FARGO — Joel Paulsen, a member of the Moorhead City Council and a former member of the Metro Flood Diversion Authority board, emerged as the top pick as the diversion project's first executive director.

Paulsen was the unanimous choice, but only after board members deadlocked 6 to 6 on the first ballot, when the motion was to approve another finalist for the job, Barret Lane, a lawyer, former Minneapolis City Council member, and emergency management administrator for Minneapolis.

The votes on Thursday, July 25, came after the three finalists for the $2.75 billion diversion project's executive director position were interviewed last week.

Diversion Authority board members were torn over Paulsen and Lane. Many members said they would be happy with either. Tony Grindberg, a Fargo city commissioner, joined with the board's five members from Moorhead and Clay County in opposing Lane on the first ballot, clearing the way for Paulsen.

The failed 6-to-6 vote for Lane was a tie because Paulsen had resigned from the 13-member diversion board when he submitted his application about eight weeks ago.

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Members who favored Lane cited his organizational and management skills, and also thought he would have negotiating skills that would be valuable.

"This is obviously a large project," said Dave Piepkorn, a Fargo city commissioner, who nominated Lane, noting that Paulsen's strengths were more technical. Paulsen is a civil engineer who has worked on water projects in the Red River Valley and elsewhere.

Chad Peterson, a Cass County commissioner, also supported Lane for his organizational skills, which Peterson said would be called upon to set up a staff that is just getting off the ground. Paulsen's engineering skills would be better suited a few years into the future, Peterson said.

"The needs of today are the needs of today," he said.

Grindberg said Paulen's extensive knowledge of the project, the area and its political landscape make him the top choice.

"We need somebody who can hit the ground running," Grindberg said.

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Johnathan Judd, Moorhead's mayor, said he obviously knows Paulsen as a fellow member of the Moorhead City Council and said he agonized over who to support, settling on Paulsen because he "knows the local dynamics of this project" and praised his interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence.

Kevin Campbell, a Clay County commissioner and the diversion board's vice chairman, supported Paulsen, saying his Minnesota connections are useful.

"We have a lot to accomplish in the state of Minnesota when it comes to funding," Campbell said. "I think Joel's the right guy."

The board will meet Aug. 8 in a special meeting and in executive session, closed to the public, to discuss contract terms to offer Paulsen.

The third finalist was Ken Decker, a native Montanan who served as a county administrator in Maryland, among other positions.

This is the third time in recent years that the Diversion Board has tried to hire its first executive director. The candidate who was the top pick in 2017 withdrew when he could not agree on salary terms with the board.