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After Griggs County recall, transition continues

COOPERSTOWN — The new Griggs County Commission severed ties with the Barnes County State’s Attorney’s Office and approved a joint powers agreement with Nelson County to provide the county with legal services.

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The new commissioners, elected in a recall vote last month, also questioned how money is being spent on a controversial courthouse project.

The commission voted unanimously in separate votes — to rescind the county’s joint powers agreement with Barnes County and to enter into one with Nelson County — as part of a transition that has been ongoing since all five incumbent county commissioners were defeated in the recall election.

With Tuesday’s votes, the county’s legal representation shifts from Marina Spahr, an assistant Barnes County state’s attorney, to Nelson County State’s Attorney Jayme Tenneson, who will serve both Nelson and Griggs counties.

The recall election was sparked last spring after the previous County Commission formed a private, nonprofit building authority and authorized construction of a new $3.5 million courthouse and emergency operations center, despite voters rejecting bond issues on the project three times.

Courthouse questions

The new County Commission also spent more than an hour Tuesday morning trying to determine what bills for the new courthouse complex, which is under construction, have been paid by the county building authority and what have been paid by the county.

The county’s financial obligation for the new courthouse is about $293,000, said Commissioner Ron Dahl, who added that the county already may have exceeded that amount.

“This mingling of finances is in conflict with the lease agreement,” Commissioner John Wakefield said.

The building authority, composed of the former county commissioners, legally owns the new courthouse. The county has a lease agreement to occupy the new complex.

Spahr, in her role as state’s attorney, had been advising the previous County Commission and the building authority on the project to build the new courthouse complex.

In a letter to the County Commission, Spahr said she no longer is representing the building authority.

“While no formal motions have been made by the current Griggs County commissioners, it appears from your inquiries and conversation at the last meeting that you no longer wish to have these two entities working together,” she wrote. “Accordingly, I have stopped providing legal advice to the Griggs County Building Authority.”

Kevin Bonham

Kevin Bonham covers regional news, mostly from northeast North Dakota, for the Grand Forks Herald. A North Dakota native who grew up in Mandan and Dickinson, he has been a reporter or an editor with the Herald and Forum Communications for more than 30 years. Find his articles at: He welcomes story ideas via email,, or by phone, (701) 780-1110.  

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