West Fargo meeting highlights risk of remote governing

Only two West Fargo city commissioners attended the annual Board of Equalization meeting. At least three were needed to make the meeting valid.

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A water tower in West Fargo.
Forum file photo

WEST FARGO — The West Fargo City Commission failed to form a quorum at its recent Board of Equalization meeting, underscoring a pitfall of allowing commissioners to attend meetings remotely.

The five commissioners serve as the city's Board of Equalization, which holds an annual meeting to give residents a chance to raise concerns or questions about their homes' assessed values — values that affect how much they pay in property taxes.

At the April 11 meeting, only two commissioners, Roben Anderson and Brad Olson, were present, meaning there were not the three to five commissioners needed to make the meeting valid.

Commissioner Mark Simmons tried to attend via Zoom, then called by phone into the meeting, working with the city technology and communications staff to connect but was unable. Simmons could be heard in the room but he could not hear those speaking.

"It was unfortunate," Mayor Bernie Dardis said, noting that he was out of town on April 11, an absence he had planned ahead of time.


Simmons said he was in Colorado at the time of the meeting, attempting to return to West Fargo after spending time in Arizona. Simmons attended the February, March and first commission meeting in April, via Zoom.

Commissioner Mandy George alerted the city beforehand that she would not be able to attend the meeting while she was flying. George is a corporate pilot. While she often attends City Commission meetings remotely, she can not attend if a flight is scheduled during the meeting time.

"The Zooms have worked pretty good so far. The only reason I couldn't Zoom in was because my flight happened to be at the same time," George said.

Commissioner Olson said the lack of a quorum was not for a lack of trying and that the issue with Simmons' connectivity was unexpected.

In March, Olson suggested the commission consider prohibiting Zoom meetings but his suggestion was shot down by a 4-1 vote. Last week, Olson said the lack of a physical quorum at the Board of Equalization meeting did not ignite a desire to reconsider remote attendance and he said his initial call for remote attendance consideration was a different matter.

Commissioner Anderson, who attended the Board of Equalization meeting, agreed that the lack of a quorum was an anomaly.

"I would be very surprised if we failed to reach a quorum at another time," Anderson said. "If anything, I think Zoom allows to have a quorum more often. There are times I have to travel for work, and I work hard to schedule that around commission meetings. It usually isn't an issue. To have that option, is something we need to in today's day and age."

The city assessor uses a number of considerations and comparisons to determine property values, including making visits to properties throughout the year. If residents disagree with a value change, the Board of Equalization's annual meeting is one way of appealing it.


Residents are asked to file questions in writing before the Board of Equalization meeting. At the meeting, the board can direct staff to reexamine or visit properties they believe were unfairly assessed. However, to take any action and fulfill the meeting requirement, the board must have a quorum of at least three members.

About four property owners spoke at the Board of Equalization meeting. Mayor Dardis said the city received about 33 comments or concerns regarding assessments, and those have been addressed by city staff.

Those who did speak at the Board of Equalization meeting were directed to work with staff in the assessor's office, which can then reconsider the valuation based on discussions with property owners, which is common practice at equalization meetings.

At the commission's regular meeting on April 17, four of the five commissioners were present. Commissioner George was piloting a flight at the time of the meeting but the board unanimously voted to reopen the Board of Equalization meeting and approve the 2022 assessor's report.

Property owners who attended the April 11 Board of Equalization meeting were not in attendance on April 17. Assessor Nick Lee said staff are working with those property owners, and those owners were not included in the valuation report the commission approved.

Residents have another opportunity to have their valuation concerns addressed when Cass County holds its annual board of equalization meeting on Monday, June 5.

Wendy Reuer covers all things West Fargo for The Forum.
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