FARGO — Cass County commissioners voted 3-1 in a special meeting Wednesday, Oct. 9, to take applications for the vacancy in District 3 after longtime Commissioner Vern Bennett passed away earlier this month.

Applications will be due by Monday, Oct. 21, with the commissioners interviewing candidates starting at 11 a.m. in another special meeting on Oct. 30. A decision will then be made at that meeting to appoint a commissioner to fill the vacancy for just more than a year.

Voters will have their say who will represent the district for a four-year term in next year's primary in June and general election on Nov. 3.

The lone vote against the decision was by Commission Chairwoman Mary Scherling, who suggested to the board that they appoint former Commissioner Ken Pawluk. Pawluk sent a letter of application to the board along with Jim Kapitan, who lost a close election to Bennett in 2016 by a 51% to 49% margin.

Commissioners represent five districts in the county, but all are elected at-large or voted on by all county residents.

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Vern Bennett
Vern Bennett

Bennett, who had been on the board for 15 years and was superintendent of the Fargo school district for 28 years before retiring in 1999, represented the 3rd District, which covers the southeastern corner of the county and includes a large portion of Fargo south of Interstate 94 and east of 45th Street South.

Commissioners decided that the person appointed should live in the district.

Scherling said she thought Pawluk could easily step into the job as he was familiar with county business having been elected to the board "overwhelmingly three times." She suggested he be appointed immediately as the county had a lot of pressing business in the coming weeks.

Pawluk sat in the audience during the discussion, so he could have been immediately sworn in.

However, board members Rick Steen and Chad Peterson thought the process should be more transparent and be opened up to other applicants before making a decision.

"This is an important appointment," Steen said.

Peterson said he understood the need to appoint someone quickly as the county was dealing with a number of issues. However, he favored that more open process.

Peterson also thought the names of all applicants should be public information. It was also decided by the board that all applicants would be considered finalists when they are interviewed briefly on Oct. 30 and that their names would be made public.

Commissioner Duane Bretling joined Peterson and Steen in supporting opening up the position to other applicants.

The board also passed a resolution praising Bennett for his public service that would be given to his wife of 66 years, Betty, and the rest of his family.

To start the meeting, Scherling said Bennett was a "kind, humble and wise man. He was down-to-earth and intelligent and had a great sense of humor. He was always well-read and prepared for meetings, but above all he was a thoughtful listener. He will be greatly missed."

Also at the meeting, the board appointed a committee of four people to review applications for the county's open veteran services officer position. Serving on the board will be Scherling, Peterson, County Administrator Robert Wilson and County Engineer Jason Benson.