I think it’s safe to say that the City of Bismarck’s handling of a recall petition aimed at Mayor Mike Seminary has been something less than ideal.
For one thing, the city had the Bureau of Criminal Investigation verify signatures of the recall petitions, which some have (rightly, I think) seen as somewhat intimidating. For another, the city rejected some 200 signatures of the petition on pretty loose legal grounds. They argue that the law requires that signature collectors be from the City of Bismarck. The problem is the law doesn’t actually say that.
Now today I have been provided with an email, obtained via an open records request, in which Bismarck City Administrator Keith Hunke requests that members of the Bismarck Police Department who signed the recall petition from the mayor be singled out for questioning:
The email was sent to Bureau of Criminal Investigation investigator Casey Miller who was working on verifying the signatures. I spoke with Bismarck resident Cody Schuh, one of the organizers of the recall drive, and he said as far as he knew all of the signatures from the PD officers were valid.
I spoke with Liz Brocker, spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s Office, but she declined to comment referring all questions about the BCI investigation to the city.
I’ve made multiple phone calls to Mr. Hunke’s office requesting comment and context to this email but so far he hasn’t gotten in touch with me. UPDATE 5/23/17 9:03AM: Hunke provided me with this statement: “The City of Bismarck has completed the process required, and followed the laws and guidance from the ND Secretary of State’s Office and ND Attorney General’s Office. The decision is final and the City will have no further comment.”
The email, on its own, seems pretty damning.
The defense, I suppose, is that the city was just trying to verify that these cops had actually supported the recall petition. But remember that these cops are city employees. They signed a petition to recall the mayor, which is their right. Cops are citizens too, after all.
Now the city, their employer, is singling them out for questioning? With an assist from their chief? A man who publicly sided with the mayor against the recall?
That seems chilling.
That seems inappropriate.
That also gets back to why it was probably a bad idea to have the BCI do the signature verification process. It takes a routine matter and turns into something far more fraught.
It’s in everyone’s interest to ensure that the signatures on the petitions are valid, but there are less heavy-handed ways to go about doing that.