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Stutsman, Foster voters to decide on position

Stutsman County and Foster County voters will decide Tuesday if their county’s state’s attorney position will become an appointed position or remain an elected one.

In Stutsman County, voters are being asked whether they want to modify Article 5, Section 1(c) of the Home Rule Charter to change the state’s attorney position from an elected position to a position that is appointed by the County Commission Board.

In Foster County, which is not a Home Rule Charter county, the ballot question is much simpler: “Shall Foster County change from electing its state’s attorney to appointing its state’s attorney?”

If voters in Stutsman County approve the change, Frederick “Fritz” Fremgen, the current Stutsman County state’s attorney would continue to serve until the end of 2018. At that time the County Commission would hire the county state’s attorney. If voters decide to keep the position an elected position, Fremgen could seek re-election in 2018, if he chooses to do so.

Stutsman County state’s attorney

The Stutsman County Commission approved letting the voters decide the fate of the county state’s attorney position at its Sept. 17 meeting. At that meeting, Fremgen requested an additional attorney for his office as he said he was working more hours. Casey Bradley, county auditor/chief operating officer, said there had been changes in how the state was handling felonies, and mental health cases were being handled by attorneys outside of the county state’s attorney office, so the workload, in theory, should become less for Fremgen and his staff.

The County Commission unanimously approved putting the state’s attorney position on the June 14 ballot to let voters decide if the position should be elected or appointed.

Part of what set the County Commission on this path was when commissioners learned Fremgen was teaching a class at the University of Jamestown, according to County Commission Chairman Mark Klose.

Klose said Tuesday the County Commission would like to have more control over the county state’s attorney position.

“Right now it’s an elected position,” he said. “We have no control over who gets elected.”

Fremgen was first elected to a partial two-year term as the county state’s attorney in 2000 and was re-elected to four-year terms in 2002, 2006, 2010 and 2014.

Fremgen provided the following statement about his position on the ballot question: “I believe the election of the state’s attorney and the sheriff is designed to ensure some separation of powers and that this structure ought to remain as it is.” He declined to comment further.

Klose said other county commissioners had received complaints from the public about Fremgen, but Klose hadn’t received any of those complaints.

“We get complaints; you get the public has issues, all you can say is he is his own guy,” Klose said.

Klose said no matter what the voters decide, the commission wants to have a good relationship with Fremgen or whoever serves as the county state’s attorney.

Bradley said he has heard some incorrect information from the public about the county state’s attorney position. He said the county state’s attorney position is a county position, not a state position. He said the county state’s attorney duties are dictated by state statute, just like the county auditor, county sheriff and county clerk positions.

“We’ve got statutory obligations we have to do that have no consideration about whether we are elected or appointed,” Bradley said.

Foster County

Foster County voters will also be deciding Tuesday if their county state’s attorney position should be appointed or elected. Casey Cables, Foster County auditor, said the Foster County Commission decided earlier this year to place the question about the county state’s attorney position before voters.

Cables said the Foster County Commission would like more options available to fill the position. In January former Foster County State’s Attorney Paul Murphy resigned, citing hostile relations with some members of the County Commission. She said attorney Ashley Lies was appointed by Southeast District Court Judge James D. Hovey in January to serve at the Foster County state’s attorney until the position could be filled by another attorney.

Lies will be resigning from the position on June 14. Cables said the County Commission was scheduled to reappoint Murphy to his former position, but didn’t do so at its meeting June 7. She said the state attorney general’s office has agreed to provide some limited attorney services to Foster County, but only on a short-term basis.

Josh Dreher, Foster County Commission chairman, said if the voters do approve making the state’s attorney position an appointed one, the commission could enter into agreements with other counties to provide legal services.

Three counties, Billings, Golden Valley and Steele, appoint the county state’s attorney position. Calls for comment from the chairman of each county’s board of commissioners were not returned. | (701) 952-8454

Chris Olson

Hometown: Traverse City, MI College: Northwestern Michigan College and Michigan State University

(701) 952-8454