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2 internal candidates for Historical Society director set to move forward for interviews

BISMARCK — A search committee reviewing applicants for the director’s job at the North Dakota Historical Society voted Tuesday to forward two internal finalists for interviews, after removing an outside finalist from the running because they didn’t think she’d get the job.

The five-member committee voted unanimously to forward North Dakota Heritage Center Expansion Coordinator Claudia Berg and Museum Division Director Chris Thompson to the full Historical Board for interviews, tentatively set to take place Sept. 17 or 18.

Current Director Merl Paaverud plans to retire in November after 13 years. The committee had initially decided to post the job internally but was later directed by the full board to expand the search amid objections by board member and state Treasurer Kelly Schmidt, who called for more openness.

Committee members began Tuesday’s selection process by each writing their top three candidates on a piece of paper, and the three finalists who emerged were Berg, Thompson and Wyoming State Museum Manager Helen B. Louise. The two who didn’t make the cut were Charlene Porsild, co-director of the Santa Fe Indian Market, and Rick Collin, who worked for the Historical Society from 1995 to 2012 and more recently at Bismarck advertising firm Odney.

Committee member Art Todd made a motion to forward the three finalists to the full board. But member Chet Nelson suggested the committee cut Louise because based on the hiring criteria, she wasn’t likely to be hired and it wouldn’t be fair to have her travel to Bismarck for an interview, committee chairwoman Diane Larson said.

“She just does not have the credentials that the other two do,” Larson said, adding that while Louise is a museum director, “it’s much smaller than ours.” The Heritage Center is undergoing a $51.7 million renovation and expansion that’s on track for completion by Nov. 2, North Dakota’s 125th anniversary of statehood.

Before their unanimous vote to forward the two internal candidates, Larson said members discussed the fact the board had asked them to look beyond the Historical Society’s walls for applicants.

“And then it kind of was like, ‘Yes, but we did. We looked and we found somebody else that seemed to be pretty good, but … we really all did feel that she was not going to be good enough of a candidate with enough background and experience and credentials to actually get the job,” she said.

Larson, a state representative from Bismarck, said if the full board is upset with the committee’s decision, it can still ask Louise to come for an interview.

“We’re hoping that the board trusts our judgment on that,” she said.

The job has a salary range of $95,000 to $115,000.

Nowatzki is a reporter for Forum News Service. Contact him at 701-255-5607 or by email at

Mike Nowatzki

Mike Nowatzki reports for Forum News Service. He can be reached at (701) 255-5607.