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Longtime employee Berg hired as ND Historical Society director

BISMARCK -- Claudia Berg, a 33-year employee of the State Historical Society and coordinator of the nearly completed $51.7 million expansion of the North Dakota Heritage Center, was picked Wednesday to lead the agency after current Director Merl ...

BISMARCK - Claudia Berg, a 33-year employee of the State Historical Society and coordinator of the nearly completed $51.7 million expansion of the North Dakota Heritage Center, was picked Wednesday to lead the agency after current Director Merl Paaverud retires Nov. 14.
The State Historical Board voted 10-0 to offer Berg the job after interviewing her and Museum Division Director Chris Johnson, the other finalist for the position.
Berg accepted the job at an annual salary of $105,000.
“I’m very excited at the opportunity. I really feel it’s a continuation of my current job,” she said.
A Minot native, Berg joined the State Historical Society as a graphic designer in 1981 after earning her master’s degree in fine arts from the University of North Dakota.
She has served as curator of exhibits, museum and education division director and museum director and expansion coordinator. She began her current role as expansion and new initiatives coordinator in 2009.
Board member Diane Larson, who chaired the search committee that screened 42 applicants for the job, said that while the board chose Berg, it has “strong confidence” in Johnson. Paaverud called both employees “top shelf” and said he’s glad they’ll both still be part of the organization.
Berg told the board she will work well together with Johnson. She said her experience gives her a good feeling for the how the agency operates, and she wants to build on Paaverud’s work with the state’s historic sites, interpretive centers and Heritage Center expansion.
“It’s going to be a very seamless transition, and I think for the agency right now that’s very important,” she said.
Before the interviews Wednesday, two board members voiced discontent that the search committee hadn’t forwarded three finalists as directed by the board at its Aug. 1 meeting.
The five-member search committee appointed by board President Calvin Grinnell had initially decided to consider only internal candidates but later opened it up to outsiders at the direction of the full Historical Board.
Larson, a state representative from Bismarck, explained Wednesday that the committee members on Sept. 2 narrowed the group of five finalists down to three by each submitting their top three picks. Art Todd made a motion to forward those three finalists to the board, but the motion was amended after Chet Nelson suggested removing the only non-internal finalist, Wyoming State Museum Manager Helen B. Louise, because it appeared she wouldn’t be hired based on her qualifications. The committee voted to forward only the two internal candidates.
Board member and state Treasurer Kelly Schmidt said Wednesday she took issue with the process, and she asked Larson if committee members had discussed consulting with the board about changing its directive to forward three finalists. Larson said they hadn’t.
Board member Mark Zimmerman, director of the state Parks and Recreation Department, also questioned the committee’s decision, saying he would have appreciated an email or quick conference call asking about the board’s wishes.
“I guess what’s the purpose of the board’s direction to bring three names forward, and then we have only two names brought forward?” he said.
Larson noted the committee did choose the top three candidates but removed Louise so as not to inconvenience her.
“We were trying to be gracious to her,” Larson said.
Todd acknowledged that the committee “did take some license at the tail end of the process” to narrow the finalists down to two, but he said the cost of bringing Louise to Bismarck for an interview also was a consideration.
Grinnell missed Wednesday’s meeting for ongoing health issues. Board member Grant Levi, director of the Department of Transportation, also was absent.

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

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