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City ponders commission replacement: Several residents express interest

It's been three weeks since West Fargo City Commissioner Lou Bennett told fellow board members he was stepping down from his four-year term that will expire in June of 2014 because he was moving out of the area to be closer to family.

With Bennett's announcement, the question of course came up as to how the position should be filled.

West Fargo city ordinance allows for two options to fill the unexpired term: either five percent of the citizens who voted in the last election have a 15-day time frame to petition for a special election to designate an individual; or if this time frame expires and this doesn't happen, an individual can be appointed by the city commission to fill the unexpired term with the individual serving until the next regular city election, when the position would be open to candidates again.

So where is the city at this point?

The 15-day time frame did expire with no petitioners stepping forward, so it will be up to the Commission to appoint an individual to fill the position.

The matter will be up for discussion at the West Fargo City Commission meeting that will be held Tuesday night Sept. 4, at 5:30 p.m., instead of the regular Monday meeting night because of the Labor Day holiday.

Up to the present, six West Fargo residents have all expressed an interest by submitting application letters to city officials to fill the seat - Duane Breitling, retired attorney at Ohnstad Twichell Law Firm; Mark Wentz, president and general manager of Red River Electric Inc., Moorhead, Barry Miller, staff accountant for Bryce Anderson & Associates, PLLC, Fargo; Brad Olson, agricultural program specialist for USDA Farm Service Agency, N.D. state office; Jason Pratschner, Sales and Marketing/Business Developnent/Project Management for Industrial Contract Services, Inc.; and Richard Lewis, retired equipment operator for the Cass County Highway Department. Both Breitling and Lewis ran unsuccessfully for city commission seats in 2010, that saw Bennett and Duane Hanson elected.

Mayor Rich Mattern said filling the vacated commission seat will indeed be on the agenda Tuesday night but no decision has yet been made as to how to proceed. "We are still in the process of trying to figure out how the person will be chosen. There are several ways to do it - interviewing each candidate, having each commissioner interview candidates on their own, or just choosing someone from the resumes that were sent in. We want to make this as easy as possible for those that have applied and also for the commissioners."

The one and only other time this situation occurred was in January of 2000 when commissioner Darrell Vanyo, who had served 13 years, stepped down because he too moved out of the city limits. There were five months remaining on his term with David Stedman serving as mayor.

The position at that time was filled by way of a special election after petitions were circulated by a special interest group in an effort to ensure a commissioner would be selected "who was serious about serving the community." Over 200 signatures were secured and Brenda Warren was successful in her bid for the seat, edging out three other candidates by receiving 220 of 564 votes cast at one precinct location.

It's obvious that with the passage of the dictated time frame that the status of the next West Fargo City Commissioner will not be decided by a special election.

Mattern said however it is handled the commission's starting point will be discussion Tuesday night. "We will have to look at the candidates thoroughly and decide how we want to do this and be the most open about it."

Once the candidate is selected, he will be sworn in and start serving immediately with fellow commissioners Duane Hanson, Mike Thorstad, Mark Simmons and Mattern. The group meets the first, third and fifth Mondays in the Commission Chambers at West Fargo City Hall.

Candidates are still being accepted for the open commission seat by contacting any of the commissioners or by stopping in at West Fargo City Hall, 800 4th Ave. E. and presenting information.