Faces of the Boom: Williston’s new leader foresees ‘a better place’

Howard Klug, pictured Thursday, June 12, 2014, will take over as mayor of Williston, N.D., later this month. Klug, who has served on the Williston City Commission for six years, received 76 percent of votes in this month’s election. Amy Dalrymple/Forum News Service

WILLISTON, N.D. – The next mayor of this oil boomtown says there’s still work to do to catch up with the city’s dramatic growth.

But he sees progress happening all the time.

“We’re getting better every day. I really believe that,” said Howard Klug, who takes over as mayor at the end of the month. “Williston is going to be a better place.”

About 76 percent of voters elected Klug to succeed Ward Koeser, who is stepping down as mayor after 20 years in the post. Klug, co-owner of The El Rancho Hotel, has served as a city commissioner for six years.

Klug, 56, a lifelong Williston resident, defeated newcomers Marcus Jundt and Jim Purkey in the election.

Koeser said he was pleased to see Klug elected, along with the two incumbent city commissioners who also won contested races last week.

“It made the statement that the people believe we’re on the right path,” Koeser said.

One of Klug’s first tasks will be to work on the city’s next budget, which likely will include additional police officers to protect the rapidly growing city. Klug also believes the city’s fire department will need to evolve to a full-time department, and he wants commissioners to discuss hiring a city manager.

Another top priority will be preparing for the next legislative session to convey the message that Williston and other western North Dakota communities need more revenue from the oil and gas taxes to build infrastructure.

“When the western part of North Dakota is healthy, the whole state will benefit,” Klug said. “We need more money to do that.”

While the rapid growth has challenged the city, Klug said he thinks the Bakken boom is good for Williston.

“It’s for the better. I’m a lot better off than I was 10 years ago,” Klug said. “There’s a lot of people better off than they were 10 years ago.”

Klug said he gets excited to watch young families move into his hometown, and he’s looking forward to doing what he can as mayor to support a new school building that voters approved last week.

Despite the influx of population, Klug said his neighborhood hasn’t changed much.

But how he gets around town with the increased traffic has.

“I do a little bit more planning of where I’m going to go and how I’m going to get there. No left turns,” Klug said.

Klug does get nostalgic for the days he could drive out of town and not see so many trucks and oil wells.

“I do miss the openness of the countryside. When you got up to the top of a hill and it was more rolling prairie than it was oil wells,” Klug said. “But there’s still places that you can go out and see those kinds of things in North Dakota.”

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