Election races set in area cities
Ballot candidates seek chance to serve
Burlington voters have an opportunity to elect new faces to their city council June 14, while Surrey voters have the option of incumbents or newcomers in races for council and mayor.
A number of races exist in other area towns as well. Both Berthold and Rugby lack names on their ballots for mayor, leaving the races wide open for write-in candidates, but communities such as Velva and Max are seeing competition for leadership positions.
In Burlington, Jerick Hedges, Shannon Johansen, Michael Rusciolelli and Devra Smestad are competing for the two four-year terms. None are currently elected council members, although Smestad has been filling the unexpired term of a council member who moved away.
Hedges and his family have lived in the Highlands Ranch development in Burlington since 2017, but he also grew up in Burlington, graduating from Des Lacs-Burlington High School in 2010. He received a degree in mechanical engineering from North Dakota State University, Fargo, and lived in Fargo for a few years before returning to Burlington. He works for the Air National Guard Civil Engineering Technical Service Center in Minot.
“The current city council has worked hard to tackle large-scale issues such as flood control and expansion through new developments, and as a professional engineer, I can bring technical expertise to continue to make the best decisions for our community on future projects and planning. I approach situations with a solutions-oriented mindset and a collaborative attitude, which I believe is required to be a positive influence on the council and on the development of our town,” he said.
Hedges said his vision for Burlington is to see it continue as a desirable place to live and raise a family.
“We need to create incentives for keeping our current residents and gaining new ones, while staying financially viable. My top three priorities are: make fiscally responsible decisions for the city and its residents; pursue growth strategies that make sense for a city of our size; and increase public awareness around city finances and other public works,” he said.
Rusciolelli is originally from St. Marys, Pennsylvania, and moved to North Dakota with the Air Force in February 2019. Currently employed with the Air Force, he and his wife moved last August to Burlington, where they are raising their newborn son.
“While I’m only starting my experience in local government in this election, I do serve the community both in the Air Force and as a member of the Burlington Fire Department. I am choosing to run because public service is something that I have always enjoyed and I feel I can bring a fresh set of eyes and a new perspective from the upcoming generation,” Rusciolelli said.
Johansen moved to Burlington as a youth, graduating from DLB in 2001. He moved to Minot but came back to Burlington in 2014 to raise his two children. He has been involved in the community through his children’s school activities and as volunteer coach for Burlington Recreation.
“I’m running because I think that the face of Burlington is changing,” Johansen said. “There are more younger families moving into the community, and I think that the city council needs to reflect that and have voices on the council to represent that population. I also think that having someone on the council that doesn’t have any political experience is a good thing. I think that politics can sometimes cloud thinking, and having a fresh set of eyes to see things the way that citizens of the community see things can be a refreshing change.”
Smestad, a resident of Burlington since 1979, began her career with the City of Minot and later as Burlington’s city auditor for 19 years and part-time clerk of court for 20 years. She served as Ward County auditor/treasurer 17 years before retiring.
Over the years, she has been active in the local Jayceettes/Woman of Today, Burlington Firemen’s Auxiliary, Community Action of Burlington, Friendly Seniors of Burlington and Peace Lutheran Church. She also has been active at the state level with the N.D. League of Cities, Municipal Finance Officers Association, N.D. Association of Counties, N.D. Auditors and N.D. Treasurers Associations, serving as president at one time for each organization.
“I have a strong government background and will work to keep Burlington a safe community in which to live, and keep track of city finances in order to keep taxes and city costs as reasonable as possible,” Smestad said.
City of Surrey
Surrey voters will be selecting a mayor and council members in Ward 1 and 2.
Incumbent mayor Charles Tollefson is being challenged by former council member Michael Thiesen.
Thiesen and his family have lived in Surrey since 2015.
“We chose Surrey because we both grew up in North Dakota and wanted our three kids to have the learning opportunities provided in a school with small class sizes. We love this city and look forward to watching our kids grow up here and for our family to continue volunteering for and participating in community events,” Thiesen said.
He has worked as an electrician for 15 years and has been an instructor for the apprenticeship program for 10 years. He served on Surrey’s City Council for several years before resigning for personal reasons.
“However, I remained involved by attending meetings and staying informed of the issues the city has faced,” he said. “If elected, I hope to bring the community together as a whole, both the long-standing and new citizens. For me, it’s about addressing the city’s business in a professional manner, with the entire community’s goals in mind.”
Tollefson is completing a partial term that he was elected to about two years ago and is seeking his first full four-year term. He has lived in Surrey since 1980. After working for a Minot cabinet shop, he opened a cabinet shop in Surrey in 1983, where he still occasionally works. He served as Surrey building inspector for 20 years and was on the planning and zoning board for a number of years. He also has assisted in city beautification efforts taken on by his wife and another resident.
Tollefson said he initially ran for the mayoral vacancy because of issues the city was facing in maintaining its financial records. Since then, the council has put the right employees in place to create better operations, he said.
“I think we are in pretty good shape,” he said, noting the fully staffed police department, improved accounting system, dedicated public works employees and new construction planned this year.
“We are growing,” Tollefson said. “Things are going well.”
Jennifer Johns is running unopposed to retain her seat in Ward 1. In Ward 2, incumbent Aden Clark is being challenged by Brady Morgan.
Morgan, who works for BNSF in telecommunications, moved to Surrey about a year ago from Minot with his wife and their young daughter. He said his goal is to bring a new perspective to the council and “just to be more involved in the community and have a say.”
Clark grew up in Stanley, moving with his family to Surrey eight years ago. He works for Gravel Products and enjoys racing dirt track cars..
Clark joined the council as the result of a special election for an unexpired term. He said his hope has been to see the council get back on track but it has been frustrating.
“We have spent more meeting time discussing planters and hurt feelings from Facebook than actually doing any work,” he said. Censured by the council three times, Clark said the actions against him are an example of the council’s dysfunction that has led to resignations and chaos.
“I’m sure none of this is what people want to hear. They want to hear what good things we have done. I do not have very many I can list as every topic I have tried to bring up I have been talked over and bullied to the point it doesn’t get discussed,” he said. “I will continue to speak up for the new people to Surrey and try my best to change the way the long-term residents feel. I believe Surrey can be an amazing community once there is better leadership and the behind the back and under the table discussions and deals stop.”
City of Velva
In Velva, incumbent Jennifer Barta and Michael Schreiner are running for city commission president.
Schreiner, who works for the Velva Association of Commerce, said he wants to help improve communication and unite the community.
“I think our community is capable of doing great things, but we just need to get the right people in the right places and, hopefully, I can bridge that gap,” he said.
A native of West Fargo, he served with the Army National Guard in Fargo. In 2009, he moved to Velva, having come to the area to help start the 219th Security Forces Squadron at Minot Air Force Base.
“When I retired from the military, I decided I wanted to get more involved in the community so I took a position with the chamber,” he said. He serves in an administrative assistant role in handling day-to-day activities of the office. He also is a member of the American Legion and Velva Community Development Corp. and coaches youth football.
Jennifer Barta, who is seeking re-election as commission president, was a city commissioner for two years before her election as president in 2018.
“I have dedicated my time to learn and research the city issues and history of issues, along with state issues that affect small town North Dakota. I am dedicated to continuing infrastructure improvements, without raising taxes. There is a lot of federal and state dollars to help pay for these projects,” she said.
The commission brought city taxes down in the past two years, and Barta said she is committed to continuing to lower taxes without compromising planned capital improvement projects. She added that under her leadership, the commission brought its city ordinance manual up to date and updated the city website to become more transparent regarding city meeting information and minutes.
Barta serves on the executive board of the North Dakota League of Cities. In the community, she has served on the City Sales Tax and Renaissance Zone committees and McHenry County Redistricting Committee and has assisted with fundraising for youth baseball. She is gaming manager for Velva Fire Department Gaming.
A forum featuring Velva city, school and park board candidates will be held May 31 at 7 p.m. In Verendrye Electric’s meeting room.
City of Max
The ballot in the city of Max features a race for mayor between Warren Huettl and Aaron Zabka.
Huettl is a Max native who moved to Douglas and served on the city council there a number of years. He moved back to Max in 2007 and owns the local cafe and lounge. He is involved in the Max Community Club and would like to further serve his community, having retired this month after 21 years with Falkirk Mine.
If elected mayor, he said, he would like to investigate funding programs for infrastructure that could benefit Max.
“Being recently retired, I felt I might have the time. I might be able to pursue some of that,” he said.
Zabka also is a Max native who lived in Minot and later Bismarck before returning to Max in 2018. He works for the Minot Fire Department and is a volunteer with the Max Fire Department and Garrison-Max Ambulance.
Zabka said his interest is in seeing Max thrive.
“I just want to help with that process to see if we can bring some new things in and, hopefully, some new people,” he said.
In addition to mayor and council races, a number of area city ballots also include races for municipal judge and park board seats.
County Commission District 3
Jeremy Ketterling, Bottineau
Keith (Bud) Larocque, Jr., Bottineau
Benjamin Tonneson, Souris
Westhope City Council (2 seats):
Maxbass City Council (2 seats):
Richard Blanchard, Jr.
County Commission, District 3
R.A. (Chico) Eriksmoen, Crosby
Gracia Gilbertson, Fortuna
Mike Hattel, Fortuna
Sheriff (2 advance):
Crosby City Council (3 seats):
Crosby City Council, 2-year unexpired:
County Commission, District 3
Christopher Jorde, Towner
Douglas Woodall, Granville
Lance Johnson, Deering
Towner City Commission president:
Velva City Commission president:
Velva City Commission (2 seats):
Mary Liz Davis
Max City Council (2 seats):
Butte City Council (2 seats):
Riverdale City Council (2 seats):
Garrison City Council (3 seats):
Stanley City Council (3 seats):
Rugby City Council, Ward 1:
County Commission, District 1
Andy Gates, Mohall
Brandon Reidman, Mohall
William Stanley, Sherwood
Mohall City Council (3 seats):
James (Mike) Duckett
Surrey City Council:
Des Lacs mayor:
Burlington City Council (2 seats):