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Kevin Bonham, Forum Communications, Published June 07 2012

Ex-state's attorney in Pembina County mounts bid to sit on board that sought his ouster

GRAND FORKS - Former Pembina County State’s Attorney Stuart Askew, who resigned his office just before a February hearing to remove him from office, is among four candidates seeking to unseat incumbent Pembina County Commissioner Corene Vaughn.

Askew, Vaughn, former Cavalier, N.D., Mayor Ron Storie, retired county Highway Department employee Laverne “Manny” Doyle and retired farmer Bob Kippen will vie in Tuesday’s primary election for two spots on November’s general election ballot.

While the rift between Askew and the County Commission played out over several months, most publicly in a letter-to-the-editor exchange in the Cavalier Chronicle, the race since April’s filing deadline has been relatively quiet, with few letters or campaign advertisements.

In January, North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenejhem formally requested that Gov. Jack Dalrymple remove Askew from office, after he investigated a complaint from the County Commission that included nine charges against Askew, ranging from failure to perform duties to complaints about personal behavior.

Walsh County State’s Attorney Barb Whelan has been filling in on a part-time basis in Pembina County.

She has been assisted by University of North Dakota law students Adam Atherton and Stephenie Davis. Both will take their bar exams this summer and are on the primary ballot to become the next Pembina County state’s attorney.

In telephone interviews, all commission candidates expressed a desire to move on, rather than dwelling on the controversy.

“We’ve had a lot of negativity that has pulled us down, and I feel very badly about that,” Vaughn said of the past several months. “We need to have teamwork and trust in each other. To me, that is imperative.”

Askew, who had served as state’s attorney since 2005, stuck to one theme.

“The county definitely needs a new direction,” Askew said. “We’ve had a lot of problems, culminating in the fiasco that I went through, and we need a change.”

Other candidates are distancing themselves from the controversy.

Doyle, who retired after 28 years with the county, said the topic rarely comes up in conversation, and if it does, he tries to steer the topic in another direction.

“To me, the major issue is our farm-to-market roads,” he said. “I know how expensive it is to keep them up, but it’s important.”

Storie, who operates Ron’s Body Shop in Cavalier, served as Cavalier mayor for eight years before deciding not to run in 2010. He also ran unsuccessfully for the County Commission in 2008.

“I think I can bring some change to the county,” he said.

One change he doesn’t want to see is converting the state’s attorney office from an elected to an appointed position, which has been discussed recently.

“I think I’d like to elect my officials,” he said. “If you don’t, it turns into a good-old-boys’ club.”

The County Commission discussed the possibility of appointing some county officials that now are elected, in the aftermath of the recent state's attorney controversy, according to County Auditor Linda Sclittenhard. However, the discussion never turned into a proposal and was not brought up for a vote.

Storie also is running for the Cavalier City Council.

Kippen, a retired farmer, also said change is needed on the commission.

“It’s just time for some new blood,” he said. “I’m interested in keeping the county on an even keel, keeping the budget in place, and administering everything as fairly as I can.”

All of the candidates are from Cavalier.

In District 2, two candidates are challenging incumbent Gary Nilsson, who has served 12 years on the board.

Charles Thacker, Neche, N.D., and Dennis Dame, Walhalla, N.D., are on the primary election ballot. The top two vote-getters advance to November.

Nilsson, a retired teacher who lives in Walhalla, said the county needs to concentrate on taking care of its roads and bridges.

Pembina County, he said, is the only one in the state that has all of its county roads paved. The county has 185 miles of paved county roads, and about 400 county and township bridges to maintain.

“It costs about $1 million per mile for complete road construction,” he said. “We’re just doing overlays. That’s like putting a Band-aid on them.”

Thacker, a retired farmer and past president of the North Dakota Township Officers Association, also said roads are the major issue.

“We are having a terrible time with our roads,” he said. “Just about every township needs more money to work with.”

“Most counties could do more with their roads,” said Dame, who is retired from a variety of jobs, including farm labor. He also was a staff member of the Red River Regional Council, a multi-county agency based in Grafton that deals with local, state and federal economic development programs.