As controversy surrounds Stark County Auditor and Election Official Kay Haag, residents of the county attended a special meeting of the county commission, Monday, to hear the decisions it would make about the upcoming election.
The agenda for the meeting included “On ballot auditor” when it was originally released on Thursday, but was revised and sent out the following day with that item removed.
Despite the removal, Stark County Commissioner Carla Arthaud raised the issue, asking Stark County Auditor and Election Official Kay Haag on the record if she planned to stay past the November election.
Haag replied, “I am not, at this point, disclosing anything.”
Commissioner Ken Zander interjected to ask if the commission were finished with the agenda, but Arthaud continued, “So can we somehow guarantee to our constituents that we will have an election official for the November general election?”
Stark County State’s Attorney Tom Henning said they could assure the public that the county will have an auditor and thus an election official, and Kuntz added, “We will have an election official in place by then.”
Without further questions or comments, the meeting was quickly adjourned.
A member of the public livestreaming the meeting on Facebook approached Henning and notified him that members of the public in attendance and online had questions about Haag.
“She’s an elected official, and as far as her retiring early, that’s totally up to her,” Henning said. “The public has no say as to whether or not an elected official were to retire. She’s not going to discuss it publicly … The board has every necessary authority to make her deputy the auditor until one is otherwise appointed.”
Haag’s deputy is Linda Krebs.
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.
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.
Comments on the live feed flooded in.
“It was disappointing. I got the sense that they had it planned not to talk about the issues that they knew the citizens had come there to address,” commented Lisa Dworshak. “They couldn't adjourn the meeting fast enough. The way I see it they want to do what they want to do and do not care what the citizens want or care about. They don't have to follow the rules but everyone else must. Corrupt is the word that comes to mind!”
Bernie Marsh, candidate for Stark County Commission’s District 1 and opponent to incumbent Pete Kuntz, commented on the feed about the lack of public input, calling the meeting “disappointing.”
“According to the States Attorney it was a closed meeting so the public had no input. Thank you Carla Arthaud for sticking up for the public so they could speak,” he wrote. “The meeting was quickly adjourned. There was a young lady there that was doing the FaceTime Live and had a good number of viewers, some had questions. Even though it was a special meeting, I believe the commission should have taken the time to listen. The lack of transparency is ridiculous. Anytime the commission is meeting they should allow for public input. Granted there are times that questions may not be able to be answered but the public has a right to ask the questions.”
What controversy surrounds Kay Haag?
After a records request revealed that Pete Kuntz, the incumbent candidate for Stark County Commission’s District 1 in the 2020 primary election, may have been ineligible to run for office, a request for additional records from the 2016 and 2018 elections uncovered similar findings — that incumbents in those races, who won their elections, may have been ineligible to be placed on the ballots.
As the county auditor and election official, it is Haag’s responsibility to ensure that candidates for the commission have filed the appropriate and complete paperwork prior to placing them on the ballot.
The Stark County Sheriff’s Office began looking into allegations surrounding the 2020 primary election and confirmed that it had turned the matter over to The North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation for action.
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, writing to Haag, “Moving forward, we would ask that you diligently review the paperwork filed by candidates as the law requires of you.”
Its findings coincide with previous findings by a Press investigation that concluded that 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.