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Who will file for local offices?

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As the filing deadline looms for municipal and school offices some small towns are wondering who will step forward, and whether they should advertise for candidates via a "help wanted" classified.

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Nevis Mayor Dave McCurnin, who is undecided on a second term, is questioning whether a combined city management system for rural towns and school districts is the way to proceed in the future.

"Half the people in town have already done it and don't want to again," he said of Nevis' council and mayoral seats open.

To date Vern Wolff has filed for one of two open Nevis council seats and he was heavily recruited by McCurnin.

"What does a city do if it doesn't have enough people to run it?" McCurnin asked.

"It's not like we're running Ford Motor Company but it affects people's taxes, their lives," he said of the job small town governments perform.

"Our legal staff gets calls from city clerks who say they are having trouble filling vacancies," said Kevin Frazell. director of member services for the League of Minnesota Cities.

"It's not atypical," he said. "Every election year we hear this from some of our smaller communities and we know it is becoming a bigger and bigger problem with the aging of the population in small towns. And other factors make it hard to find people."

In neighboring Akeley, Mayor Jennifer Mitchell has filed to run for the 2-year term to fill out that job, Heather Moore and incumbent Brian Hitchcock have filed for council seats.

School districts have seen a dearth of candidates as well. Gary Stennes has filed for the Nevis School board. He's the sole candidate so far.

McCurnin hopes it's a case of incumbents waiting to see if others will step forward before they feel comfortable leaving.

"The filings end next Tuesday so sometimes people kind of wait and see, so when they don't see anyone has filed they say, 'Oh, this would be a good chance to run,'" Frazell agreed.

"Oftentimes too, you end up with write-in candidates when nobody's filed to have their name officially on the ballot," he said. "Sometimes folks will go out and organize a write-in campaign and of course that doesn't take a whole lot of votes in a small community so that's often the way those get filled.

"And if neither of those happens, the council, after it convenes the first of the year, just declares a vacancy and by majority vote or the mayor if you can't muster a majority, you fill that vacancy for a certain time period until the next election," Frazell said,

Many small towns find their way through that, he added.

McCurnin said maybe small towns and school board who find themselves short of management should band together to hire professional services.

"There's been several examples around the state of communities that have done that," Frazell said. "Of course, that doesn't obviate the need for elected officials. You still have to fill your council seats. But if the issue is people are reluctant to take on the job because they feel they're getting sucked into too much administrative minutia and they'd like to have a professional staff person take that on, that might be a very good answer," he said. "And that can work very beautifully, I think."

School districts already have hired administration that serves two or more districts.

Filings for several local offices close at 5 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 17. According to law, filings must be held 91 days before election day, which is Nov. 2 this year.

n Two Park Rapids City Council seats are up for election this year. Those with four-year terms expiring include Pat Mikesh and Paul Utke. They have both filed to keep their seats. Incumbent Mayor Nancy Carroll has also filed.

n Park Rapids School Board members whose four-year terms expire include Karol Savage, Dennis Dodge and Stephanie Carlson. So far, Dennis Dodge and Stephanie Carlson have filed.

n In Menahga, four-year city council seats held by Dennis Komulainen and Joel Mickelson will expire. The two-year mayor position held by Tom Larson is also set to expire. So far, Patrick Foss and current Menahga School Board member Jody Bjornson have filed for mayor. No one has filed for the city council seats.

n The four-year terms of Menahga School Board members Sheila Parvi, Ray Aho and Jody Bjornson are set to expire at the end of 2010. No one has filed for these seats.

Candidates must be 21 years old on assuming office and have been a resident of the district/city for 30 days before the election. An additional requirement for a school district candidate is that they are not a registered sex offender.

Can small towns continue to run themselves? "That's a really key question," Frazell said. "In some of the really small towns that's an issue, finances are an issue, keeping volunteer fire departments staffed is another issue, its really becoming difficult in a lot of cases."

McCurnin, who has been battling poor health, said he will wait until the last minute to see if anyone steps forward,

He's hoping an "I will if you won't" strategy pays off for Nevis and himself.

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