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Erik Burgess, Published May 26 2013

Moorhead City Council considers services revamp

MOORHEAD – Have you ever called the city of Moorhead and been transferred endless times, hung up on, or even cursed at?

Councilman Mark Altenburg says those things are happening all too often, and he wants it to end.

Altenburg has devised a plan to change the city’s organizational structure and do away with some of red tape that he believes residents are fed up with.

The city’s current organizational structure was last revised in 2002, and it’s incredibly outdated, Altenburg said. Several departments are located outside of City Hall, which he said creates a frustrating labyrinth for residents and businesses.

Everything came to a head last winter during a snow emergency, when some residents who called the city were hung up on, yelled at and swore at, Altenburg said.

“In the 21st century, this is a bad, bad municipal structure,” Altenburg told The Forum on Friday. “And the people of Moorhead don’t like it.”

On March 25, Altenburg proposed updating the city ordinance that defines each city department, but the issue was tabled. The council discussed it again last Tuesday at a retreat.

Altenburg would start with dismantling the Community Services department, which he called a “dump bucket” of city services that “don’t speak the same language.”

Community Services is currently in charge of parks and recreation, housing and neighborhood services, planning, zoning and business and development services.

Under his plan, staff would be reassigned, not laid off, Altenburg said. Business and development services, parks and rec, and housing and neighborhood services would be moved to the direct supervision of the city manager.

Planning and zoning would go to a newly created engineering department, which would also be responsible for stormwater and wastewater treatment.

Councilman Mike Hulett agrees that “inefficiencies” in the current city structure need to be fixed, sooner rather than later. Hulett said this topic was first discussed in early 2012.

“And here we are a year later still talking about,” Hulett said. “(Let’s) deal with it, decide what we’re going to do, then move on.”

Under Hulett’s plan, which he presented to the council last Tuesday, Community Services would remain a department, but its responsibilities would be lessened.

Building codes and housing services would be moved to the supervision of the fire chief, and Parks and Rec would be made its own department.

Staffing issues might also be at play here, the two councilmen agreed. Altenburg said a handful of city employees “just decided not to participate” in recent customer service training, something he also wants to address.

Still, Altenburg said there are breakdowns at a structural level that staffing changes could not heal.

“By the time we (at the council) get the phone calls, (residents) are spitting mad,” Altenburg said. “You don’t get that unless something has broken down prior to that.”

The City Council last Tuesday gave City Manager Michael Redlinger 45 days to study other city organizational structures, but Altenburg said Redlinger was given the same opportunity a few months ago and nothing got done.

“There’s a tendency in the bureaucracy to maintain the status quo, and the status quo to me isn’t good enough,” Altenburg said.

Hulett said he’d like to get Altenburg’s proposed ordinance in front of the council again for discussion and a vote soon.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518