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Sherri Richards, Published January 23 2011

Bonanzaville loses facilities manager

Four days after the executive director of Bonanzaville was fired, the West Fargo historical village’s facilities manager resigned.

The board of directors that oversees Bonanzaville accepted Rich Asleson’s resignation at its meeting Saturday morning.

Board President Syl Melroe directed the board’s personnel committee to find a replacement for Asleson as soon as possible and to find an interim executive director no later than May 1. The pioneer village now has two of its four full-time staff members: a curator and an office manager.

Asleson said he resigned because of “board dysfunction.” He said the board has been acting illegally and unethically, including holding several meetings without public notice.

A 30-year Bonanzaville volunteer also voiced her displeasure with the board at Saturday’s meeting.

“We’ve gone through more directors than I can name. Every one has left with a bad feeling,” said Marilyn Bensen of Horace, N.D.

Since 2000, the Cass County Historical Society at Bonanzaville has had four executive directors. Steve Stark was fired in 2004. Tim Hoheisel resigned after a year on the job. Bruce Whitmarsh served from 2006 to 2009. Steve Backsen was hired in early 2010 and fired last Tuesday.

Bensen said volunteers and staff are “treated like dirt” and experience “nitpicking” and “backbiting.” She said she’s talked to other members who are frustrated with the way things are being handled and feel people are being driven away.

“We’re getting tired of it,” Bensen said. “If you can’t afford to hire people and let them run the place, you might as well put the key in the door,” she told the board.

Board President Melroe said he’s experienced the same frustrations as Bensen but thinks the organization will survive. “Bonanzaville is too big and too great a place and too important a place in this area to be held back by personnel problems,” he said.

According to meeting minutes, at a Jan. 6 budget meeting Backsen said he planned to resign in September following the completion of ongoing projects, including the construction of a more than $1 million pavilion, and at that time the board could make the position part time. Backsen also said eliminating the director’s position would be the largest cost savings for the organization, the minutes said.

On Saturday, Melroe asked the personnel committee to consider whether the new executive director should be full or part time. The board meets again at 4:30 p.m. Feb. 22 at the site.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Sherri Richards at (701) 241-5556