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Published November 26 2011

County boards get say on secession

HICKSON, N.D. – A petition to secede from Cass County to Richland County has officially been filed by a group of upset residents here, but the county boards will likely decide whether to let the measure come to a vote.

The petition, which would shift part of Cass County to neighboring Richland County, was organized after voters learned that a $1.8 billion proposal to re-route the Red River would put their properties under water during floods. They said their elected officials weren’t concerned about it.

The next step in the process is for Cass County Auditor Mike Montplaisir to verify that the 15 signatures on the petition reflect a majority of the residents in the area who are qualified to vote. Upon verification, the petition would then be presented to the Cass County Commission at its Dec. 5 meeting.

States Attorney Birch Burdick, who reviewed the legalities of the issue after it arose last month, said secession, otherwise called de-annexation, works like this: If the area in question is larger than the size of a North Dakota congressional township – 36 square miles – then the issue, by law, must be placed on the next general election ballot for a vote.

However, because the size of the area included in the petition is much smaller than a township – Montplaisir estimated it is about one-tenth the size – the commissions in both counties will decide whether to place the issue on the ballot, Burdick said.

If commissioners approve a public vote, it must pass in both counties to be ap­proved. And that’s assuming it gets that far.

“If it doesn’t come to a vote, then it dies on a dime,” Burdick said.

Greg Hanson, one of the organizers of the petition, said the group has done all it can to address its concerns and now just has to wait until the Dec. 5 meeting to see what happens next.

Although seceding may have been the target of jokes when it first came out, Hanson said the law exists for a reason.

“Someone must have thought, at one point in time, someone might need to do this,” he said.

Cass County Commissioner Scott Wagner said he and other commissioners would wait to make a decision on the issue until after hearing from Montplaisir at the Dec. 5 meeting.

“I’m assuming at that point we’d be ready to take action,” he said.

Commission chairman Darrell Vanyo was out of town and could not be reached for comment.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Sam Benshoof at (701) 241-5535