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Agotness rises to top in search for Ramsey County state's attorney, commissioners say

JANELLE READ BUT HAVE ONE LITTLE QUESTION DEVILS LAKE--Ramsey County's clerk of court will take over as the state's attorney next year. The County Commission unanimously voted to hire Kari Agotness to replace Lonnie Olson, who has been the Ramsey...

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DEVILS LAKE-Ramsey County's clerk of court will take over as the state's attorney next year.

The County Commission unanimously voted to hire Kari Agotness to replace Lonnie Olson, who has been the Ramsey County state's attorney for 26 years. He was elected as a Northeast District judge and will leave his current office Dec. 30. The commission also approved her annual salary at $85,632.

"I think she brings lots of different experience to the table," Commission Chairman Mark Olson said during a meeting Tuesday. "I know she doesn't quite fit the mold, but I think she shines in other areas that we don't see behind the scene, so to speak."

The appointment came less than a week after the commission interviewed Agotness, Pembina County State's Attorney Ryan Bialas and Devils Lake-based attorney Ulysses Jones. Commissioners met Dec. 14 for almost 3½ hours as they asked the candidates questions.


Commissioner Adam Leiphon said all candidates were qualified for the job, adding he thought the final choice came down to who commissioners feel comfortable with taking over the post. Ultimately, commissioners felt Agotness rose to the top.

Commissioner Lucas Wakefield said Agotness answered questions clearly, adding he appreciated how she laid out plans to do more with the resources she has.

"I thought she was very forward-thinking and very administrative in the ideas that she laid out," he said. "I really felt comfortable with the idea of her taking the position of state's attorney as well."

Lonnie Olson noted with Marsy's Law going into effect, Agotness, who has been a clerk of court for Ramsey County since 2008, has administrative experience that will help the county with the transition.

She also has served in various positions, such as a clerk for a judge in Grand Forks and as a police officer in Park River, N.D. She also was a special assistant attorney general at the child support office in Jamestown.

Agotness said she knows aspects of the system a typical prosecutor may not, such as knowing how cases flow through the system. She said she can bring a holistic perspective to the position, adding she was honored to be chosen by the commissioners and hopes to build a strong relationship with them.

Visitors and delegation

In other news, the commission unanimously approved a policy presented by Leiphon on visitors and delegation. The public input portion of the meeting was put back on the county's regular agenda after it was removed in June.


Visitors and delegation allows residents to voice concerns or ask questions of the commission. Each resident who speaks can do so for five minutes at the discretion of the chairman.

Residents also must limit discussion to business that affects the county and can address the commission only once every six meetings on the same topic. Otherwise, they must ask to be put on the agenda.

The commissioners want to allow members of the public to speak and have a voice in government, but it must be done in a way that allows the commission to conduct county business in a proper manner, Wakefield said.

North Dakota law allows anyone to attend public meetings but does not require that government bodies allow residents to speak during meetings.

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