Erik Burgess, Published January 14 2014
Seven years past term limit, Moorhead utility board head may be replaced
Ken Norman has served on the Moorhead Public Service Commission for 26 years, far beyond the city’s term limits for a post on the board that governs the publicly owned utility
Councilwoman Nancy Otto, who initially hoped to appoint a replacement Monday, said she’s heard from residents that Norman has been making phone calls to residents to help protect his job.
“It is the most egregious thing I have ever heard of – a board member taking that much action to try to keep their long-expired term and their place on a commission,” Otto said. “I have never, ever in my 14 years of City Council heard of somebody making such efforts to keep himself in place, as if he’s irreplaceable.”
Norman, who is an attorney in Moorhead, denied the accusations, and said once he found out Otto was attempting to appoint someone else, he made some phone calls to thank those he has worked with over the years.
“Did I lobby, did I ask anybody to lobby for me? Absolutely not,” Norman said. “And as a matter of fact, those who know me know that that’s not something I would do. That’s not the way I serve.”
‘Never a good time’
Public service commissioners are appointed by City Council members, and Norman’s lengthy term on the board has been an occasional point of conflict for the city leaders.
Norman is the only public service commissioner from the 1st Ward, which covers the north side of town, and 1st Ward council members – Otto and newly elected Mari Dailey – hold the appointment powers there.
The City Council in 1996 passed a resolution limiting utility commissioners to four three-year terms.
But through what Otto called a “glitch” in the city charter, Norman has remained a commissioner since 1988. His last appointed term ended in January 2007, when the City Council voted down Norman’s reappointment by a split vote of 5-4.
What Otto calls a glitch is the portion of Moorhead’s city charter stating that, “Commissioners serve until their successors are appointed and qualify.”
Several council members in 2007 said they were concerned Norman had served for too long. Otto at the time defended Norman as an experienced leader, and she didn’t appoint a replacement despite the council voting him down. So without a replacement, Norman has remained in the post nearly seven years after the term limits should have kicked in.
Norman has been persuasive, constantly convincing Otto that it wasn’t the “right time” to replace him, she said Tuesday. She said now, with a year to go before Oakport Township is annexed into Moorhead, is the right time for a new commissioner to step in.
“I mean, we’ve been through this whole song and dance with him (Norman) before,” she said. “It’s never a good time, it seems like, for him. But I think this a good time.”
Otto said she’d like to appoint Bruce Senger, whom she got to know during the flood fights, when Senger stepped up to rally troops in the 1st Ward.
Otto had hoped to make the appointment final at the council’s last December meeting, but that meeting was canceled, so the issue was pushed to Monday.
But Otto pulled the item off the agenda just hours before the meeting because she heard that Dailey was uncomfortable appointing someone new. While the two council members don’t have to agree on the appointment, it’s tradition to do so, Otto said.
Dailey did not return a call for comment Tuesday.
If Dailey doesn’t want to replace Norman, Otto said she would not push the issue. She said she didn’t have “a clue” when the council might discuss it again.
Mayor Del Rae Williams said she has talked to Norman, and he told her he might like to leave the position in “a year or so, so that it’s not a perpetual thing.”
“He and I agree that nobody’s indispensable,” said Williams, who like Dailey was newly elected and sworn in to her post at the council meeting Monday.
When the Moorhead City Council agenda became public last Thursday, Norman said it was the first he had heard of a possible new appointment.
He said he did make some phone calls after hearing that he might be replaced. He called an MPS staffer and Councilman Mike Hulett, who serves as a liaison to the MPS commission, to thank them for their time together. Hulett said Tuesday he didn’t wish to comment on whether he spoke to Norman last week.
“I’m not going to publicly get into any private conversations that I have on the phone with anybody,” Hulett said.
Norman told The Forum in 2007 that he doesn’t campaign for the job as MPS president, which is an argument he maintained in an interview Tuesday.
“I fully understand that I serve at the pleasure of the two north side council representatives. That’s the nature of appointments,” Norman said.
Norman said he had been recently asked by some council members to stay on the commission until the city is finished annexing Oakport into the city’s north side, which starts next year. He said he was “certainly” willing to do so.
Williams said she would like to see Norman stay through the Oakport transition, so for at least through this year.
“If I was going to be a tie-breaker, I would probably vote to keep him on through that,” she said.
Otto is hopeful it’ll be sooner than that.
“I would like to thank him for his service. He’s served us well, but it is time to have a new face,” she said.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518