Sturgis rejects form of government change petitions

Sturgis City Manager Daniel Ainslie second from left, is pictured at a recent Sturgis City Council meeting. Beside him is Sturgis City Finance Officer Fay Bueno. Pioneer file photo

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STURGIS — The Sturgis City Finance Officer has rejected the petitions to change the form of government in Sturgis.

Fay Bueno announced in a prepared statement posted on the city’s website Thursday that, “Because the question posed is not subject to referendum, I decline to certify the Petition for Election to Change Municipal Government in the Municipality of Sturgis.”

Bueno said she requested an opinion of Sturgis City Attorney Mark Marshall as to whether the question posed was a proper subject of referendum.

“I was advised that a city manager is not a ‘form of government’ within the meaning of South Dakota law, but is instead a special power granted to municipal government to employ a city manager,” Bueno said.

City offices were closed Friday.

At its Jan. 3 meeting, the Sturgis City Council approved a resolution authorizing the mayor to sign and submit the petition to the South Dakota Board of Elections for their review and any advice they could offer on moving forward.

Marshall said the city had not heard from the state elections board and Bueno’s action was taken based on his opinion.

The petition for change of government was submitted by Justin W. Bohn and Tammy A. Bohn, owners of Sturgis Guns and Brenda L. Vasknetz, former Sturgis Rally & Events Director. Kellen Willert, with Bennett Main Gubbrud & Willert, representing the Bohns and Vasknetz, said last week that his clients planned to move forward with an application for writ of mandamus to the court in an effort to make the city take action on the petitions.

The city did take action and on Thursday issued the statement about rejecting the petitions.

“The writ of mandamus forced the city’s hand,” Marshall said.

Marshall said he and Willert have a conference call with a Fourth Circuit Judge Kevin Krull Tuesday afternoon to talk about next steps in the process.

Willert said he finds it curious that the finance officer has declined to certify the petitions without hearing from the state elections board.

“In my opinion in the reading of the law, the job of the finance officer is not to make those determinations. The job of the finance officer is to certify signatures which was not done,” Willert said.

Marshall said the confusion on this issue arises because people use the phrase “form of government” loosely. He said that within the law, concepts are very precise and loose use of language creates significant misperceptions.

Willert said he disagrees with the city’s interpretation of “form of government.”

“The law is not necessarily a model of clarity, however the intent of the petition, which is clear, states that they want voters to vote on having an aldermanic form of government without a city manager. I think that’s something that is getting lost between the lines in the arguments,” he said.

Ultimately, the petitions are supposed to be liberally construed to meet the intent of the voters and Willert said that in his opinion, that is made clear on the petitions submitted to the city.

“We’re asking the judge to say, ‘yes, there needs to be an election,’” Willert said.

The petition seeks to hold an election to change the city’s structure from an aldermanic government with a city manager to one without a city manager. Sturgis voters approved having a city manager in 2007. Daniel Ainslie was hired as city manager in 2011.

Willert also contends that the city has acknowledged many times over the years that they are indeed a city manager form of government. He provided as an example the minutes of a Sturgis City Council meeting from Feb. 20, 2007 which show the council passed Resolution 2007-09, entitled a “Resolution Setting the Election Date for Vote on Change in Form of Government.”

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