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Incumbents retain seats in likely first North Dakota township recall

Two officers of a Burleigh County township narrowly held onto their seats in a bitter election Wednesday that might be North Dakota’s first township recall vote.

Morton Township Supervisor Daymon Mills and Clerk/Treasurer Mary Malard each won a two-year term, on votes of 30-26 and 29-27, respectively, against challengers, according to Lois Mills, a judge who canvassed votes and is Daymon Mills’ wife.

Division over a once-proposed wind farm project led to the recall election, an effort begun in March alleging Mills was “not representing the will of the electors, serving his own interests and violating open meeting laws” and Malard was “failing to perform the duties of the clerk/treasurer office effectively.”

Both incumbents disputed their detractors’ allegations and ultimately won the vote.

“I’m happy it turned out the way it did, I guess,” Daymon Mills said.

Malard did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

Dennis Agnew, a township supervisor who helped lead the recall effort, said he was pleased voters could decide the matter.

“The people have spoken, so that’s good, and I’m glad that people are willing to speak and select their leaders,” he said. “That’s the reason that we have elections.”

Karen Macdonald, who led the recall committee, alleged open meeting violations as a main reason for the recall. She did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment Thursday, but she said Monday she believes “the majority rules.”

“If the majority keeps those people, that will be the end of it,” Macdonald said. “If the majority feels they should be replaced, that will be the end of it.”

Those involved with the recall said the 70-turbine Burleigh-Emmons wind farm proposal sharply divided Morton Township residents. Supporters welcomed its potential revenue for road improvements and the jobs the project could bring. Opponents objected to the wind farm because of potential environmental risks and reduced property values.

The Burleigh County Commission had assumed Morton Township’s permitting authority for the project, as all three township supervisors at the time, including Mills, were participating landowners in the project.

The project ultimately was bought by another developer and moved.

North Dakota Secretary of State Al Jaeger and Tom Moe, legal counsel for the North Dakota Township Officers Association, both said Morton Township’s election is likely the first recall administered on the township level under the state’s recall statute for political subdivisions.

Township elections are unique from city, county and school elections, occurring as a physical meeting of residents governed by a moderator and judges appointed by voters to canvass votes.

Jaeger and Moe said the 2021 Legislature likely will have to craft a provision in state law for township recalls, as none specifically exists.