Michigan, N.D., mayor resigns over 'negative energy'
MICHIGAN, N.D. -- Mayor Bernie Linstad officially resigned Monday, three days after he and City Auditor Rita Hjelseth verbally quit and walked out of a Michigan City Council meeting.
The unofficial resignations came during a council meeting Friday in which local resident Valerie Larson demanded to see the city's financial records. Larson cited public records sections of the North Dakota Century Code.
She said she had been trying to obtain the records since this past spring, she said, saying she and other residents were overcharged for water when the city revamped its water department billing system.
Continued efforts to obtain the records have been met with heated verbal exchanges, according to those at the council meeting Monday.
Hjelseth decided over the weekend not to submit her resignation.
The City Council accepted Linstad's three-page resignation. The statement addressed verbal exchanges between residents and alleged threats made against city employees, council members and residents over the past few months.
"My reason for resigning, I want known, is not because of a questioned water bill," Linstad said.
"This council has addressed that situation. ...The reason I am resigning is because of all the negative energy ... that has prevented this Council from trying to conduct business."
He called for residents and council members to "blow the whistle on bullying and harassment.... Do what is right. Stand up for yourself, your town, but do it respectfully and within the law."
Linstad left the building after handing his resignation letter to Council President Scott Gilbertson.
Council members subsequently named Gilbertson as acting mayor.
Gilbertson accepted, but added he has no interest in filling the remainder of Linstad's four-year term, which runs until 2014. He invited residents to sign a petition calling for a special election and to find someone willing to serve.
Council will address that special election at a later meeting, he said, according to provisions in the Century Code.
Gilbertson said the city stands by its previous statements that the water department billing calculations were correct.
Council then voted unanimously to ask the Tri-County Water District to review and provide an independent examination of Larson's bill. It also decided to place a local advertisement asking any resident with problems with water department billings to notify the city.
Larson told Council she is satisfied with the action.
Council also decided to charge 25 cents per copy and $25 per hour, after one free hour, for city records searches.
"We've got to be patient," Gilbertson said, adding that the city auditor is a part-time position.
Linstad's videotaped resignation statement will be made available at Michigan's city website, as soon as possible, local officials said. The web address is www.michigannd.com.