Northwood leaders try to untangle 2013 street repair problems
NORTHWOOD, N.D. — Three Northwood city employees, including the city administrator and public works superintendent, have resigned in the past month.
City Administrator Jeremiah Black, whose last day on the job is Friday, said he is leaving mainly because of frustration with a yearlong battle over a proposed street project that has cost city taxpayers $250,000 but likely will not be built anytime soon.
Last month, the Northwood City Council accepted the resignations of Public Works Superintendent Bob Bercier and Police Officer Matthew Evenson.
“I am frustrated,” Black said. “I only wish this could have been resolved before I left.”
Mayor Art Johnson said the city is advertising to fill the positions.
Johnson, who was elected mayor in a special election last month, said Thursday he did not have enough background to comment on the street project issue. He replaced Kim Miller, who recently moved out of state.
“We can’t dwell on the past. We’ve got to look to the future,” the new mayor said.
According to Black, the street project issue dates back to February 2013, when Northwood City Council held a meeting to get public opinions on what originally was a proposed $14 million street project that had been scaled back to about $8.6 million.
He said the consensus was that the project still was too expensive.
Then, in a special meeting in April 2013, City Council agreed to advertise for bids on a smaller phased-in project that totaled about $7.5 million and to authorize the city’s engineer to begin drawing modified plans, according to a letter Black sent in September to the Grand Forks County state’s attorney’s office.
By then, Moore Engineering, based in West Fargo, had presented the city with bills for $232,000 and $107,000 for design work on the project.
The letter sought a legal opinion on whether City Council may have violated North Dakota Century Code by approving expenditures even though the city did not have money budgeted for the project, and “without a contract, without answering the people of Northwood’s question of how they intend to pay for this.”
Black said he had not received an answer, as of Thursday.
In what he called a compromise, City Council in November approved a $250,000 payment to Moore Engineering.
“The whole purpose of this is to see if there’s a chance the city can recoup some of that $250,000,” Black said. “I don’t think the taxpayers should have to pay it.”
Black said Miller, the former mayor, was aware of his letter and was working with him to get the issue resolved.
Johnson, who was the city’s streets superintendent for about 20 years, beginning in the mid-1990s, said he agreed to serve as mayor to find a way to repair Northwood’s streets.
“I hope to get something done this summer. The city has about $18,000 put away, maybe for oil on the streets. Then, we’ll go on go on to bigger, better stuff.”
Since he took office, the new mayor has questioned the need for last month’s special election, when the regular city election is scheduled in June. Johnson, who is 70, said he reluctantly agreed to have his name placed on the June ballot.
He doesn’t blame the previous superintendent for the condition of city streets.
“When they hired Bob, he told them they he didn’t have any experience in repairing streets,” he said. “You can’t expect anybody to do anything without a program, or guidance.”