If you follow North Dakota news, then you’ve probably noticed a couple of issues coming out of Fargo that have raised the ire of some of its residents. On Monday, The Forum reported that the City Commission was once again put in a position of having to approve additional funding for its new City Hall. On Tuesday, the High Plains Reader published an article explaining how Prairie Public’s tower may be blocked by the new Kilbourne high-rise in downtown. But when it comes to both issues, who is responsible for the problems associated with them?
In the situation regarding Fargo’s new City Hall, commissioners have now exceeded the original budget by over $7 million. According to The Forum:
“The total cost of the City Hall building is now $29.8 million— 33 percent higher than the bid in June 2016. The additional costs will be paid out of the franchise fee paid by cable companies and savings in health insurance costs the city realized when it rebid the service earlier this year.”
This week’s request by city staff for an additional $2.2 million worth of miscellaneous items (i.e. furnishings, computer equipment, etc.) wasn’t their first. Prior to this, they had gained approval for an additional $5.2 million. The requests for additional funds have left Tony Gehrig – Fargo’s most sensible City Commissioner – speculating that someone initially hid these costs to make it look like the project was less than it really was. Gehrig wants answers. And rightfully so.
Prior to becoming Governor of North Dakota, Fargo businessman Doug Burgum founded the Kilbourne Group. According to their own history, they are “committed to honoring, supporting, and growing downtown Fargo”. But that commitment has now led to conflict with Prairie Public. As reported by High Plains Reader:
“Kilbourne’s long-term dreams of a Dakota high-rise stirred resentment on Tuesday when the real estate company announced construction on Block 9 will begin next month, and could soon block Prairie Public’s broadcasting signal.”
But that’s not all:
“The truth, according to Prairie Public, is that Block 9 will block its radio and television signals that bring free educative, informative, and entertaining broadcasts to the state. Additionally, the state’s emergency alert system would be affected.” (Emphasis Added)
So, its not just Sesame Street we’re talking about here. It’s the state’s emergency alert system as well. Who do you suppose will end up paying to ensure service for both continues? Yeah, I’m guessing the taxpayer.
In situations like these, it’s only natural to do what Commissioner Gehrig is doing— seek answers and accountability. It’s easy to point fingers at Fargo’s City Commissioners. But in all fairness, we should remember that the positions they’re elected to aren’t full-time. Yet, there are positions within the city that are. And chief among them is the City Administrator. What are his responsibilities? That question is best answered by the City of Fargo’s website:
“… The City Administrator also provides administrative support to the City Commission on matters relating to economic development.
“The City Administrator is responsible directly and through subordinate supervisors for the performance of approximately 1,850 City personnel, including part-time and seasonal staff. Through the heads of departments, the City Administrator manages the City operating budget of approximately $265 million, operation of all city facilities and equipment, and a significant capital budget of varying annual amounts.”
If anyone should be able to provide some indication of who was responsible for oversights – intentional or not – in the new City Hall budget, wouldn’t it be the City Administrator? Who better than the City Administrator to find answers about who overlooked the fact that an approved high-rise would block Prairie Public’s broadcasting signals and interfere with the state’s emergency alert system?
According to Gregg Schildberger, who is Manager of Communications & Public Affairs for the City of Fargo, current City Administrator Bruce Grubb has a base salary of $186,742/year. Once all his benefits are added in, his total compensation is $222,211. That’s close to a quarter million dollars.
To put this in greater perspective, North Dakota’s highest paid elected official is Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem. He makes a salary of $143,685/year. The office of Governor comes in at $129,096. You can see the salaries of other state offices here.
If the City Administrator wasn’t responsible for knowing about these snafu’s himself, or cannot provide information as to who was, then what in the heck are the people of Fargo paying him nearly a quarter of a million dollars for? Oh, and I forgot to mention that he has an assistant who makes a salary of $162,802, with a total compensation of $198,897.
We rightfully talk about holding elected officials accountable. But what about the unelected bureaucrats? Do they just get a pass? It seems so. Intentional or not, someone screwed up on Fargo’s new City Hall budget. Someone overlooked details in the proposed downtown Kilbourne high-rise. And at whose expense? The taxpayers.
There’s many things to be learned from all of this. Most notable here is that government – at all levels – spends too much to fund things that we don’t need, while overpaying unelected bureaucrats to administrate all of it.
The people of Fargo deserve answers.