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McFeely: No, mayor, Trump rally really cost Fargo $31,147.58

President Donald Trump waves at the end of a campaign rally June 27 at Scheels Arena in Fargo. Forum file photo

The trouble with being a Sean Hannity wannabe in Fargo is that you're in Fargo, a small town, and the issues aren't exactly as explosive as the rest of the world offers. Instead of going to the mat to defend a president who sides with Russia, you're left to invent controversies over which you can bark "fake news" in hopes of moving to a larger market.

Such is the case with our local Fox News fanboy, the empty-headed marionette Chris Berg of Valley News Live. Chris' bosses really don't like Forum Communications Co., which owns The Forum and WDAY-TV among many other entities, and so they try to find ways to fire shots. It's no big deal, all part of the game. As the No. 1 source of news and the most powerful media company in the region, we've come to expect it. Everybody takes shots at the big dog.

The difference the other night on Berg's evening show was that he had an unexpected partner in crime — Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney, a Democrat who for some reason seems really concerned about the optics of $30,000 in taxpayer money being spent, but not so concerned about a $2.2 million bill being unexpectedly foisted on the citizens.

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The Forum reported last week that President Donald Trump's visit to Fargo in late June cost the Fargo Police Department $31,147.58, which included $30,020.24 in regular time and $1,127.34 in overtime pay. The newspaper reported the total cost of the visit to area law-enforcement agencies was $104,528.22. Reporter Helmut Schmidt's article included a detailed breakdown of the costs to each agency, which were — and this is important — provided by the agencies themselves.

The article generated conversation in the community about whether the costs were appropriate and whether taxpayers should be on the hook for a campaign rally. The topic also came up near the end of the Fargo City Commission meeting Monday, July 16.

This is where things started to go sideways.

    Mahoney brought up The Forum's $104,000 figure and called it misleading — which is actually the mayor being misleading because the reported cost to Fargo was only $31,147.58. He said the "real" cost to Fargo was only about $10,000 factoring in police overtime, public works and other city entities that were involved in Trump's visit. The higher number, Mahoney said, doesn't count because much of it was regular-time money the city would've spent anyway.

    WDAY-TV covered the meeting and accurately reported what Mahoney said, leading to conservative commentators ripping The Forum for using inflated numbers. Or, as unoriginal small-market Sean Hannity wannabes say, "fake news."

    Just one problem: There's nothing fake about what The Forum reported. As referenced earlier, the figures came from the Fargo Police Department and other law enforcement agencies. If the mayor and Berg are calling B.S. on the numbers, they are calling the police liars.

    It's all in writing. An email sent from Fargo Police Deputy Chief Joe Anderson to The Forum states, "The total costs of manpower for the event....$31,147.58 ...."

    It later says overtime costs were "$1,127.34 for FPD officers."

    Anderson later reiterates, "Regular time was calculated into the costs...$30,020.24 for Regular time."

    To repeat: The Fargo Police Department calculated its total cost for the Trump visit to be $31,147.58, which included regular time.

    All of which was reported accurately by Schmidt and The Forum. If the mayor doesn't like the numbers, he should bring it up with Anderson and the cops from other agencies who provided them. No other agencies or mayors, by the way, are complaining about the newspaper's reporting.

    Mahoney is miffed by the characterization from The Forum that he initially sought the numbers, saying the newspaper called him first. Fargo Police Chief David Todd has run to conservative radio hosts in town griping about this, too. It's true Schmidt called Mahoney seeking the costs. Mahoney said he was going to find out, which Schmidt reported. It's not clear exactly what the controversy is there.

    Why Mahoney's undies are in a bunch over The Forum reporting about a $30,000 cost to taxpayers is strange. He sure didn't seem to care about $2.2 million in surprise costs to the new City Hall that came up Monday. He shrugged off the hike, which included such "surprises" as doorknobs and office furniture, by saying, "It is what it is."

    In the mayor's world, $30,000 is meltdown time and $2 million is no big deal.

    And to think he and his conservative media buddies are accusing the newspaper of getting things wrong. That would be fake news, mayor.

    Mike McFeely
    Mike McFeely is a WDAY (970 AM) radio host and a columnist for The Forum. You can respond to Mike's columns by listening to AM-970 from 8:30-11 a.m. weekdays.
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