Who will serve? Towns around Madison County face lack of candidates for town office

Three of Madison County’s four municipalities are facing shortfalls.

But it’s not budget woes this time; it’s lack of people willing to serve as town councilors.

June 30 was the deadline to file for municipal elections and only Ennis has any contested races for their town commission.

In Sheridan, three of the four seats on the town council are up for re-election and only Nick Pairitz filed to run. Pairitz is already serving as a replacement for Todd Young, who moved last year. Long-time town councilors Erin Rossiter and Mark McLaughlin are both up for re-election. However, neither filed for their spot.

In Twin Bridges, Bill Kinoshita and Annette McLean both filed for re-election. Kinoshita filed for the remaining two years of Verta Dorseth’s seat, which he was appointed to earlier this year. Patricia Hayes, who would have been up for re-election, resigned her council seat in June. No one filed for her position.

The ballot in Virginia City will be blank, as no one filed for the two open seats. Scott Petersen and Chuck Sturgill are both up for re-election, but neither man filed.

However, Ennis voters will have a choice to make come November. Four of the five town commissioners are up for re-election – John Bancroft, Pat Clancey, Audra Bourk and Becky Vujovich. Bourk and Vujovich were both appointees. Bourk to the position held by Diane McPhetres and Vujovich to the spot held by Susie Baldwin.

All four commissioners have filed for re-election. However, Clancey has filed for Vujovich’s two-year spot and Vujovich has filed for one of the four-year terms. The lone challenger in the Ennis election will be Amanda Newell who has filed for a four-year term.

The struggle to find people to serve on town councils is common in small towns around the state, said Paul Lachapelle, community development specialist with the Montana State University Local Government Center. Though actual figures are hard to come by, Lachapelle knows some communities struggle mightily to convince citizens to file for elected office.

The reason why people are reluctant to volunteer for municipal offices is hazy too, he said. In some places it might be that local governments have work to do engaging their local constituents about their needs. In some communities, the reason might be political.

“I think it depends on the issue within the municipality they’re currently experiencing,” Lachapelle said. “Sometimes it’s politics and sometimes it’s just folks are just too busy. It really depends on what we call the personality of the place”

In many small towns, groups and local government are faced with what he calls the STP (same ten people) phenomenon. In many rural communities it seems like the same ten people do all the work.

But it’s a trend that is becoming more prominent, said Peggy Kaatz Stemler, Madison County Clerk and Recorder.

As election administrator for the last 18 years, Kaatz Stemler has seen a time when it wasn’t hard to get names on the ballot for local elections. But that’s changing fast.

“It’s becoming more of a problem,” she said. “I think the generations that are coming up, they just don’t want it. They just don’t want the responsibility.”

The situation in Sheridan is a little disconcerting, said Mayor Dean Derryberry. Sheridan has a four-member town council. The mayor only votes when there is a tie. That means a quorum is three councilors. With two empty seats, Derryberry isn’t sure what will happen if they can’t find anyone to run because a quorum becomes impossible.

“As long as we are operating with two council people, no decisions can be made no votes can be done,” he said. “Quite frankly I don’t know what happens legally if it goes on that way an extended amount of time.”

Like Kaatz Stemler, Derryberry has seen the problem of convincing people to step forward get worse. However, people seem to have no problem voicing their frustration with the town commission when things don’t go the way they want.

“It’s easier to be an armchair quarterback than actually get in the game,” Derryberry said.

People who missed the deadline, but decide they want to run for any municipal office can file as a write-in candidate until early Oct. 13 for mail ballot elections and Oct. 7 for polling place elections, Kaatz Stemler said.

Write-in candidates won’t have their names on the ballot, but votes for them will be tallied, she said.

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