Williston Government: Meaty Issues Require Big Commitment

WILLISTON, N.D. – My first lesson on reporting in the Oil Patch: Be sure to eat before going to a city or county meeting.

Meetings in the rapidly growing communities can last late into the evening, and often those leaders are back in the same room for committee meetings the following morning.

When I heard Williston, the fastest-growing micropolitan area in the nation, was asking for volunteers to fill an upcoming vacancy on the city commission, I was skeptical.

The outgoing commissioner, Brent Bogar, who is moving to Bismarck, said Williston City Commission meetings lasted 45 minutes when he became a commissioner in 2007.

But after oil activity picked up, discussions about new housing developments, expanding the city’s airport and water treatment plant and other issues related to rapid growth made the meetings last for hours. And hours.

Bogar said his longest meeting went until 1 a.m. After that, the commission moved its meeting time earlier to 6 p.m.

Commissioners discussed going to three meetings a month, but have kept it to two.

But they often refer complex issues, such as new requirements for temporary crew camps, to committees, adding more meetings to their schedules. And many also attend planning and zoning commission and county meetings.

At one joint city and county meeting, the debate about a truck bypass route was expected to be so lengthy that the chairman ordered a meat and cheese tray to pass around so they could get through it.

Despite the huge time-commitment, nine Williston residents who were nominated to fill Bogar’s term on the commission interviewed for the job.

Mayor Ward Koeser said the candidates were qualified and each would have brought something different to the table.

“It was a very healthy sign for the community to have that many good candidates,” Koeser said.

Commissioner Howard Klug, who participated in the interviews, said the majority of the candidates said they’d be interested in running for election in June if they weren’t selected.

“We should have an interesting election in eight months,” Klug said.

Koeser also will be stepping down in June and Williston will elect its first new mayor in 20 years.

Bogar, credited with leading the city’s involvement with the Western Area Water Supply Project and planning for an airport expansion or relocation, said he’s not leaving because of  the city’s challenges. He’s starting a new business to provide information technology consultation for banks, and the business needs to be centrally located in Bismarck.

City commissioners unanimously appointed Chris Brostuen to fill the remainder of Bogar’s term.

Brosteun, assistant general manager for Mountrail-Williams Electric Cooperative, said he’s looking forward to helping the city move forward.

“I look at it as an honor,” he said.

Brostuen was given a gift: a thick binder with documents related to the city’s next budget, which proposes to add another 38 city employees.

Perhaps the city should throw in a meat and cheese tray.