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Erik Burgess, Published February 15 2013

Moorhead considers how to proceed if whole council died

MOORHEAD – What would happen if the entire City Council and the mayor here were to suddenly die?

The unthinkable is getting some serious thought from city leaders.

Council members are considering an amendment to Moorhead’s charter that would dictate how to appoint an interim council if all eight members and the mayor were killed at once, including by “pandemic, act of war or international or domestic terrorism.”

The charter – the city’s founding document, similar to a nation’s constitution – already details a course of action to replace individual members, but it doesn’t say what to do if the whole council was wiped out.

“It's one of those doomsday things that you hope will never be needed,” said Richard Bolton, chairman of the Charter Commission, who likened it to having a fire evacuation plan. “You hope the place won’t burn down, but you think you ought to have a plan anyway.”

In the case of such an emergency, the Clay County Commission would appoint eight interim council members, per the proposed amendment to the charter.

Those eight members would choose from their ranks an interim mayor until a citywide special election could be held.

If the county commissioners had also been killed, the power to appoint a temporary City Council would fall to the governor.

Such emergency plans are already spelled out by Minnesota law, but Mayor Mark Voxland said those state guidelines give power to the governor first, bypassing the county board.

“We’re trying to keep the decision making as local as we can,” he said.

A public hearing will be held Feb. 25, which must occur before the city’s charter can be changed. The full council will also get its first official look at the amendment then.

To amend the city’s charter, the council must have two official readings and approve both unanimously 9-0. Voxland, who usually only votes as a tiebreaker, must cast a vote to pass any changes to the charter.

Fargo does not have a law in place to provide guidance during a calamity of such magnitude, said Fargo City Attorney Erik Johnson. He said city staff would continue to work as a new commission was being appointed.

“There are provisions for replacement of members who move out of town or who die, so those would kick in,” Johnson said. “There just aren’t necessarily any emergency provisions in place.”

Voxland said while the topic of conversation is somewhat bizarre, it’s good to have a plan in place.

“In this gun-wielding world of ours, if somebody came in with an automatic weapon …” he said, trailing off. “Who knows? There’s so many odd things that could happen.”

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