fort pierre council

Fort Pierre Mayor Gloria Hanson, left, City Finance Officer Roxanne Heezen and Council Member Todd Bernhard at a meeting in December 2019.

Fort Pierre’s City Council may have to make interim appointments to keep the seats of three council members and the mayor filled when their terms expire in May.

All because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here’s why:

The city had slated an election for April 14, Mayor Gloria Hanson said.

She and three of the six city council members are up for, and up for running for, re-election.

But only one, Dave LaRoche in Ward 2, is being challenged.

Scott Deal, former Stanley County commissioner and now manager of the Stanley County Fairgrounds, and Carl Rathbun, a former council member who runs a big fireworks stand and has driven for River Cities Public Transit (and brother of Sheriff Brad Rathbun), turned in petitions to get on the ballot for LaRoche’s seat.

The terms of the other three council members — Greg Kenzy, Bob Ricketts and Todd Bernard — are not up this year.

LaRoche’s term, as well as Hanson’s, and those of the two unopposed incumbents, Mike Weisgram and Larry Cronin, expire in May, Hanson said.

But this year, it’s doubtful an election could be pulled off by then, she said.

Because of all the changes and concerns that the COVID-19 pandemic has engendered, it would be unwise and perhaps impossible to hold a city election on April 14, Hanson said. 

Many cities and other local governments with elections scheduled from mid-April to mid-May face the same challenges.

That dilemma led to one of the last bills the legislature passed before ending the session early Tuesday, March 31: HB 1298, which aimed to “provide for the postponement of certain elections and to declare an emergency.”

The bill passed, and it gives cities the authority to postpone their municipal elections this spring because of the pandemic, Hanson said.

She and City Finance Officer Roxanne Heezen and City Attorney Naomi Cromwell discussed it Wednesday and Thursday.

“The bill allows each municipality to set the date,” Hanson told the Capital Journal. “So we will be addressing it at the council meeting Monday.”

The city could set the election day on any day, in theory.

“I’m guessing the same day as the primary seems to make sense,” Hanson said, of the June 2 primary election held across the state for federal (including the presidential race), state and local offices. “You only have to hold one election.”

Ergo, it will cost the city less to piggyback the city election on the June 2 primary.

But whenever the election is held, it likely won't happen before LaRoche's term -- as well as Hanson's, Weisgram's and Cronin's -- will expire in May. Meaning, the council likely will have to appoint interims to those positions, Hanson said.

There’s a pretty good chance the primary election itself will get shoved back to a later date by state officials because of the pandemic, Hanson said.

Whatever happens, Hanson said she’s sure all the candidates for city offices up for the election are residents of Fort Pierre.

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