Meet the candidates: Stark County Commission

Stark County Commission's district map. (Provided by Stark County)

As the 2020 election cycle moves into full swing, political campaigns face the added challenge of how best to share their message with constituents and voters alike, as mandates and restrictions stemming from the coronavirus' worldwide pandemic prevent public fundraisers, grass-roots door to door stumping and even public debates.

In an ongoing series, The Dickinson Press has sought to shed light on the various candidates running for political office in a series called, "Meet the candidates."

Three candidates and two incumbents slated to vie for positions on the Stark County Commission shared their message for the future of the county and discussed their priorities if elected.

Dean Franchuk

Franchuck is running for re-election for his District 3 seat, for which he serves as the vice chairman of the Stark County Commission.

"I serve on several committees, so I keep quite active in that," he said. "Most of my life has been in Stark County, so I'm familiar with the area."


Franchuck serves on the board for city planning and zoning, is on the Stark Development Board, is treasurer for Community Action and is the vice chair of the Roosevelt Custer Regional Council.

Outside of government, he worked in law enforcement for the sheriff's department 5 years and as a state trooper for 28 years. He worked in sales and in the oil field as a operational manager and safety coordinator.

"Since it's budgeting, I guess the big thing to make sure (of) is that the money's spent in the right place ... I'm sure with all of this going on right now and too with the oil drop, there's going to be a lot less money in income for the county to spend on any projects that we might have."

Pete Kuntz

Pete Kuntz is running for re-election for District 1's seat on the Stark County Commission, where he's served for three terms and serves as chairman.

"I've always had a good understanding, communications with the people, with the taxpayers. I know I've served them well. There's been a lot of work accomplished already and I plan (to) keep on going and do some more," he said.

Kuntz has worked for the county for 35 years in the road department, 25 of which was spent as a road foreman. That experience as well as the experience of growing up on a farm, has helped inform his decisions on the board.

Replacing and repairing roads has been a recent focus of his.

"There's a lot of road issues out there that need attention. We've come a long ways with roads ... We had to beef them up for heavier traffic, more traffic, bigger machinery coming down the roads. We've been replacing most of our smaller bridges. I'd say in the last five, six years, we've replaced about 5-6 bridges every year, and this year, we're going to replace about four," Kuntz said.


Bernie Marsh

Marsh is running against incumbent Pete Kuntz for District 1's seat on the Stark County Commission.

He believes he has a well-rounded set of experiences to help inform his decision making.

"I grew up on a ranch and a farm, so I've got rural experience. I've had a business in downtown Dickinson for 32 years, so I understand business. I understand when you have to budget. I served on a Stark County Fair Board for 10 years. I served on Dickinson CVB (Convention and Visitors Bureau) for about 10 years. Dickinson Downtown Association, I served on that for four years," Marsh said.

He's taking a step back from his business now that his son and family have taken over most of the workload.

"I have what I feel is some free time, so I always believe in community, and the community's been good to me, so it's time to (give) something back to it," Marsh said. "I'm in business and I understand budgeting. I think right now budgeting is going to be a big thing. I don't think the county's been over budget, and the meetings I've been to, they've been very observant of the money they've been spending."

Neal Messer

Messer is running for Jay Elkin's District 5 seat for Stark County Commission.

"I think I've been involved in public policy my entire life, especially on the receiving side, whether city government, county government, state government. I view this as an opportunity to get involved and influence public policy," he said.

Messer's served in leadership roles for organizations including the Badlands Board of Realtors, North Dakota Association of Realtors, National Association of Realtors and said he's been involved in their public policy arena.


He also has experience in business, owning a real estate company and farm operation.

Messer said he's running because he wants Stark County to be a great place to live, raise families and own and operate farms and businesses.

"I bring good judgment, bring common sense, and bring experience. At this point, I'd be the only agricultural voice on the commission, so I think I would bring a broad spectrum of experiences and ideas to the commission," he said.

Leslie Ross

Ross is running against Messer for Jay Elkin's District 5 seat for Stark County Commission.

She's been attending Stark County Commission meetings as often as she can for five years.

"The reason I go there is because I don't see the county commission as being transparent. They built a 6.5 million addition, and they didn't put any means in, technologically-wise, to record, tape or promote the county commission meetings, so unless you're there, you really have no idea what's really going on," Ross said.

Ross served on the Dickinson Public School Board for 12 years and was chair of the budget committee.

"I know how millions of dollars is really important to our taxpayers. Well, the county does the other part of that property tax, and I fail to see how that is being shared with the community in a way that promotes a buy-in from our community. What are our tax dollars being used for? Are we being taxed fairly? I can't find that," she said.


Ross also cites a lack of professionalism at county commission meetings.

"I am embarrassed when I sit there and listen to our elected officials, how they talk to each other, let alone how they talk to anybody from the public who comes to the podium to speak ... I'm running because I want to return the power of the government back to the people. I want to restore professionalism, decorum and honesty to this county office," she said.

Kayla Henson is a former Dickinson Press reporter.
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