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South Dakota Supreme Court rules in Sturgis city manager case
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SD Supreme Court rules in Sturgis city manager case

STURGIS, S.D. – The South Dakota Supreme Court has rendered a decision in the case against the city of Sturgis for denying petitions to hold an election concerning employing a city manager.

The court’s decision is based on SDCL 9-10-1 which gives citizens the authority to petition the city to hold an election “upon the proposition of employing a city manager.”

Sturgis Mayor Mark Carstensen said the city is still digesting the particulars of the decision and researching when an election on the matter may be held.

The ruling in essence says the Supreme Court is reversing the Circuit Court’s decision meaning that the citizens were entitled to an election on whether to eliminate the city manager position.

The Sturgis City Council in February of 2023 passed a resolution authorizing the city’s Administrative Services Director to recruit the next Sturgis city manager after former city manager Daniel Ainslie announced he was leaving to take another job.

Carstensen said the city passed the resolution knowing that a referendum was a possibility and wanted to extend the opportunity of referring the resolution to a vote of the citizens of Sturgis.

This resolution was a response to citizens’ questions related to whether an election should be held.  At the time, the city believed that state law did not allow for an election on the matter, but wanted to create a referrable issue allowing citizens to decide whether to hire a new city manager.

“We had hoped that we could have had a healthy civic discussion on the merits of whether or not the city of Sturgis should have a city manager. The Supreme Court decision will now give citizens the opportunity to weigh in on the issue,” the mayor said.

Citizens circulated petitions seeking a change in city government and attempted to file them with the City Finance Office in December of 2021. When the city refused to validate the petitions, members of the group filed a lawsuit.

In October of 2022, then Fourth Circuit Judge Kevin Krull granted a motion to dismiss a second lawsuit brought on March 15, 2022, by Tammy and Justin Bohn and Brenda Vasknetz against the city of Sturgis and Daniel Ainslie.

The Bohns and Vasknetz claimed that the city’s 2007 election to create a system of government employing a city manager was invalid.

The Supreme Court’s majority decision does not fully address whether there is a city manager form of government but found the intent of the petition is what matters, and the petition is still valid even though it references a different statute.

Additionally, based on this same reasoning, the court deemed the second opinion challenging the original election employing a city manager as moot (issue no longer exists).

The Court deemed the Bohns’ petition valid, and both the Sturgis City Finance Officer and City Council had duties to validate the petition and hold an election.  The Court remanded the case back to the circuit court to enter a writ of mandamus directing the city council to schedule and hold an election.

If you’d like to read the Supreme  Court’s decision, you can find it here: https://ujs.sd.gov/uploads/sc/opinions/300089694ecf.pdf

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