Belfield mayor resigns ahead of recall proceedings
Accused of disregarding City Council recommendations and pushing businesses out of town, Belfield Mayor Ken Solberg has resigned.
Solberg announced his resignation Tuesday prior to a City Council meeting that would have addressed a recall petition launched by local businessman Dana Gross.
In his resignation letter, Solberg wrote: "I can no longer align myself with the philosophy of certain residents and council members, and turn a blind eye to my sworn oath to uphold the Constitution, the U.S. Federal Code, the North Dakota Century Code, and the codes of the City of Belfield."
Solberg, who was elected in June 2018, thanked those citizens who had supported him.
"I hope for the best for the city of Belfield moving forward," he wrote.
The resignation was approved by the commission, with council member Marriann Mross voting against.
The petition, completed in September, was signed by 66 residents and sent to the North Dakota Secretary of State's office.
Residents asked that Solberg be recalled for "disregarding city council recommendations and votes, and taking matters into his own hands by addressing city business and citizens with his own personal agenda."
The petition was approved by the state and filed with the city auditor on Oct. 3.
Belfield City Attorney Sandra Kuntz explained that neither the state nor the city is required to investigate the claims made by the petition.
The recall sponsoring committee, chaired by Richard Zacher, included Dawn Kessel, Kipper Collins, Richard Schuhrke, and Maria Kordopitpoulas.
"He was going behind the City Council's back and some of our businesses, he pretty much pushed one of them out of town, and he was working on three other ones," Gross told The Dickinson Press. "We personally have no problem with the mayor. He's a good guy. It's just the way he was doing business as our mayor."
Among the petition's signers was council member Breanna Haspert.
Haspert would not say at Tuesday's meeting why she had signed it.
"I can't answer that without confidentiality," she told residents.
Haspert wrote a lengthy message to The Press the next morning addressing attacks against her.
"I was being respectful by allowing the Solberg family to express their sadness and anger, and not engaging in their provoking accusations and assumptions," she wrote. "The citizens of Belfield are not just the small town cliques of people who have stayed here for four generations while ultimately shutting out the oilfield and newcomers, belittling and berating citizens at their meetings."
Haspert continued, "The audacity and the gull of this clan of small town incumbents is exactly why I put my name on this petition and fully endorse and stand up for the commercial companies Ken Solberg solely tried running out of town."
Resident Cindy Ewoniuk, who formerly served as city auditor, claimed that several signatures on the petition were Dickinson residents.
Kuntz said City Auditor Connie O'Brien had started the process of verifying the names on the petition and checking that it was the correct 25% of the number of voters who participated in the previous election.
"She had begun that process, I believe completed that process," Kuntz said. "While she was conducting that, we received a letter from Mayor Solberg tendering his resignation."
The city has two options, Kuntz explained.
A 15-day period has started during which a resident can file a petition with the auditor's office to become a nominee for the mayor position. A special election would then be scheduled.
If no petition is filed, the city council can appoint someone from the board to serve as mayor.
Gross told The Dickinson Press he is pursuing the mayor position.
"Everybody's got different ideas," he said. "We want to bring businesses into this town, we want to help this town succeed. Look at our intersection. This town should be booming. We just want to try to make it grow and make it a better place to live."
He added, "Running our businesses out of town is not the correct way of doing it."