West Fargo city government 'in chaos' after string of high-level resignations, citizen group says
“There is no accountability,” said Steve Marquart, a member of West Fargoans for Transparency, Accountability, and Professionalism in City Government.
WEST FARGO — A newly formed, citizen-led group is calling on West Fargo Mayor Bernie Dardis to address their concerns over the way city government has been functioning.
Several West Fargo residents formed a group called West Fargoans for Transparency, Accountability, and Professionalism in City Government, or TAP, when they grew concerned about the state of the city following the departure of six department heads in the last two months and the firing of three city employees from the finance office .
On Thursday, April 27, The Forum met with four of the group’s members, all West Fargo residents, to learn their goals and concerns.
The exodus at the center of TAP's concerns began with the resignation of City Administrator Tina Fisk in mid-March, follow by the resignations of Information Technology Director Dustin Roberts, Finance Director Judy Afdahl, Human Resources Director Jenna Wilm, Communications Director Melissa Richard and Library Director Betty Adams.
Afdahl alerted the city about her plans to depart prior to Fisk's resignation but had not set a date.
Additionally, the city fired three members of its finance department in late January and early February, requiring the city to contract with an outside firm to provide the city with financial services to the tune of $144,000 for three months.
“The wave of exits has raised eyebrows about staff turnover, evaluations, complaints, and salaries, while turmoil in the Finance Department has left many in the public wondering if there has been any wrongdoing,” TAP said in the group's inaugural press release on Monday, April 24.
Dardis told The Forum he is looking forward to hearing what TAP has to say.
“Anytime that you have citizen engagement, that's a positive thing,” he said. “If they have constructive things or suggestions, we’d welcome that.”
TAP is asking Dardis to “take the lead and recommend to the Commission steps to clean up a string of personnel terminations and resignations and unanswered questions about the integrity of how the City’s finances are handled,” according to the release.
These are legitimate concerns, Dardis said. The city is working to fill those open positions and to support staff, he told The Forum via email.
He explained the reason for the finance department firings in a phone interview.
“I was made aware that there were some irregularities (by the finance department),” Dardis said. “There were things that were being missed and that weren't being done.”
There are no allegations that any city employee was financially benefiting from these actions, he said, clarifying that the fired staff were responsible for an error that led to some residents in West Fargo being charged less than they should have been for their utilities. The staff also failed to follow city policy when it came to the city’s payables and receivables accounts, he said.
The city is working with an outside firm to correct that error, Dardis said.
After observing what they believe is turmoil within the city, TAP formed naturally, the group said, bonding through word of mouth over their shared concerns.
TAP member Dave Withee started noticing dysfunction in the city government as soon as he moved from Wisconsin in 2022, he said. Withee also serves on The Forum’s Readers Board, a collection of metro citizens who give input to Forum leadership on local coverage .
“This has got to be the most screwed up city I've ever lived in,” Withee said.
When he saw Tina Fisk, then West Fargo’s city administrator, walk out of a City Commission meeting in October after a tense budget revision without reprisal, he started to talk with other citizens who shared his concerns about city leadership.
The City Commission elected not to take action against Fisk because commissioners disagreed about whether or not the action was out of line.
TAP member Steve Marquart said trust, accountability and professionalism have been lacking in West Fargo’s city government for more than a few months. He has been going to City Commission meetings for the last 10 years, he said.
His attempts to get the answers regarding the recent staff departures and city finances from city leadership have been unsuccessful, he said.
“I could just as well go over to that wall and knock my head against it; I'll get a headache, and nothing happens,” Marquart said.
TAP is only getting started, group members said. They plan to start holding regular meetings and encourage anyone looking to get involved to visit their Facebook page.
Roughly two dozen people are actively involved, according to Elton Tufte, and they have 80 followers on Facebook as of Friday.
“Our city right now, as we see it, is in chaos,” Marquart said. “There is no accountability”
TAP hopes to learn more about how the city approves spending and determine whether work within the city is still getting done despite the high number of departures, they said.
“It just seems like there are an awful lot of holes (within the city),” Tony Stukel said.
West Fargo citizens should be concerned, because these are their tax dollars at work, the group said. Additionally, they believe the quality of city services has to be suffering because of the high-level departures.
“You don’t know what you don’t know until you know,” Tufte said, “Right now, we're concerned about what we don’t know.”
Dardis said he is willing to sit down and meet with TAP and any other concerned citizens to discuss their concerns.
The mayor plans to call on his fellow commissioners to implement a public input opportunity as part of their regular meetings during their Monday, May 1, meeting at 5:30 p.m. at West Fargo City Hall.
Unlike in Fargo and Moorhead, West Fargo citizens do not have the opportunity to address the City Commission during a public input session as a routine part of meetings.
Dardis plans to leave the details of public input opportunities up to the commission. Should they elect not to enact public input options, however, Dardis said he plans to host a mayoral public forum to hear the concerns of West Fargo residents.
TAP is trying to give citizens an opportunity to voice their concerns absent that public comment period, Withee said.
“We know there are other people besides us that are concerned,” Marquart said. “The city commission needs to be aware that there are people out there watching.”