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City’s ‘point guard’ Brownlee gets Employee of Year award

West Fargo City Administrator Jim Brownlee has been named North Dakota League of Cities Outstanding City Employee of the Year. He was named to the administrator post when it was created in 2005.Photo by Carrie Snyder

West Fargo City Administrator Jim Brownlee has been named North Dakota League of Cities Outstanding City Employee of the Year.

Brownlee, who has worked for the city of West Fargo for 11 years, was nominated by city staff.

He became city auditor in 2003 and was named West Fargo’s first city administrator when that post was created in 2005.

West Fargo’s population totaled 16,991 when Brownlee was hired in 2003. The estimated population today is 29,878.

“The city had made the decision to go south of the Interstate (94) just a year before I came,” Brownlee said.

The city budget totaled $16.4 million in 2003 compared to $57 million today.

Today the city employs 126 people.

Brownlee, who has worked under Mayor Rich Mattern during his entire tenure, oversees the city’s eight departments.

He has become Mattern’s go-to guy, the mayor said.

“Instead of going to department heads, I will go to him,” Mattern said. “He has to be the point guard. He has been great at doing that.”

Mattern had lobbied for creating the position of city administrator once West Fargo’s population reached 20,000.

“I thought it was just time to do that,” Mattern said. “The City Council agreed.”

Brownlee grew up in Wahpeton and worked as a meat cutter for Spies Super Valu for 10 years.

“That wasn’t really the career I wanted. I liked accounting,” he said.

Brownlee enrolled at Minnesota State University Moorhead, graduating in 1985 with an accounting degree.

“I commuted every day, came up to school and worked nights down at Wahpeton,” he said.

Upon graduating college, Brownlee worked for the North Dakota Auditor’s Office for 17 years, becoming director of its municipal audit division.

“Since 1985, I’ve been auditing West Fargo,” he said. “This was the very first audit I did out of college.”

Brownlee was director of Grand Forks County’s Office of Finance and Tax for two years prior to coming to West Fargo.

“Back in 1985, this was definitely a blue-collar community with very little retail,” he said.

Three significant things happened, he said.

E Menards moved its big- box retail store from Fargo to West Fargo.

E Canadian land developer Bruce Clapham created Charleswood Inc., a 160-acre housing subdivision that changed West Fargo’s housing stock from blue collar to high-end homes, Brownlee said.

E In 2002, the city approved Eagle Run, the first West Fargo housing/retail development south of Interstate 94.

“That was two miles from the city limits,” said Brownlee. “We annexed 2,000 acres from the Interstate to 40th Avenue South, which was a huge undertaking for the city at that time.”

Brownlee is “well deserving” of being named the North Dakota League of Cities employee of the year, Mattern said.

“I was surprised I was nominated and very honored to get it,” Brownlee said. “The credit for this award is shared with the outstanding staff of the city of West Fargo and a great city commission, with which I have the pleasure of working with daily.”