The Tribune always has been a strong supporter of initiated measures, referrals and recalls. We believe the public should have processes to take action when government has failed to act, or passed legislation or taken steps that are disputed.
That said, the Tribune editorial board doesn’t agree with the effort to recall Burleigh County Commissioner Kathleen Jones. It’s the public’s right to do so, and we’ll defend that right, but we feel the effort is misguided.
The recall effort is largely the result of commission votes to approve continued refugee resettlement and reject a nonbinding straw vote on the issue. In both cases the vote was 3-2, with Jones and commissioners Mark Armstrong and Jerry Woodcox in the majority. Under the law, only one commissioner can be recalled at a time and there must be more than a year left on the commissioner’s term.
The sponsoring committee selected Jones, citing “reasons of contempt of the voters and negligence in office.” Robert Field, one of the organizers of the recall, indicated the group might also target Armstrong at some point. The group has a year to collect 11,848 signatures.
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We understand many people were upset over the votes on resettlement and the straw vote. Jones’ comments on the straw vote were cited as one reason she was selected for recall. However, the Tribune believes the commission gave the public more than an ample opportunity to be heard. The commissioners took four hours of testimony on refugee resettlement at a meeting that was well-publicized.
When they approved continued resettlement there were conditions attached that Lutheran Social Services report on the costs of the program, the success of individual resettlement and any problems encountered. Holding a straw vote before this information becomes available next year seems premature. Refugee resettlement isn’t new to Burleigh County, and testimony at the meeting indicated there haven’t been problems with the refugees.
The Tribune supports the acceptance of refugees; we believe it’s the right thing to do. We don’t accept the idea that Jones or any of the other commissioners showed contempt to the voters. Commissioners Brian Bitner and Jim Peluso, who opposed resettlement and favored a straw vote, obviously disappointed some voters. But no one showed contempt.
It was a difficult decision for all commissioners because it was a controversial topic dividing the community. The Tribune feels the commission did a good job of gathering information before voting.
It remains to be seen whether enough signatures are gathered in time to place the recall on the June primary or November general election ballot. A special election also could be called. Whenever the vote is held, we expect a healthy turnout.
It’s democracy in action and that’s good. However, the Tribune doesn’t believe any commissioner should be recalled over these two votes.