Burgum's schedule shows 41 visits to Fargo, 6 to Grand Forks
What's an "official visit"? Though Grand Forks leaders and Gov. Doug Burgum haven't always seen eye-to-eye on the definition in recent weeks, Burgum's office has provided the Herald with a list of trips that clears up where he stands--and where h...
What's an "official visit"?
Though Grand Forks leaders and Gov. Doug Burgum haven't always seen eye-to-eye on the definition in recent weeks, Burgum's office has provided the Herald with a list of trips that clears up where he stands-and where he's been.
Requested by the Herald after the governor was critical of the newspaper during the annual Chamber of Commerce banquet Jan. 18, the roster includes a list of Fargo and Grand Forks appearances Burgum and Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford made since taking office. It indicates the governor made 60 appearances in Fargo during 41 trips, and 10 appearances in six trips to Grand Forks between December 2016 and Jan. 18 of this year. Those appearances were made in his capacity as governor and in the course of what the governor's office argues are "official visits" to both areas.
The Herald requested the data after the governor publicly chafed at the suggestion that his visit to Grand Forks last month was his "first official visit" to the city. The Herald reported it that way on the morning of Jan. 18 -the day of Burgum's speech at the Alerus Center- after multiple city leaders had described it in those terms. Mayor Mike Brown has since publicly agreed with them.
"He's visited UND, he visited Red Pepper, he visited the community," Brown said the day after Burgum's Chamber of Commerce speech. "I think this is first time I remember when we (city leaders) sat down together and had the discussion."
During the governor's speech, he ridiculed the Herald's use of the term, mentioning previous trips to the area, such as a meeting with the state Petroleum Council and a visit with Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt.
"The Petroleum Council-I sent a stunt double to speak for myself there," Burgum said to growing laughter and applause, photos of his trips appearing behind him. "So anyway, we've really enjoyed our first official visit. And this doesn't account for the six trips that Brent's made, it doesn't account football games, hockey games, Class B girls' basketball tournament, the gun show I came to."
The governor's frustration with the Herald's description has opened a conversation on what it means to make an "official visit," the parameters for which are in the eye of the beholder. A spokesman for Burgum said that it's "a visit in his capacity as governor," though he declined to speak to how Mayor Brown defines the term-as a visit made specifically to meet with city leaders.
The data released by the governor's office indicates that, by his count, his first official visit to the city came May 6, with two appearances: a "Grand Forks military family visit" and an interview with the Herald's editorial board. His next visit was on Aug. 9, when he visited an area farm and met with the EPA administrator at UND. Subsequent visits included a "UND President's Brunch," and the Petroleum Council meeting, among others.
The 10 appearances occurred on six separate days, meaning the governor, by his definition, has now made six official visits to the city. His appearances in Fargo occurred on 41 separate days, though many of those dates were consecutive or near-consecutive, making it harder to define how many "official visits" had been made.
Burgum spokesman Mike Nowatzki said the governor's significantly higher number of visits to Fargo is for myriad reasons. It's the largest population center in the state, it's where flood diversion talks are taking place and it's where Burgum had a son in high school for the early months of his term. Nowatzki added that the governor has made many visits elsewhere.
Sanford, meanwhile, made 19 official appearances in Grand Forks on 10 separate days, according to the governor's office, and 23 visits to Fargo on 17 separate days.
The Herald had requested data on state expenditure for all the "official visits" Burgum and Sanford have made to both Fargo and Grand Forks. A gubernatorial spokesman said the office does not closely track data that would match such a request. Expenses would be spread across Department of Transportation plane information, in some cases, vehicle fleet billing usage reports in others, and in the case of the governor's personal vehicle, mileage isn't tracked.
Nowatzki also said that the office did not have complete information on how publicly accessible those visits have been, noting the governor has been a guest at many events his office did not coordinate.
Grand Forks leaders have disagreed in the past on what constitutes an "official visit." City Council Vice President Ken Vein has said he believes the governor has officially visited the city before January, and he's satisfied with the attention the governor has given Grand Forks.
"I guess what I've found is that, in all of my work, he, the governor, the lieutenant governor, several of his staff people have been readily accessible and available really at any time that I've needed," he said.
City Council President Dana Sande, who has criticized the governor's number of visits last year as too low, has since said he's unsure how to define "official visit"-though he and the governor's office agree that this was the first visit made to engage with city leaders.
"I think our governor recognizes that the citizens of Grand Forks want his attention and the attention of our legislators," he said, "and the governor has responded accordingly."
Governor Burgum's schedule
Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford's schedule