Home Rule could bring local control over local affairs to Ramsey County

Louise Oleson,
Lucas Wakefield (left) chairs the Ramsey County Home Rule Commission. He is joined at the table by Anthony Herman and Adam Leiphon.

Ramsey County has been taking a good and careful look at creating a Home Rule Charter.

The city of Devils Lake has one. In fact most of the cities in North Dakota have Home Rule.

Of the 52 counties in North Dakota, 13 have adopted a Home Rule Charter. These 13 are the ones with the state’s largest cities; Burleigh, Cass, and Ward counties, to name a few.

This is not the first time that Ramsey County has discussed Home Rule. In 1991 and again in 2004 the county convened Home Rule Commissions and drafted charters, however, the decision was made both times to not go forward.

What is Home Rule?

Home Rule can be broadly defined as local control over local affairs. It acts as a “constitution” for county government. The 1985 North Dakota Legislative Assembly adopted legislation allowing for counties to adopt Home Rule Charters, similar to powers previously available to cities that adopted Home Rule. The powers authorized for country control are defined in the North Dakota Century Code 11-09.1.

Some counties have charters that have a broad scope and allow for future expansion of the county’s “constitution.” Some have charters that have a very narrow scope. Each county’s Home Rule Charter is unique.

At Tuesday’s informational meeting Lucas Wakefield, Anthony Herman and Adam Leiphon discussed Home Rule with a gathering of county residents.

Wakefield explained his view that not having a Home Rule Charter was doing Ramsey County a disservice. He is convinced that it would benefit the county by giving it a few more tools to accomplish what its residents wants it to accomplish. It would give the people of the county more of a say, “local control of local affairs.”


At the August 15, 2017, Ramsey County commission meeting Home Rule was added to the agenda for discussion.

Following much discussion the commission voted unanimously to form a nine-member committee consisting of two sitting commissioners, the States Attorney, the County Auditor and five members at large to discuss the option of Home Rule Charter. Also at this meeting a budget line of $5,000 was approved to pay for expenses and/or travel for the committee. Finally, the Ramsey County Commission elected Commissioners Adam Leiphon and Lucas Wakefield to be their two representatives on the committee.

At the Oct. 3, 2017, meeting of the commission five members at large were approved for the Home Rule Committee: Anthony Herman, Jeff Wahl, Paula Vistad, Suzie Kenner and Rodney Brown.

The committee was complete.

Since its formation that committee has decided to move forward with drafting a charter. Drafting will need to be done by August, as a decision about ballot placement must be made by the county commission by September 4.

A public hearing will be held previous to final drafting and recommendation of the charter, probably in the June or July time frame, allowing for input from the citizens of Ramsey County. As Wakefield said at Tuesday’s informational meeting, “We want to write the document that the county wants.” Residents of the county will be consulted all along the way and, of course, nothing will be implemented without a vote of the people.

All Home Rule Commission meetings are open to the public and recorded for viewing on the Ramsey County website via YouTube.

“Times are changing,” Wakefield reminded Tuesday’s gathering. “What do we want that change to look like?” This allows the county to be proactive rather than reactive putting the tools in place for commissions down the road from now to have the power to do what they need for the benefit of the county's residents.