Dwindling population leaves Ardoch, N.D., without a leader
ARDOCH, N.D. — Like just about everything else here, Election Day passed by quietly.
So quietly, in fact, that nobody bothered to vote — even though the mayor’s position and a City Council seat were on the ballot.
That presents something of a conundrum for county and state officials: Is an incorporated city really a city if nobody is elected to run it, to handle tax money and take care of plowing snow, grading the gravel streets and mowing city-owned property?
According to Lee Ann Oliver, elections specialist with the North Dakota Secretary of State’s office, if no one is elected in a regular election, the state’s vacancy statutes require the positions be filled by special election or by appointment.
“If no one appoints or no one accepts, that’s something our office cannot answer,” she said.
Unofficially, one resident has been accepting the responsibility.
Krzysztof Bielawski might be considered the city’s hospice caregiver. He’s been the city’s mayor — officially and unofficially — for the past 18 years.
The Polish immigrant, who arrived in the United States in 1984, has lived in Ardoch since 1986. He first was elected mayor in 1996 and survived a recall election the following year.
Back then, some residents talked with the Walsh County state’s attorney’s office about the possibility of Ardoch going through the unincorporation process. But it never happened.
Bielawski’s been re-elected every four years since, although he officially declined to accept the job in 2010, when he received 4 write-in votes.
“I got stuck again,” he said of the write-in victory in 2010. “It seems like nobody wants to take it over.”
That year, two other residents — Scott Lamont and Lori Hanson — were elected to City Council. However, both since have moved away.
The community, located about 25 miles north of Grand Forks, was founded in 1881. It incorporated as a city in 1967. In 1910, its population was 271, according to the U.S. Census. But it’s been slowly declining ever since.
The 2010 Census showed the population at 67, although locals figure the number of year-round residents is closer to 30 than 60. Many of the houses and mobile homes are occupied by families who started migrating here a few decades ago for summer farm work, returning south in the winter. But some have become full-time residents.
Bielawski had more discussions with county officials about dissolving the city after the 2010 election. But they ended with no decision.
With no one else interested in serving as mayor or on City Council, Bielawski just accepts that if the job’s going to get done, he’ll have to do it himself.
“I don’t know. We might have to let it go back to the county. I don’t want to do it, but it seems like nobody else wants to take it over, so that might be the answer.”