Empting, Steffes advance in Clay County Sheriff race

MOORHEAD - Two Clay County Sheriff's deputies will face off in November to be the next sheriff after Minnesota's primary election narrowed down the pool of candidates Tuesday, Aug. 14.
Clay County Sheriff candidate Mark Empting, right, celebrates primary election results with Clay County Sheriff Bill Bergquist on Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2018, in Moorhead. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

MOORHEAD – Two Clay County Sheriff's deputies will face off in November to be the next sheriff after Minnesota’s primary election narrowed down the pool of candidates Tuesday, Aug. 14.

Clay County Sheriff’s Lt. Mark Empting and longtime Deputy Scott Steffes were the top two vote-getters in a race of four that included Clay County Detective Jason Hicks and North Dakota parole officer Mark Hendrickson vying for the four-year sheriff post.

Empting led the polls with 38 percent of the vote followed by Steffes, who had 26 percent of votes. Hendrickson followed behind at 22 percent, and Hicks pulled in 14 percent of the vote, in complete but unofficial totals Tuesday evening with all 58 precincts reporting.  

Empting, 44, also serves as the Dilworth, Minn., fire chief. He was hired by the Clay County Sheriff's Office as a full-time deputy in 2002, rising to the rank of sergeant in 2014 and lieutenant in 2016. He was endorsed by retiring Sheriff Bill Bergquist, who along with family and friends watched the polls with Empting on Tuesday evening.

Empting said the anxiety of his first election night began to kick in earlier in the day.

“I was realizing it’s the last day and you don’t know where you’ll go from there, but I put my faith in the community and hoped my accomplishments would speak for themselves,” Empting said. Empting said while receiving the most primary votes was humbling, he will have more work to do.

“Obviously you want to be the top vote-getter, but I know I still have a lot of work to do and I’ll need to get out, see more people and beat the pavement more, but I’m looking forward to it,” he said.


Steffes, 51, has nearly 30 years in law enforcement and started working with the Clay County Sheriff's Office in 1993.

He too, said he was ready for the next step in the election process.

“We have a long road ahead of us, but we’ll get to work and get out there,” Steffes said.

The Moorhead School Board member and first-time candidate for sheriff struggled to find the words to thank voters on Tuesday evening.

“I’m ecstatic,” he said. “It’s really an honor and a privilege to know the citizens of Clay County  have voted me in to the general election.”

Hicks, 47, joined the Clay County Sheriff's Office in 2006 and works as a detective. Hendrickson is a parole officer for the state of North Dakota who manages one of the Cass County drug courts.

A recent open records request by The Forum found three of the four candidates had faced disciplinary actions during their careers.

Empting began his law enforcement career as a deputy with Becker County, Minn., in November 1995 but was fired in February 1996 for poor conduct. Since joining the Clay County Sheriff’s Office, he has had no disciplinary actions taken against him.

Hicks was reprimanded in 2012 and 2014 by Sheriff Bill Bergquist for incomplete reports and a pileup of cases.

Steffes received a two-day suspension from Sheriff Bergquist related to productivity in 2004.  

Hendrickson’s records were not received by The Forum, as his former employers said his records were purged due to the passage of time. His current employer said he had no disciplinary actions in his file.

The top two vote-getters from Tuesday’s primary will face off in the Nov. 6 general election to replace Bergquist, who is retiring after almost four decades in law enforcement.