wing, has been front and center in the fight over graffiti painting on Barn Bluff. He’s part of a group of five of the town’s residents that is gathering enough signatures to force a special election where the town’s voters would decide once and for all if the bluff is a “community forum” open to some limited level of graffiti expression or not.

In September, the city council voted to enforce its graffiti ban on Barn Bluff, something it has historically declined to do in the past. Individuals caught painting on the face of the bluff face fines, and graffiti will be painted over with a neutral color meant to match the rock.

The new enforcement policy began Nov. 15, though the bluff has been painted upon at least once since then.

To get its ordinance on the ballot for a general election, the group would need to submit signatures equal to 5 percent of the registered voters in the city at the last general election or 10 percent of that total to force a special election on the issue, according to the city charter.

City Clerk Teri Swanson noted that there were 10,289 registered voters at the last election, meaning 515 signatures would be needed for a general election ballot question and 1,029 for a special election.

“We’ve got enough for the general election,” Hanisch said. “But we’d like to get it on a special election.”

Hanisch has been collecting signatures at his bakery. In fact, thus far that’s the only place signatures have been collected. If, when the group sets itself a deadline, there aren’t enough signatures for a special election, Hanisch said they might consider door-knocking or other measures to gather signatures.

One way or another enough will be gathered, he said.

In the meantime, Hanisch said he’s collecting signatures, trying his best to make sure those who sign are Red Wing residents.

“We have a lot of people from out of town who want to sign,” he said. Most have told him that looking up to see the message on the bluff is one of the first things they do when they come to Red Wing.

And, though he’s done so in the past, Hanisch said he and the other members of his group plan to stay off Barn Bluff with their cans of paint for the time being.

“We’re respecting the process,” he said.

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