Despite the lack of a campaign contest, Minot's lone mayoral candidate is finding much work to do before election day on June 10.
Chuck Barney, director of the Severson Entrepreneurship Academy at Minot State University, has been attending numerous city meetings. He has visited with department heads and park and school board members about public projects. He has sought insights from more than 100 residents.
He has been educating himself on a variety of topics, particularly the state's collection and distribution of oil tax revenue and how that affects Minot. He has investigated the Community Development Block Grant process and has sought information on how Minot is using and can use that money.
Barney said he wants to make sure that he's prepared to answer whatever questions voters might have. As an unchallenged candidate looking at likely election, he also wants to make sure that he won't face a learning curve after June 10.
"I would be doing an injustice to the campaign if I didn't do that. I want to be as informed as possible. I want to understand the issues as well as I can so I can hit the ground running as fast as I can," he said. "I don't want to spend another three months learning the issues when I have had a year to do that."
Last September, Barney announced his candidacy to replace Curt Zimbelman, who is stepping down after 12 years. Barney is a long-time Minot resident who served 12 years as Fourth Ward alderman and two terms as Minot City Council president. He had declined to seek re-election to the council in 2012.
Barney has served on various boards, including president of the city's convention and visitor's bureau, treasurer of the Minot Area Chamber of Commerce and district chairman of the Northern Lights Council of the Boys Scouts of America. He owns Souris Valley Apartments.
Barney cites his government and leadership experience as assets that he can bring to the position.
"Power doesn't come from your position. It comes from your ability to communicate ideas and get people to follow you," he said. "That's how I view the mayor's position."
Barney listed his priorities for the city as public safety, adequate infrastructure and quality of life. His goal would be to achieve those priorities as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible.
Although quality of life means different things to different people, it was the topic that came up most often in his talks with residents, he said.
"Quality of life was probably number one or number two on everybody's minds," he said. "That's where we really need to work with our park board and school and county to either maintain or improve the quality of life in Minot."
On flood recovery, Barney stressed the need to take immediate action on hazardous, abandoned properties and commended a citizens group for bringing the issue to the forefront. He supports a plan of action on neglected houses that was forwarded by Public Works and Safety Committee chairman Scott Knudsvig to organize and prioritize the work.
Barney added that the city needs to aggressively go after state and federal funding for a flood protection plan.
"We still need to be planning for long-term flood protection," he said. "We just need to keep pushing for it."
Minot also needs to take a long-term perspective on managing city growth, he said.
"The challenge of the growth is we have to provide infrastructure for the growth, yet you don't get tax benefits from that growth until afterwards. So we are continually fronting money for this growth, and it's hard to stay ahead of it," he said.
Barney supports working with other oil-impacted cities in western North Dakota to advocate for help.
He similarly supports working more closely with Minot's other political subdivisions. In announcing his candidacy last fall, Barney said one of his first actions if elected would be to meet with other local taxing entities to find ways to work cooperatively to reduce the cost of government and improve life for residents.
One area where Barney said the city can improve its operation is in the budgeting. He said more communication is needed between council leadership and department heads early in the budgeting process. Priorities should be set by council members as they assess what the public wants, he said.
He also believes the city needs to look hard at its hiring process.
"Minot has a come to a point where we can't hire the way we have in the past. I think we need professional help in doing that," he said.
Barney said a professional search firm could produce more candidates and increase the likelihood of fitting a good fit.
Currently, the city is hiring a city manager through a professional agency after failing to find a new city manager using a local search committee. The city also looks to replace a city attorney who held the job only a month.
Barney said he was aware of controversy surrounding city attorney Colleen Auer prior to her firing May 2. He said he received an unsolicited copy of the Auer's April 19 employment complaint from a council member involved in the investigation. He also was copied on an email related to the investigation finding. However, he said he was not involved or asked to be involved in any discussions or decisions of the three-member council committee charged with the investigation.
In addition to mayor, Minot voters will select seven council members and a municipal judge in the June election. Early voting will run from June 2 to 5 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the Ward County Courthouse.