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Commission questions Dickinson response time: City's administrator receives $10K raise after performance review

It might take a while for a Dickinson city staffer to return a phone call or an email, but city officials say they will get back in touch with customers even though personnel are stretched thin in this time of economic boom.

And although the city's response time was questioned, City Administrator Shawn Kessel's performance in his position received high marks from commissioners Monday, earning him a $10,000 raise.

At Monday's regular City Commission meeting at City Hall during Kessel's annual review, Commissioner Shirley Dukart questioned who was in charge if Kessel is away or otherwise disposed.

"Today it's kind of a mix of individuals because we don't have a designated No. 2," Kessel said. "I would say that the area of expertise that you have a question about would dictate who I'd recommend you go to."

Dukart said she has fielded calls from concerned citizens who are anxious about the response time from City Hall.

"As an elected official, they expect me to solve their problems," she said. "I need to know their side as well as the city's side so I need to know who to talk to."

The city is working to hire a deputy city administrator as well as a replacement for former City Engineer Shawn Soehren, who left his position in October.

"We're stretched very thin and there aren't a lot of back-ups," Commission President Dennis Johnson said.

Kessel spends a lot of time traveling to advocate for Dickinson at a state and national level, he said.

"I know each individual question or complaint rates an answer, but also at the same time we have an obligation to try to do the best job we can in funding all the city needs," he said. "I think when we talk about Mr. Kessel -- being his definition of public expanded to well beyond the city limits -- much of that effort now is spent trying to tell our story and compete for funds as effectively as we can."

Kessel needs to be away because his presence can make all the difference in a grant process, Johnson said.

"Unless we're there, at the table, frequently telling our story, we're not going to get those funds," he said. "We're talking, potentially, millions of dollars for our community."

Kessel isn't the only city staffer feeling the crunch.

The planning department hit $300 million in permit values by the end of November and could potentially hit $350 million before year's end, City Planner Ed Courton said.

The previous year, the city had a record-breaking $125 million in permit values, Johnson said.

"I get the calls too," he said. "The reason it takes time is we're dealing with a workload that is comparable or even greater than the city of Fargo and we don't have that staff to deal with it."

Kessel had what Johnson called a "strong evaluation" and the commission set his 2013 salary at $116,000, a raise of $10,000 from his 2012 salary of $106,000.

"He wouldn't get a strong evaluation if the other members of the team weren't performing well," Johnson said. "That's what we have."

Katherine Grandstrand
I graduated from Bemidji State University in 2007 with a bachelor's degree in mass communcations, from Columbia College Chicago in 2009 with a master's degree in journalism.  
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