After calling it quits amid kerfuffle, Kindred mayor is back
KINDRED, N.D. — After telling City Council members during a tumultuous meeting on March 1 that it would be his last meeting, the mayor of this city of about 700 now says he hasn't resigned after all.
"I gotta do what's best for the city of Kindred first of all — that's what I got elected for," Jeff Wanner said Tuesday, March 14, during a break at his auto repair shop.
After consulting with the city attorney, he said, he understands that to officially resign he has to submit a letter to the council, which he has not.
Julie Johnson, his daughter and a council member at the center of the conflict that also led to the resignation of the city auditor, said she assumed he had quit because he said he did and everybody on the council had agreed he did. The council even held a meeting to name an acting mayor.
Not being a lawyer, she said, she's confused by the process for resignation.
A conflict between City Auditor Twila Morrison and Johnson led Morrison to declare she would quit if Johnson didn't March 1. Wanner said he too quit, explaining later that he was upset he couldn't reconcile the two.
Council President Adam Spelhaug, whom the council named acting mayor in a March 8 meeting, said Wednesday, March 15, that "Jeff is still the mayor. He never did formally resign. " Spelhaug said as far as he is concerned, it was like Wanner "went on vacation."
He said he regrets that the resignations are now the talk of the town, detracting attention from positive things happening there such as the Kindred High School girls basketball team winning the state Class B championship on March 4.
Johnson said she, too, felt the conflict had overshadowed good things happening in Kindred.
When Wanner walked out on the council on March 1, that was actually the second time he had announced his intention to quit.
Being mayor and Johnson's father made it hard for him to deal with the situation, especially after he tried to intervene. "At that point there were some comments made to me that I don't even want to repeat," he said.
Wanner declined to discuss his relationship with his daughter. "I'm going through a pretty tough time right now," he said.
Johnson contends that Morrison refused to give her records that should've been open to the public, including past-due water bills. She got the records later but they were still not complete.
Wanner said Johnson did get the records after the city realized it might violate open-record laws. But he said the conflict should never have escalated to the point of causing people to resign.
The first time Wanner quit was at a special meeting called by Johnson on Jan. 30 to discuss, according to the agenda, "an incident which occurred between the city auditor, mayor, and myself in regards to a document records request as well as the performance, responsibilities and actions of our city auditor and public works employee."
Wanner handed the City Council a resignation letter before he left that meeting.
Spelhaug said the council didn't even vote on the resignation. He added that Johnson also told him after that meeting she would resign.
At the March 1 meeting, after Morrison quit, Wanner told the council he had had enough and it would be his last meeting, but never put it in writing.
City Attorney Sarah M. Wear said state law doesn't specify how an elected official in a city with a City Council form of government can resign so she relied on procedures specified for the commission form of government and other sources for guidance.
Ironically, the Century Code says that a commissioner must file a written resignation with the city auditor, who then submits it to the whole commission for a vote.
Unlike the mayor, the auditor is really done.
Morrison later submitted a resignation letter to the city attorney and made it official, Spelhaug said. As a city employee and not an elected official, the council doesn't have to vote on her resignation, he said. If she were to come back, he said he expects she would first apply for the job as anyone else would.
Wanner has called a special council meeting for Thursday, March 16, to talk about "city issues," including Johnson and Morrison.
"I'm going to try with all my might to get the council to work together to keep moving forward," he said, "and I do not want any of the council members to walk away from this or to resign."