BISMARCK-In 2019, just about every top ranking law enforcement and legal position in Bismarck and Burleigh County will have a new face.
Last week, Bismarck City Attorney Charlie Whitman said he's retiring after 30 years with the office. He's the latest in a line of top officials from police to prosecutors to announce they're stepping down after many years.
"I think there's a lot of experience in the ranks, and I think it's just a lot of good opportunities for the next set to come in," he said Wednesday, March 14. "There's a lot of good, qualified people to come and backfill these positions, I think."
Whitman joins Bismarck Police Chief Dan Donlin and Burleigh County State's Attorney Richard Riha, who are both retiring; and South Central District Judge Bruce Haskell and Burleigh County Sheriff Pat Heinert, who are not seeking re-election.
Additionally, President Donald Trump has nominated North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation Director Dallas Carlson to be the state's next federal marshal, but his nomination awaits a Senate vote.
Riha, who marked 35 years with Burleigh County in January, said the departures represent a loss of institutional knowledge, but was quick to add that plenty still remains.
"I think probably the people coming up, they aren't brand new, either," he said. "They have experience, too."
Eighteen-year prosecutor Julie Lawyer and Brian Johnson, a police officer-turned-prosecutor, are candidates in the seat's first contested race since 1998.
Johnson said it's rare to see so many leadership positions turn over almost at once, but added that voters get to participate in selecting some successors.
"I think that we have a lot of qualified individuals to fill these positions," he said. "I wouldn't expect there to be any drastic changes as far as the future of Bismarck and Burleigh County."
Lawyer said it's exciting and good for Burleigh County voters to have a choice for their next state's attorney. She also noted plenty of combined experience still in Heinert's and Riha's offices and the Bismarck Police Department-people who have "seen it all."
"It is going to be an interesting, new experience to have," Lawyer said of the turnover. "And an exciting, new experience to have leaders in those positions to bring new ideas and knowledge into the position as well."
Haskell, a district judge of 23 years, said the law enforcement agencies have officers with "a tremendous amount of experience" and also noted the experience of candidates in the sheriff and state's attorney races.
Heinert remarked on the institutional knowledge of his command staff, one of whom, Chief Deputy Kelly Leben, is the only announced candidate for sheriff.
"I don't think you're going to see a real concern with quality of work," Haskell said. "I think the people who are ready to step in will be able to take over without missing a beat."
Burleigh County voters will select their next sheriff and state's attorney this year while Haskell's judgeship will also be up for election. He said he wanted to leave now so his successor will be elected as he was.
"I don't have any problem with the appointment process, but nobody's run for a contested election for quite some time," said Haskell, adding he is aware of one long-time attorney who is circulating a petition for election.
Liz Brocker, spokeswoman for the Attorney General's Office, said the succession process for Carlson, if confirmed, is still to be determined.
As city employees, Donlin's and Whitman's positions will be filled by the Bismarck City Commission. City spokeswoman Gloria David said recruitment is underway for city attorney with interviews set for late April.
Recruitment for chief of police will likely begin in mid- to late summer, she added.
Donlin said he has verbally confirmed with city officials that his last day will be Aug. 3, after 30 years with Bismarck Police. He added he knows of at least one person within the department with interest in his position.
"I think things will keep working well, and I think that people within the local area, our region, understand how we cooperate with each other," Donlin said, remarking on years of working with Riha, Whitman and when Haskell was a prosecutor.
"It's been an honor to work with truly high-end specialists, and I wish them all well," he said.
Heinert said the turnover "is quite a bit of change at one time but I think it's going to be good for the community."
"It's always good to have fresh leadership come into office like this," he said.
Donlin and Whitman's last days are this summer while the elected officials' terms expire at the new year.
Donlin said he's been exploring other opportunities, from talking with people in the community to watching the job market. He said he's open to a law enforcement position, such as a liaison or contract work: "It all depends what it is."
Haskell said he's considered volunteer work, with plans for hunting, fishing and following his young son's sports activities.
Heinert said he has his legislative work, with nothing else seriously planned yet but is open to possibilities.
Riha previously said he plans to enjoy retirement.
Whitman said he'll likely work on a lesser basis during the transition for the city, with no commitments beyond that.
"I'm looking forward to it," he said.