Two new candidates are running unopposed for the Minot City Council in the June 10 city election.
In Ward 2, Ben Berg is seeking the seat being vacated by George Withus. Berg teaches business and marketing education at Minot High School and owns and has been improving mixed-use retail and residential property in downtown Minot.
In Ward 6, Dave Pankow is running for the seat being vacated by Blake Krabseth. He works for IRET and has been serving as chairman of the Minot Planning Commission.
The candidates provided the following comments on Minot city government.
Are you satisfied with the operations of the city? If there should be changes, what would you suggest?
Berg: I believe there are some needed changes with the overall operations of the city. I have talked to numerous people throughout the community and one topic that continually comes up is a lack of communication between the council and the residents. Several people told me that they never know who to talk to about various issues and when they made phone calls to various city departments, they never received answers, or they left messages and never received a return call. So, I think communication and the resources available to residents could be improved.
Pankow: No. However, the city operations have been stressed in responding to two major events (the flood and the economic boom). Any city would have some difficulties in managing the sheer volume of work and in addition the city's operations have been encumbered with limited resources.
As we hire a new city manager, I would like to see that person hit the ground running to deal with the immediate tasks but keeping in mind a more global look at the operations. Within the first six to eight weeks, I would like to see a report from the city manager identifying the city operation's weaknesses and strengths, followed up with a plan laying out a strategy to create efficiencies that will prepare the operations to meet the demands of the future.
Has enough been done to assist with the flood recovery? Are there additional steps the city could be taking to clean up abandoned properties or address other areas of flood recovery?
Pankow: Again, the system has been stressed. With the depth of bureaucracy and limited federal funds, the whole process is frustrating. Although several things have been accomplished, we need to sit down and look at where we are currently and look at where we want to be in the next five years. We need to lay out an achievable plan for progress for both the recovery and future flood protection.
Although the flood recovery is burdened with limited funding, I would like to get involved and provide input wherever possible to enhance progress towards flood recovery and flood protection.
Berg: There are still things that can be done to assist with flood recovery. As far as flood protection, we have a long road ahead of us. If one looks at other cities that have had large flood recovery and control projects, the design and implementation of the flood control takes time. I was very pleased to see community members taking some initiative to encourage the city to take some precautions with abandoned properties recently. It is important that citizens get involved in their city so that the city can make the best decisions for everyone. The city leaders need to push for more state and federal dollars to help advance flood recovery projects in Minot.
Is Minot doing a good job of managing its growth? What improvements might the city be able to make in this area and how could the city best go about making those improvements?
Berg: As we have seen in recent years, Minot is growing, and it is growing quickly. The biggest problem with the growth is keeping up with infrastructure requirements of the new commercial and residential developments and maintenance on existing infrastructure due to an increase in population. After having conversations with other council members and city election candidates, I think many believe Minot needs to join together with other oil-impacted cities to fight for assistance with growth.
One thing to keep in mind is that the oil industry is not the only reason people move to Minot. Some people are moving to Minot for other employment opportunities, the Minot Air Force Base and the quality of life. So, as we grow, we need to make sure that we are growing as an entire community and not growing specifically for one industry. We need to ensure that the quality of life grows with us, including schools, parks and recreational opportunities for all.
Pankow: The city is dealing with growth as it is thrown at them. The amount of building inspections, the amount of permits, the amount of plan reviews, the lack of city infrastructure from water, storm and sanitary sewer, the need for necessary street expansions are just some examples of issues created by rapid growth. I think the city is doing what it can with the resources it has, but the city staff are so overloaded that time does not allow them to strategize and identify avenues of efficiencies to manage the work flow appropriately.
I refer back to my comments on improving city operations. However, to expand on my answer, not just from an internal operations side, the city needs to look at alternatives regarding how we pay for infrastructure that could provide the benefit of speed at which some of this work could be completed.
What are the main issues in your ward that you would seek to address?
Pankow: I am seeking the position of Sixth Ward alderman, which is the southwest section of the city. As identified in the citywide traffic analysis, traffic will be an ever increasing issue on 16th Street in my ward. Other issues to address in Ward 6 are the water issues created by the Puppy Dog Coulee, the continued growth and development of the southwest area and the preliminary plans for the southwest bypass.
Berg: After visiting with many people in my ward, it became very apparent that the people are concerned with downtown Minot's businesses and residents "surviving" the period of construction and improvements. Most seem to agree that the infrastructure improvements are needed, but it is going to take exceptional communication between not only the contractors, businesses and residents of downtown, but with all people in the community. During the infrastructure improvements, businesses and apartments are not going to be shut down; yes, there may be minor interruptions, but the community needs to know that downtown Minot is open.
Other issues that were brought to my attention were traffic safety at various intersections and overall street improvements. I had several conversations about various areas that had been flooded and since left sitting. Cleanup of these areas, whether abandoned houses or green spaces, needs to be addressed to help Minot move past the flood and continue on a progressive path.
The need for a new search for city manager and the firing of the new city attorney have some residents concerned about the city's hiring processes. What are your thoughts on the situation?
Berg: I do think there needs to be some changes made with the city's hiring process. When talking with people of the community, it seems that many agree, Minot has hired employees from within our own community, time and time again. Because of the growth that is occurring in Minot and the surrounding region, I think we need to look for people outside of our community who have familiarity and understanding of working with cities that have experienced growth. It is my belief that if we always do what we've learned within, we will only do what we've always done. Minot is in an excellent position for progressive change to help improve the quality of life, attract businesses and people to relocate here and maintain the "magic" that Minot is known for. New ideas from other professionals' experience can assist Minot in this growth. It is my understanding that the city will be using a professional hiring firm in the search for a new city manager.
Pankow: I cannot speak to the issue of the city attorney as I don't know all of the facts of that situation. I am currently involved in the search for a new city manager and I supported the use of a third party to enhance the search area and identify candidates. It is truly necessary to find the right person to lead the city staff in the next phase of growth.
What are your priorities for the city's future in terms of things you would like to see happen?
Pankow: Obviously, there is a lot going on within the city. I would prioritize a list of five major items: flood recovery, flood prevention, city operations, infrastructure funding and overall strategy to maintain and enhance a level of aesthetics and amenities that Minot enjoyed before the flood and the boom.
Berg: One of my top priorities for the city is to ensure that the community continues to grow, but grow as a community. Each area of the city needs to be connected; there needs to be some continuity between areas. One of my biggest concerns with connectivity is ensuring downtown Minot is connected with the city.
Another top priority is helping revitalize our downtown neighborhood. There is rich history downtown, and we need to preserve that but also revitalize what we have by making all spaces usable. Several property owners in downtown Minot have been disappointed and discouraged in the current city codes, prohibiting them from redefining and transforming unused spaces into usable spaces. I would like to look to what other cities do and have done to update their building codes to allow property owners to feasibly revitalize their downtown properties.
I would like to see the city work with developers to encourage more park and recreation space as well as add to our current parks and trail system. With the growth, we also need to be conscious of where current emergency services are located and where they need to be to best serve the city. I think all of these things would help enhance the quality of life in Minot.
What knowledge and background would you bring to the position that would be beneficial?
Berg: I believe Minot needs young energy and proactive and progressive ideas brought forth. As a lifelong Minot resident, I, as well as many of our younger citizens, believe that Minot has been "stuck in a rut." I embrace change, and Minot is changing. After visiting with several people in my ward, one of the things I heard over and over was that we need different ideas to help lead Minot into the growing future.
I am passionate about the organizations and groups that I am involved in, and I believe that when a person becomes passionate about something, he or she can and will do the very best job for an organization and its members in this case, the city and its residents. I currently serve on the board for the Downtown Business & Professional Association and I would like to see our downtown become more of a destination for people.
Change can only happen if the city departments, community members and city leaders work together to develop a passion for improving our city. I am an educator and I go to work every day to encourage young minds to think outside the box to develop solutions to problems and to also encourage them to invest some of their time and energy into their community to make it a better place. I am a strong advocate for Minot. I want to see more of our young people get involved and help move Minot in a progressive direction.
Pankow: I have served on the planning commission for the last five years, the last two-plus years as chairman.
My daily job is working in the insurance and construction industry for a large real estate company. My job allows me to work with many municipalities throughout several states. This experience has been very beneficial when serving on the planning commission and I believe it will also be beneficial regarding any service I provide as alderman for the Sixth Ward.