Thirty seven years ago, I left the teaching profession to enter the business world. We looked all over North Dakota, western Minnesota, and northern South Dakota. West Fargo looked like a most promising city. We moved to West Fargo and purchased a business, the Sunset Motel. The city of West Fargo was everything we expected and a lot more.
The city was well managed, the school system turned out to be one of the best in North Dakota if not the best. The financial institutions were great to work with which made it possible to expand our business.
The school had good school board members and excellent administrators. Over the years every bond issue passed. A new high school, a new ninth grade school, a new middle school and several elementary schools were built. The city did great things, built the Sheyenne Diversion, closed the strip joints and churches sprang up all over town. When President Reagan spoke about the "Shining City on the Hill," I knew he was referring to the city of West Fargo.
The last few years, two school bond issues failed. In 2009, the city had all sorts of problems replacing the bridge on 32nd Avenue, completely failed to build the bridge over the Sheyenne River on Main Avenue, ignored the call for a Senior Center, and in February 2010 over 300 citizens gathered in the auditorium of the West Fargo Middle School to tell the city commission they were totally and completing wrong about building a golf course south of town.
During the last two to three years, the lights have been dimmed on the Shining City on the Hill. I have asked several citizens of West Fargo "Why? Why?" The dim lights and what should be done to brighten them?
The responses were very surprising. Replace the school board members, starting with the president, and replace the city commission, starting with the mayor. I don't know any members of the school board. However, a few days before the last bond issue, one of the West Fargo school board members was on Radio Station 1100 where Governor Schaefer was the host. The board member was promoting a vote 'yes' on the last bond issue. What was so disgusting was the board member started every sentence with "uum, uum." Enough said.
I know Mayor Mattern. Shortly after he was elected, I asked him out for lunch, where I explained to him the activities of the Visitors Bureau. Prior to the mayor's election, the city levied a two percent sales tax on the motels to promote the hospitality industries in West Fargo. I explained to the mayor the success we were having on promoting the Fairgrounds, especially such events as horse shows, cattle shows, cat shows, dog shows, etc. Our promotions were so these activities could continue year after year. All of this was a factor on the total revenue for the motels. I was sure it also helped with the revenues for the restaurants, gas stations, and other retail shops.
Shortly after that, Mayor Mattern, with a stroke of the pen, fired everyone on the Visitors Bureau Committee and appointed all new members with himself as chairperson of the bureau. It wasn't a surprise when the mayor, shortly thereafter, used some of the two percent sales tax money to help send his daughter to Florida on a school event.
It is no wonder the lights have dimmed on the Shining City on the Hill.
I know the young man, Mike Thorstad, that is challenging Mayor Mattern for the mayor's position in the next election. Mike and I have worked side by side on some church events. He has business experience and management skills to brighten the lights on this great city. It is changes like this that will help West Fargo once again be the great "Shining City on the Hill."