Recall of Griggs County Commissioners push follows building plansA group of Griggs County (N.D.) residents has submitted petitions to recall all five Griggs County Commissioners over plans to replace the county’s aging courthouse.
By: Kevin Bonham, Grand Forks Herald
A group of Griggs County (N.D.) residents has submitted petitions to recall all five Griggs County Commissioners over plans to replace the county’s aging courthouse.
County Auditor Cindy Anton and Assistant State’s Attorney Marina Spahr will meet Friday to begin verifying signatures, a process that legally could take up to 30 days, according to Spahr.
The recall campaign was launched this spring, after county officials decided to proceed with building a $3.5 million courthouse and emergency operations center despite county voters rejecting three different building proposals in separate elections over the past two years.
“My goal was achieved once we got it to this recall, to get this back into the hands of the people,” said John Wakefield, one of the petition leaders.
A separate petition is required for each of the five county commissioners: Ron Halvorson, District 1; Ronnie Edland, District 2; Dennis Halvorson, District 3; Keith Monson, District 4; and Robert Johnson, District 5.
If the petitions in any of the districts contain at least the legal minimum number of valid signatures — 25 percent of the number of residents in each district that voted in the past gubernatorial election — a special election must be scheduled for that district, according to Spahr.
Once a petition is verified as valid, the county auditor has 90 to 100 days to schedule a special election. That could put the election in the early fall, perhaps late September or early October.
Petition circulators in each district have collected more than the minimum required signatures to allow special elections there, according to Wakefield.
Wakefield, who announced Thursday he will be a candidate for the District 1 seat, said potential candidates have stepped up to run in each of the districts. Present commissioners automatically are included on the ballot. However, they are not obligated to be candidates.
Despite the recall efforts, construction on the new courthouse and emergency operations center is beginning this month in Cooperstown, the Griggs County seat with a population of about 960.
The one-story facility is being built just to the south of the existing building, which is the oldest county courthouse in North Dakota that still in its original use. Built in 1884 for about $30,000, the three-story building is on the National Register of Historic Places.
However, the old building has serious health, accessibility and structural issues, which the county said are too costly to justify, commissioners have argued.
The county social services and sheriff’s department were forced to move out of the building in 2011 because of mold that was found on the bottom floor. Since then, mold has been found elsewhere in the building.
Project opponents have claimed the mold problems have been exaggerated.
During the last two years, county residents have rejected the building project three times.
In September 2011, voters soundly defeated a $4.7 million bond issue to renovate the present courthouse and build an adjoining emergency operations center. The election was held just days after the county learned that it would receive a nearly $1 million federal grant for the law enforcement addition.
In June 2012, voters turned back a scaled-down, $3.1 million proposal, with just 44 percent approval. A 60 percent majority is required.
The latest defeat came in January, when the county proposed a $1.9 million courthouse, plus the EOC.
After that defeat, the County Commission initially set a fourth election in March. However, the board later rescinded that action and instead formed a building authority, which decided to proceed with the project.
Deadlines forced the county’s hand, according to Commission Chairman Ron Halvorson.
Finding the money
The county faces a spring 2014 deadline to build the EOC or risk losing the federal grant, he said. Had a fourth election been held and the project rejected, the county would not have enough time to complete the project.
The commission, acting as a separate building authority, approved bonding of about $2.2 million. The county also intends to use federal grant money for a law enforcement center as part of the same building project.
Ron Halvorson has said the county will not have to raise taxes to build the new courthouse complex, adding that the commission will get the necessary 10 mills by reallocating other levies and by modifying the county’s budget.
In Griggs County, one mill currently brings in about $15,000 annually.