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Erik Burgess, Published July 04 2013

‘Lousy’ City Hall clock to be fixed

FARGO – While city leaders here are hoping to update the aging City Hall, it appears they’ve overlooked one piece of the current building that’s already ahead of its time.

In fact, it’s about five minutes fast.

The analog clock in the City Commission chambers here has been somewhat of a running joke, and pain in the backside, for commissioners.

At the most recent commission meeting, Mayor Dennis Walaker referred to it lovingly as “that lousy clock” as he has a few times in the past.

The five minute differential wouldn’t be an issue if public meetings laws in the state didn’t require city and other government boards to establish and post schedules of their meetings.

Legally required public hearings held by the commissioners, required for a slew of city business like rezoning or transferring a liquor license, are also scheduled right at 5:15 p.m.

Or 5:10 p.m., depending on which clock you use.

“I think it’s time that we replace the clock. It’s as simple as that,” Walaker told The Forum on Tuesday. “Everybody is on a schedule to get there, except for me. So, I think it needs to be taken out and replaced with a new clock.”

Walaker said he doesn’t know how long the clock has been running fast, but it seems to be getting worse. Next week, he’ll instruct building and grounds crews to replace it.

If it’s only five minutes here or there, Fargo City Attorney Erik Johnson said there likely wouldn’t be a major issue with breaking the state’s open meetings laws.

If a resident came late to a public hearing because of the broken clock, commissioners could, at the person’s request, bring up any missed agenda item, reconsider it, and vote again, if necessary, Johnson said.

But if the clock were to run off the rails even more – say, 30 minutes late – it would be a “problem” and could be a violation of state law, Johnson said.

“If a clock is getting 12 minutes fast or something, and this is the important issue – that’s the clock everyone goes off of – then somebody should call it to somebody’s attention and we’ll fix the clock,” he said, adding that he wasn’t even aware that the clock was running fast.

Meanwhile, the digital clock in the Moorhead City Council chambers is atomic, like a cellphone, and is “constantly self-correcting,” said Moorhead Mayor Mark Voxland.

“So if that one’s off, that means the satellite’s been shot out of orbit,” he said.

Voxland said he’s “really scrupulous” to make sure that the Moorhead council starts meetings and public hearings on time.

When he sits down for council meetings, he said he always double-checks the room’s computer with his computer’s time.

“I haven’t worn a wristwatch for 25 years, and so I’m always cognizant of clocks around me,” Voxland said.

The Fargo City Commission usually doesn’t start things right on the button either, whether it be meetings or public hearings, and Walaker said he doesn’t remember the clock ever causing major problems.

But still he’s fed up.

“It just reaches a time when you need to bring a ladder in and exchange the clock, and I’ll do that next week,” Walaker said.

Well, he’ll get someone else to do it.

“I’m not climbing the ladder,” he said.

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