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West Fargo commissioner may seek reprimand of city administrator

Commissioner Mark Simmons mulls action after City Administrator Tina Fisk abruptly left the commission chambers on Oct. 3 following the commission's approval of its 2023 budget. The approval shaved five items proposed by Fisk totaling around $209,500 off the budget.

West Fargo city hall
West Fargo City Hall and police station
Matt Von Pinnon/Forum
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WEST FARGO — A West Fargo city commissioner is concerned the city administrator's actions at a recent City Commission meeting may merit reprimand.

Commissioner Mark Simmons said Thursday, Oct. 13, that he is still considering actions after City Administrator Tina Fisk abruptly left the commission chambers on Oct. 3 following the commission's approval of its 2023 budget.

The approval shaved five items proposed by Fisk totaling around $209,500 off the budget.

"There is no push to terminate the city administrator," Simmons said. "No plans at all. Perhaps some discipline, but not termination."

Mayor Bernie Dardis said Friday, Oct. 14, that it is a personnel matter and additional information cannot be released at this time. However, like Simmons, Dardis said there is no intention of relieving Fisk of her duties as the city's top staff member.

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"It is a personnel issue and it will be addressed," Dardis said.

At the last City Commission meeting, Fisk said staff felt "blindsided" by the budget cuts.

Simmons said he and other commissioners had made their disapproval of items such as an additional communications staff member and leadership training well known.

Fisk, however, continued to include the items in the budget presentations.

"I was not told to do that (make those cuts), and there have been months of time for people to talk about it, so I just think the staff was blindsided," Fisk said during the Oct. 3 budget discussion. "If you had asked as the (whole) commission to do it, I would do it."

Simmons countered and said the line items were brought up multiple times and that nothing was ever done.

"I think we as commissioners have to say this is it, we're not just going to go with the flow," Simmons said. "We are allowed to make changes. ... We are supposed to — we're the elected officials here."

Simmons' amended budget passed with a 3-1 vote after Fisk's proposed budget failed on a 2-2 tie vote.

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Dardis and Commissioner Roben Anderson voted for the amended budget and Commissioner Brad Olson voted against it. Commissioner Mandy George was not present.

Fisk left the commission chambers immediately following the vote, and was not present for the agenda's "administrator's report," which she usually provides.

Voicemails left for Fisk by The Forum have not been returned.

While Simmons feels commissioners may need to address the matter in the near future, it is unlikely to be at the city's next meeting on Monday, Oct. 17.

Simmons said Fisk has been out on a planned vacation but hopes to speak to her when she is available.

"I've said it over and over again to not take it personally," Simmons said of budget cuts. "As elected officials, we have to do our job and make those decisions."

The City Commission directly hires the city administrator, who then oversees all city departments. Department heads, including the police chief and fire chiefs, directly report to Fisk.

Dardis, whose portfolio covers the city administration, said he will be meeting with Fisk on Monday to discuss the previous meeting. The mayor said he routinely addresses concerns or issues brought forth by other commissioners during a weekly recap.

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Simmons, the longest-serving commissioner currently on the board, has worked with Fisk since she became the city's finance director in 2012. She was named city administrator in 2015 following the retirement of longtime city administrator Jim Brownlee.

"Tina has been a great asset to the city over the years, I don't doubt that. I don't question that," Simmons said.

Fisk's budget proposal lowered the overall mill levy by less than half a mill, or .48. The additional cuts called for by Simmons reduced the city's 2023 budget about $209,500, for a total of roughly 1.4 mills. The city's mill valuation will increase in 2023. One mill will equal $232,014.

The budget will still allow for additional staff in various departments, including a property appraiser in assessing, two more staff members for the street department, five patrol officers, one administrative assistant and a body camera records specialist for the police department.

The city will ask voters on Nov. 8 to pass a half cent sales tax to pay for more police officers and firefighters.

READ MORE FROM WEST FARGO EDITOR WENDY REUER
Early estimates presented to the Building Exploratory Committee vary based on whether the city wants to build to 10-year or 30-year population estimates.

Readers can reach West Fargo editor Wendy Reuer at wreuer@forumcomm.com or 701-241-5530 . Follow her on Twitter @ForumWendy .

As the West Fargo editor, Wendy Reuer covers all things West Fargo for The Forum and oversees the production of the weekly Pioneer.
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