Many open seats on local elected boards; recent change to state law could impact filing options
January 15, 2020
With the filing deadline for Lewis and Clark County Boards approaching, a new law may come into play for Lincoln’s elected boards.
All five elected boards in Lincoln will have positions up for election on May 5, 2020.
The Lincoln Fire District is electing two trustees to three-year terms. The positions currently held by Richard Birkholz and Gary Weisner are up for election.
The Lincoln Hospital District is electing five trustees (the entire board). There are two one-year terms, two two-year terms, and one three-year term up for election.
The Lincoln/Lewis and Clark Sewer District is electing three directors to four-year terms. The positions currently held by Lyndon Conroy, Deane Foley, and Lonnie McAllister are up for election.
The Upper Blackfoot Valley Community Council is electing one two-year term and two three-year terms. The position held by Toni M. Austad is up for election. The other two positions up for election are currently open.
The Lincoln School District is electing one trustee to a three-year term. The position currently held by Wendi Dietz is up for election.
The filing deadline for County Boards is Feb.10. The Lincoln School District filing deadline is Mar. 26. If candidates for a board are running unopposed, the election for that board will be canceled.
Candidates interested in running for more than one board are encouraged to contact the county elections office at 406-447-8338 to find out if the positions are incompatible with one another, and if they can hold both positions if elected.
House Bill 326, passed in April 2019, allows a person in a small community to serve on more than one special district board. There are some restrictions, however.
Lewis and Clark County Elections Department Supervisor Audrey McCue noted that HB 326 can be confusing because of the difference between filing for a position on a board and holding a position on a board.
McCue said someone may not file for more than one special purpose district position during a given year’s filing period unless:
They are running in a small community (defined in the law as “an area that fully encompasses more than one special purpose district and includes fewer than 500 electors” 7-1-205, MCA).
They are unopposed for all the positions they filed for.
It’s unclear how the new law may affect Lincoln residents hoping to serve on more than one board. McCue said the filing law keeps candidates from applying for multiple government positions, such as Governor, Lieutenant Governor or Secretary of State, and then serving in whichever position they are elected. However, in small communities, because the pool of applicants is smaller, it can be difficult to find enough candidates to fill open board positions.
According to McCue, as of Jan. 13, 2020, there are 851 registered voters in the Lincoln Fire District and Lincoln Hospital District, 860 registered voters in the Lincoln School District and Upper Blackfoot Valley Community Council area, and 316 registered voters in the Lincoln/Lewis and Clark Sewer District. Those numbers imply Lincoln only qualifies as a “small” community when it comes to the Sewer District, but McCue said it’s more important to have the County check the two boards for incompatibility first, while the County would worry about the specifics of community size. Someone may not serve on more than one special purpose district position if the offices are determined to be incompatible. The review is taken on a case-by-case basis.
Individuals may also be appointed to boards if positions remain open after the elections. In cases of appointment, candidates don’t file for election until their appointed term is completed. However, if the person is serving on more than one board, the County may still review the positions to ensure they aren’t incompatible.
In 2016, the issue of candidates holding positions on more than one board was examined by the County, and at that time, it was determined that candidates would not be allowed to be elected to serve on more than one board. However, individuals who were already serving on two boards were allowed to remain in service until one of their terms ended.