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Wendy Reuer, Published October 01 2010

Commission candidate won’t take office

WAHPETON, N.D. – Richland County voters can cast ballots for incumbent county Commissioner Bryan Flaa, but he won’t be taking office.

Flaa said he is moving to South Dakota and will likely not be a resident of North Dakota by the time elections roll around.

The retired employee of the U.S. Treasury said he is moving for personal reasons.

Flaa and incumbent Commissioner Perry Miller and newcomers Jason Heitkamp, Jim Oliver and Sid Berg made it through the June primary to vie for one of three seats open on the commission.

Flaa has been on the commission for 12 years.

Candidates have until 60 days before the election to remove their name from the ballot. This year, ballots were printed even later to account for a decision by the North Dakota Supreme Court on a vote regarding pharmacy issues.

Flaa said he did not know he was moving for sure before the 2010 deadline of Sept. 3 to remove his name from the ballot.

“At that point in time, we had no intentions of leaving. Some things came up, and we thought the best thing for us is to probably move,” Flaa said.

Just four days after the deadline, the board of commissioners discussed the issue at its Sept. 7 meeting, when according to minutes, Flaa asked about his status as a commissioner since he was moving.

Auditor Harris Bailey said then he would have had to remove Flaa’s name by the previous Friday.

County Attorney Warren Stokes said Flaa could remain on the board until he establishes residency in South Dakota, the minutes state.

Secretary of State Al Jaeger said there is basically nothing he or the county can do; Flaa’s name will remain on the ballot.

Jaeger said Flaa has done nothing wrong legally, even if he knew he might be moving before the ballots were printed.

“There is nothing specifically from a legal standpoint,” Jaeger said. “I suspect there are naysayers that could say he might have known about this. We can’t address that.”

Jaeger likened the situation to the death of a candidate before election, which recently happened in Richland County.

At the same Sept. 7 meeting, Diane Poppen was appointed to fill a vacancy left by the Aug. 7 death of Commissioner Don Holen.

Commission candidate Jason Heitkamp questioned Flaa’s timing and the impact on voters.

“He’s gonna do what he’s gonna do. I get a feeling something weird is going on,” Heitkamp said.

If Flaa is elected and does not or cannot take his seat, state statute calls for the board to appoint someone to the vacancy for the remainder of Flaa’s term, until 2014.

The vacancy would not go to the next-highest vote-getter in the election. However, Commissioner Perry Miller – who is also running for re-election – said the board will consider all candidates who submit a letter of interest if there is a vacancy.

“I think it’s fair,” he said. “The state statute sets it up that way. You have four commissioners who should be able to appoint someone capable of filling out a term. (Voters) need to look at the candidates in the race. If they feel comfortable with a candidate, they should vote for them. If they don’t, they shouldn’t vote for them.”

Miller points out that Flaa has not yet missed a board meeting and he strongly doubt’s Flaa’s timing was intentional.

“That is an absolute lie,” Miller said. “Brian is one of the most straight forward, honest people you would ever meet. To say that he intentionally waited is absolute hogwash.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Wendy Reuer at (701) 241-5530