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Erik Burgess, Published June 25 2012

Moorhead rejects plan to move elections to even-numbered years

MOORHEAD – The City Council voted Monday to keep city elections on odd-numbered years instead of moving them to even-numbered years along with state and federal elections. The motion could have saved the city an average of $16,000 per election year, according to City Council documents.

Many council members said that while the monetary savings were important, they believed moving the city elections to the same years as state and federal elections would lessen the focus on matters important to the city.

“I don’t really want to water down the importance of our local issues by combining it with state and national elections,” Councilwoman Nancy Otto said Monday. “I think they’re in the proper place where they are.”

The resolution needed a unanimous vote of all eight council members as well as the vote of Mayor Mark Voxland in order to pass. The resolution failed with seven “no” votes. Councilman Luther Stueland voted to change the city elections to even-numbered years.

City Attorney John Shockley said the resolution can be brought forward to the council again in the future.

Council members were also concerned that moving local elections to the same time as state and federal elections would allow the entrance of “partisan politics” into city issues.

“That really shouldn’t have to enter into our local elections here,” Otto said.

The city pays an average of $16,175 for city elections held on the odd years, with the majority – 58 percent – going toward election judge wages, according to council documents. The city also puts forth at least 353 city staff hours per odd-year election, the documents said.

If they had changed the city elections to even-numbered years, state law would have given the City Council authority to either lengthen or shorten terms of city officials during the transition period, Shockley said Monday.

Many council members also expressed concern over the issue of extending their own term limits. A public hearing for the issue was held on June 11 in the council chambers, and no public comment was received at that time, Assistant City Manager Jill Wenger said. Wenger said she has not received any further public comment on the issue.

Councilwoman Brenda Elmer said on Monday that she hadn’t heard any complaints or concerns from constituents about when city elections are held and wondered why it was being considered by the council.

Voxland said he had heard of city elections being moved to even-numbered years in other nearby communities, so that is part of the reason why it was brought to the attention of the council.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518