After an election ballot error and resignation, the New England City Council is left with two vacant seats, both from Ward 1. Ward 1 covers everything south of 8th Street E in New England.
By Cole Benz
Seats held by Frank Schmidt and Shelly Wolff were left empty at the Oct. 2 regular meeting.
Wolff submitted her resignation, which Mayor Marty Opdahl presented to the council, at the October meeting. Her seat seat is up for election this June.
Schmidt’s vacant seat is more complicated.
Schmidt was initially appointed to his seat in 2013. As an appointed member, the council member is then required to serve until the next regular election cycle, which was June 2016.
However, his name was not on the ballot.
The confusion was the fact that the seat Schmidt was fulfilling was a four-year term. So thinking that he didn’t have to run again until the 2018 election, he didn’t get on the June 2016 ballot.
Many factors played into the decision, said city auditor Jason Jung, ultimately the ballot is his responsibility as auditor.
So the city contacted the league of cities and the office of the secretary of state, and they were told that his seat needed to be vacated
“These are the rules of the secretary of state’s office, and North Dakota Century Code,” Jung said. “We are following the letter of the law, we have to on this, now that we were made aware of the mistake.”
Now that the council has corrected the issue, there shouldn’t be a penalty from the state.
The council has a few options for dealing with the vacated seats. They could decide to appoint someone—after waiting 15 days from the date of vacancy, they can call a special election, or they can choose to leave the seats vacant until the next election cycle in June 2018.
The council said they would wait until their November meeting to decided, and even though Jung didn’t want to speak for the council, he thought they may be leaning towards appointing someone for the seats.
The other option for filling vacancies lies in the hands of the voters. According to the league of cities and century code. a “petition of 5 percent of the voting qualified electors, the council shall call a special election to fill a vacancy occurring more than six months before the next city election, if the petition has been submitted within 15 days of the vacancy or wishing 15 days of the vacancy being filled by appointment.”
When it comes to election time in June, both of those seats will be required to go on the ballot. However, Wolff’s seat will be voted on as a two-year term. But because of the timeline of appointments and the election cycle, Schmidt’s seat will be voted on as a two-year term. And then in 2020, that seat will go back to a normal four-year term. The two seats are four-year terms, but they are suppose to be staggered as to when the voters elect their representation.
It remains to be seen how these seat will be filled, but until they are, the council could be bordering on having a quorum if any of the remaining members are forced to miss meetings.
From what the council has been told, having three members, plus the mayor who only votes in the event of a tie, is enough members to conduct meetings without a problem.
“We were told from the North Dakota League of Cities that three, since we have six members, that three would constitute quorum,” Jung said.
Though the city council has six members, plus the mayor, the mayor counts as a decision maker based on the fact that he does have a vote if there is a tie.
“We had to check into that,” Jung said. “Because we’ve had meetings where there have only been three [members].”
If they fall below that three-member threshold though, they can’t pass motions, but they can hold a meeting and have discussion.
“No decisions can be made,” Jung said.
Jung said that citizens in Ward 1 that are interested in sitting on the council should talk to the mayor or another council member for consideration.