Auditor vacancy process begins following Haag's announced resignation
Kay Haag, Stark County auditor and election official, announced her resignation at a Stark County Commission meeting last month, effective mid-October. Despite the general election being less than a month away, a replacement for the county's election official has not yet been named.
North Dakota Century Code 44-02-4 addresses the process for filling a vacancy in the county auditor position should the auditor resign. In it, it states that the vacancy must be filled by the board of county commissioners — a matter that has been a subject of contention amongst elected officials in the county.
If the county auditor were up for re-election this year and she were to resign within 95 days of the election, “no appointment may be made unless it is necessary to carry out such election and the canvass of the same according to law. In such case an appointment may be made at any time previous to such election to hold until after such election or until the appointee's successor is elected and qualified.”
This is not the case for Haag, as she isn’t up for reelection until 2022. Instead, an interviewing committee made up of three members will interview for Haag's position. Tom Reicert, former accountant in Dickinson; Dennis Johnson, former mayor of Dickinson; and Linda Svihovec, who works with the North Dakota Association of Counties, will be on the committee.
"This committee is going to pick the top three, from what I understand, then the commission will pick one of the top three," said Stark County Commissioner Carla Arthaud.
It is unclear how long this process will take, as no timelines for selection have been released though applications are no longer being accepted and six candidates are being considered.
According to Stark County Commissioner Dean Franchuk, one of the two women who frequently worked with Haag on elections will serve as the election official this year.
An interim auditor could fill the role of election official, but according to Arthaud, the commission has no plans to appoint one.
"I think it's a huge mistake that we are not getting an interim auditor so that we have an election official for the election in November," she said. "I think that Stark County is making a grave mistake. We have a lady that has worked for Stark County for 17 years. She would have been able to step in and help out with this budget that's messed up. She would have been able to be our election official and our auditor for the election; she's been through them."
The resignation of Haag comes after the North Dakota Secretary of State’s Office concluded its own independent investigation into Haag’s handling of the 2020 Stark County Commission primary election. The investigation confirmed previous findings by a Press investigation that concluded Stark County Commission President Pete Kuntz was ineligible to be placed on the ballot due to errors in his paperwork, including a lack of the required number of signatures and a signed, dated and notarized Affidavit of Candidacy.
In a letter sent to Haag’s office from Deputy Secretary of State Jim Silrum, Silrum wrote that the law does not clearly address what should be done in such a circumstance. As a result, he wrote, Kuntz’s name will be included on the general election ballot.
The Secretary of State’s Office plans to address the gap in law by asking the legislature to consider a bill it will draft during the next legislative session.