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Sturgis city officials laud judge’s decision in city manager case

STURGIS, S.D. – A Fourth Circuit Court Judge has dismissed a lawsuit that had threatened to do away with the current system of government in Sturgis which allows for the employment of a city manager.

Judge Kevin Krull granted the motion Thursday, Oct. 6, to dismiss a lawsuit brought on March 15, 2022, by Tammy and Justin Bohn and Brenda Vasknetz against the city of Sturgis and Sturgis City Manager 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.

“They were attempting to undo the will of the people,” Sturgis Mayor Mark Carstensen said. “We’re pleased with the judge’s ruling. This frivolous lawsuit has cost the taxpayers of Sturgis a great deal of time and money.”

Carstensen said he believes the city has come a long way since it hired a city manager, and it wouldn’t be on such solid footing moving forward if the position did not exist.

The city has employed a city manager since 2007 when they hired David Boone. In October 2011, Daniel Ainslie was hired for the position and still serves as the Sturgis City Manager today.

Sturgis City Attorney Mark Marshall asserted in the lawsuit that whether or not to remove a city manager is a political question that only the Sturgis City Council can decide by a majority vote of its members.

Krull agreed saying: “While it is apparent the Plaintiffs disagree with the policies and actions of Mr. Ainslie, the Sturgis City Manager, in their Complaint the Plaintiffs do not point to any specific injury or threatened injury to a right or interest. The Plaintiffs’ disagreement is solely based on Mr. Ainslie’s implementation of the City Council’s vision of the City. Whether Mr. Ainslie is adequately pursuing the City Council’s vision is a political question which is better resolved through the Sturgis City Council rather than the courts.”

Krull also ruled that one must meet specific requirements to have standing to challenge the existence of either a municipal corporation or the existence of a public office. The court has no subject-matter jurisdiction without standing to bring a quo warranto action (in this case), Krull said.

“… the only means to challenge the existence of the Sturgis City Manager is through the state’s attorney acting on behalf of the state. If State does not bring the challenge, then the Plaintiffs do not have standing, and the Court cannot exercise subject-matter jurisdiction. Additionally, allowing the Plaintiffs to challenge the City Manager position more than a decade after it has been established would completely undermine all public interaction with that office.”

A group calling themselves Sturgis Citizens for Change circulated petitions in December of 2021 to change the city form of government from the current aldermanic with a city manager form of government, to an aldermanic form of government without a city manager.

When the city refused to validate the petitions, members of the group filed a lawsuit. In February, Krull ruled that the petition to change the form of government was invalid because it asked for something for which the law does not provide.

South Dakota law expressly states that each municipality shall be governed by a board of trustees, a mayor and common council, or by a board of commissioners. It goes on to say in that section of the law that a city manager may serve with any of the forms of government.

The first lawsuit has been appealed to the South Dakota Supreme Court and the city expects this latest ruling by Judge Krull to also be appealed.

“We want to see this issue resolved so that we can focus on business that is pertinent and beneficial to our residents,” Carstensen said.

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