One sided: Bulk of Stark County candidates not in attendance at public forum
DICKINSON — A highly publicized and televised debate on Tuesday night aimed at providing candidates for public office an opportunity to debate and engage constituent concerns was largely a one sided affair, as many candidates were absent from public scrutiny.
The event, organized by the Southwest Patriots Coalition, was moderated by Jeff Ficek. Unlike other debates hosted in southwest North Dakota, the debates on Tuesday featured tough and pointed questions of the candidates and ensure audiences that no candidate had prior knowledge of any of the queries.
In what was to be a debate between Stark County Sheriff Corey Lee and his opponent Fern Moser, Ficek announced a significant absence. According to the event organizers, Moser was contacted nearly three weeks prior to the event, but was unable to be at the meeting.
“He very recently chose to misrepresent that publicly in a Facebook post when he decided not to attend tonight,” Ficek said to a gathered crowd and viewers at home. “We reached out to him. We have confirmation of that. It was not a recent thing.”
A post on Moser's campaign page on Facebook, titled “Fern Moser For Stark County Sheriff” it reads: “To my supporters I am informing you I will not be able to make the October 11 meet and greet.. I was notified of this meeting of the candidates this past week after the poster had been released prior to my knowledge. The person did call to apologize for poster being sent before notifying the candidates.
The post added, "I advised her I was unable to commit for this date (10/11) and she stated she understood.”
Lacking the expected format, Ficek instead addressed Lee, who attended the event, about “ethical lapses” from both candidates.
“Sheriff Lee has admitted to an affair and Mr. Moser to contributing to a minor in consumption,” Ficek said. “As the face of law and order in Stark County, how do you rise above your failings, and what is the difference between your failings and those of your opponents?”
Lee thanked Ficek for the "softball" question and said he has been transparent about his romantic affair with Carla Arthaud.
“Certainly it was a mistake, a lapse of judgment and certainly it caused a lot of issues along the way,” Lee said. “You know, this was two years ago. We've moved on, we've moved past and we've done amazing things since then. You know, life went on and it's been addressed. It's been readdressed. It came out in the paper again recently and I think we just need to move on. I think we’ve both proven that, you know, we were doing a heck of a good job for the county. And it's just not an issue and it's over.”
Lee declined to comment about Moser’s accusations, instead saying that he would leave that to his opponent to address.
Ficek asked the incumbent how he would handle situations involving illegal immigration from the southern border. Lee noted that it’s not currently affecting Stark County, but it’s something his department is monitoring.
“We're just not going to allow people to be shipped in here with no purpose,” Lee said. “We don't have the resources for that and it's going to swamp our community and not in a good way.”
Ficek asked Lee his stance on animal cruelty laws being imposed on ranchers and restaurants. Lee staunchly defended his position, noting that he would not infringe on anybody’s life, liberty or property.
“We've helped ranchers get what they need and helped them become more successful again,” Lee said. “And even taken our own equipment to help fix a fence in the middle of the winter. And rather than cite them or send up a complaint to the State's Attorney's office for cattle - in that instance, going on someone's property and grazing on their crop - we went out there and helped him fix his fence. You know, common sense. That's what we do.”
In the race for Stark County Auditor and Treasurer, it was again a one sided debate as candidate Monica Kram did not attend the debate as scheduled.
Karen Richard, who is running to remain in her role as Stark County Auditor and Treasurer, was asked how she intends to handle the threat of vote tampering. She addressed the concerns with election integrity by noting that voting machines have been thoroughly tested and additional safeguards made for absentee voting.
“You have to fill out an application and you have to turn in that application to request an absentee ballot,” Richard said. “And then we provide you the ballot and you also have to sign off on that ballot. And then we do signature matches, etc. on the envelopes when they are turned back into us.”
On a topic that garnered much attention last year, Richard said she hopes the auditor position will remain unchanged from an elected position.
“The reason why I wanted to remain elected is because I think that Stark County is smart enough and aware enough to be able to choose a candidate that is worthy of that position, and one that has the education experience needed to run successful as chief financial officer for a large entity,” Richard said.
She noted the difficulty in being responsible to both the commission and her constituents' tax dollars, saying she doesn’t have a problem standing up for what she believes is ethical.
“I'm not going to cut any checks to any entities unless I verify that those entities are in existence and that the funds are validated,” Richard said. “I mean, we are the safe keepers of the taxpayers' dollars and I think we all know that we work very hard for our money. And I would never want somebody to give out my tax dollars to an entity that didn't deserve it or wasn't in need of it.”
She said she is dedicated to transparency with taxpayers funds.
“I will not create information, but I will provide the information that I have,” Richard said. “I tend to be very upfront and honest. I don't like to sugarcoat things.”
Cory White, who is running unopposed for the District 2 seat on the Stark County Commission, attended and answered questions during the meeting.
Paul D. Clarys and Carla Arthaud, who are running for the District 4 seat on the Stark County Commission did not attend the meeting. Charles Tuttle, who is running for North Dakota Secretary of State, and Thea Lee who is running for North Dakota's 39th legislative district also attended the meeting and spoke on their platforms.