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Belfield to appoint mayor at November meeting

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Belfield City Attorney Sandra Kuntz, right, presented the city council with three options Tuesday following the resignation of the city's mayor on Oct. 8: hold a special election in February, or appoint from within or appoint from within or without for the rest of the term, ending June 2022. (Brandon L. Summers / The Dickinson Press)

Belfield's City Council has decided to appoint a new mayor from among its four members.

The appointment will be made at the council's regular meeting Nov. 12.

Ken Solberg resigned as mayor Oct. 8 after a recall petition approved by the city auditor in September, which had received 66 signatures.

Solberg's term was to end in June 2022.

At a special meeting Tuesday, the council also decided to amend its rules so the appointed mayor's term ends in June, when an election is already scheduled.

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Three options were presented to the council by City Attorney Sandra Kuntz.

The council could hold a special election, appoint someone from within the council, or appoint someone from within or without the council.

City Auditor Connie O'Brien explained a special election would cost roughly $2,000: $885 for an election board, 52 cents per election ballot, $900 for publishing costs, and paying two council members to participate.

"We do not have access to the machines. Everything has to be done by hand," she said. "It's 12 hours of time you're going to be paying five people, seven with the council members."

In 2016, 190 votes were cast for two mayoral candidates.

Currently, the council has three appointed members and one seat remains open.

Appointing from within the council means that another council seat will be open, and that four seats will be open for election in 2020.

Council Chairman Bruce Baer supported holding a special election, and said he would prefer not to be chosen for appointment.

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"I'm up for re-election in 2022," he said. "I would need to come in and be elected again in June if I took the mayor position, and if my board seat leaves, come June, we're going to be electing five new members."

Kuntz explained, per statute, only half the council should be elected every two years.

It is also inadvisable to have a board of completely inexperienced members, she said.

"You lose all of your historical leadership, and you have all green on the board who, for the first several months, learn how the city has operated," she said. "That whole learning curve happens for an entire board, because there is a cost to that learning curve."

Council member Breanna Haspert advocated for a special election.

"I feel like if anyone wants to run that's from the City Council, they should run against someone in the special election, to allow the people to vote in general," she said. "I don't want this to be another coup deal where the city then comes in and does a recall."

Council member Edward Braun spoke against a special election.

"If we go with (appointment) from within, we're keeping our experience that's on the council, as little as it may be, and we have the opportunity to either replace that person with someone until June," he said, "or our choice is to have an election and vote in a new mayor who is sitting there for two and a half years with no experience."

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He added, "I've seen the books of the city, I'm not supporting a special election."

Motions for holding a special election and for appointment from within for the full balance of the term both died without a majority vote.

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