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Published May 28 2013

Forum editorial: Moorhead considers changes

Sometimes it takes a while, but eventually complaints about city services reach fever pitch, and elected city officials get the message. That appears to be what’s happened in Moorhead, where at least two members of the City Council are taking the lead to revamp the way city services are delivered.

Councilmen Mark Altenburg and Mike Hulett want to change the city’s organizational structure in order to do away with what they describe as “red tape.” Residents are fed up with it, Altenburg said. Hulett added “inefficiencies” need to be fixed sooner rather than later.

Altenburg proposed updating city ordinances in March, but the matter was tabled. Last week he said, “In the 21st century, this (current city services delivery) is a bad, bad structure, and the people of Moorhead don’t like it.” Hulett presented a restructuring plan to the council last week that calls for major changes in city departments, particularly those that deal directly with the public.

That’s where the rubber hits the road. Residents who call with concerns routinely complain to council members about poor treatment from city staff: endless phone transfers, hang-ups, and even being cursed at, Altenburg said. He described the situation as an incredibly outdated system – an impossible labyrinth for individuals and businesses.

The council is beginning to focus on what seems to be the nub of the problem: attitude and behavior of city staff. Altenburg said, “By the time we (council members) get the phone calls, (residents) are spitting mad. You don’t get that unless something is broken down prior to that.” As if to underscore the personnel problem, a handful of city employees declined to participate in a recent customer service training session.

The examples of the failure of the current structure are endless – from the snow emergency parking debacle of last winter to the condition of city streets to the run- down and abandoned buildings on major thoroughfares.

The ordinance and other proposals advanced by Altenburg and Hulett are a long time coming, but at least they are on the table. They first have to overcome the bureaucracy’s tendency to maintain the status quo. That’s no small matter. But council members, not the hired hands, are elected to establish policies that guarantee polite, timely and substantive responses to taxpayer complaints. If council members won’t do that, Moorhead voters should replace them.


Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.