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Mixup with county commissioner districts -- Salminen files for re-election after all

Because of confusion over Becker County commissioner district boundaries, District 4 incumbent John Bellefeuille now finds himself facing four challengers (Brad Grant, Donald Skarie, Robert D. "Bob" Spilman and Richard A. Grossman) all of whom thought they were filing for a vacant seat on the County Board.

Bellefeuille believed the annexation put him in District 2, and planned to run in that district, since he believed the incumbent there, Harry Salminen, was not planning to run again.

But Salminen has filed for office after all, and now finds himself with three challengers -- Cyndi Anderson, John C. Okeson, and William "Gerry" Anderson -- none of whom presumably expected him to run.

Salminen, who was dealing with health problems, had said he was not going to run for re-election, and Bellefeuille had said he would not have run against him. Salminen could not immediately be reached for comment Friday morning as to why the sudden change of heart.

The confusion over commissioner district boundaries stems to July of 2008, when Detroit Lakes annexed land including the eastern shore of Long Lake, where Bellefeuille lives.

It was originally believed that Bellefeuille's home was located in an area that would fall within the redrawn boundaries of District 2.

A recent clarification by the Secretary of State's office, however, determined that part of City Ward 3 is in County Commissioner District 4 and not in Commissioner District 2, as previously believed.

This means that Bellefeuille will now be running as the incumbent county commissioner in District 4.

"What this means is that I now can file as an incumbent in my current district (District 4)," Bellefeuille said in a news release. "I have withdrawn my application for District 2 and filed in my home district.

"This will give me the opportunity, if re-elected, to serve in the district that I was originally elected in, and am most familiar with," he added. "I have done my best to serve all the people of Becker County, along with the people of District 4, and hope to continue that service for another term."

"Historically, Detroit Lakes City Ward 3 has been represented in its entirety by County Commissioner District 2," explained Becker County Auditor-Treasurer Ryan Tangen.

In September of 2008, between the primary and general elections, the lines were redrawn after inquiries to the state from Rep. Paul Marquart (9B) and Kent Eken (2A) whose districts intersect in the area.

"In 2008 Detroit Lakes City Ward 3 Precinct 2 was created to allow for annexed property in Detroit Township to maintain existing county and state representation," Tangen said. "The timing of the discovery is unfortunate, but correction is necessary."

The problem came to light when an employee at the Secretary of State's Office contacted Tangen's office to ask why a sitting commissioner was filing for re-election in the wrong district.

Much of the correspondence about he 2008 annexation and district lines occurred between the city and the state, but Tangen's office was kept in the loop, although the focus at that time was on legislative districts, not county board lines, he said.

Tangen said the dividing line for commissioner districts in the area is Long Lake Road (which extends from Willow Street at Highway 59).

Detroit Township parcels annexed on the east side of Long Lake are part of Detroit Lakes City Ward 3, but will remain in County Commissioner District 4 until redistricting occurs in 2012, based on data acquired in the 2010 U.S. Census, which is still in the process of being completed.

Then the lines will likely change again.

The 2008 change didn't just affect county board districts.

Several longtime Detroit Township officials had to give up their township board seats after the annexation put their homes inside city limits, Tangen said.

At the state level, all area senators and representatives (and their opponents) had filed as of Friday morning, except Eken, who planned to file later on Friday, according to a spokesman at his St. Paul office.