JAMESTOWN, N.D. – Stutsman County voters may go to the polls to vote on who will serve as the county sheriff sooner than expected.
A committee has formed to organize a petition drive to force a recall election of Chad Kaiser. Kaiser is in his second term as Stutsman County sheriff and would normally not face a re-election challenge until 2018.
Tim Greshik, chairman of the recall committee, said his group was prompted to act by what he called "corruption" in the Stutsman County Sheriff's Office when Deputy Elizabeth Kapp was terminated in February.
"By corruption I mean the whole reason she was fired," Greshik said. "The investigation initialized by Chad (Kaiser) was conducted by Jason Falk, who Liz had made the original complaint against."
Kapp had accused Falk of using a Sheriff's Office vehicle to pull a personal boat verbally in October and in writing through her attorney in January. A review of the accusations by Fritz Fremgen, Stutsman County state's attorney, resulted in no criminal charges.
Falk conducted the internal investigation for Stutsman County regarding a news tip made to KVLY Valley News Live Whistleblower Hotline that a Stutsman County sheriff's deputy and Kaiser's son were improperly using a Jet Ski allegedly owned by Stutsman County. Stutsman County does not own a Jet Ski, and the news tip was proved to be false. While the investigation did not trace the news tip to Kapp, it found she had not cooperated with the investigation and kept a book documenting the misconduct of other deputies.
Kapp's letter of termination, signed by Kaiser, said she was terminated for violations of the Peace Officer's Code of Conduct and Stutsman County policy.
Greshik said Kapp was not associated with the recall effort.
"She has nothing to do with this," Greshik said. "No one in close proximity to her is involved."
Kapp did not return calls seeking comments.
Kaiser said he stood by the actions of his office as legal and ethical, but it was the right of the voters to proceed with a recall attempt, if they desired.
"I just keep moving forward," he said. "We're doing a good job and it's been busy. We're are here for the public."
Lee Ann Oliver, election specialist for the North Dakota Secretary of State's Office, said the office received a proposed petition Wednesday and was reviewing the document.
If the review finds no problems with the wording of the petition, it would be approved for the collection of signatures sometime between March 21 and March 27. The petition committee has one year to gather 2,330 signatures, which amounts to 25 percent of the 9,332 people who voted in the governor's race in Stutsman County during the last election.
Once the signatures are gathered, the Stutsman County Auditor's Office has 30 days to review the validity of the signatures. A special election could be held between 95 and 105 days after the signatures are approved, or the election could be made part of a general election occurring during that period, Oliver said.
"The actual election would include the incumbent, unless he resigns," she said. "The election would also include any challengers that file petitions as candidates."
Greshik said his organization was hoping to have the required signatures by May, which could lead to a special election in September or October or it might be combined with the November general election if the petitions are filed later.
Kaiser said the process of investigations has gone on too long.
"This has been a distraction for four months and may drag out to a year," he said. "All of us have our regular duties, and we have to deal with these distractions and get the work done."
Greshik said the recall process is an attempt to restore trust in the Sheriff's Office.
"We want to give the choice back to the people," he said.