North Dakota commerce chief becomes 2nd Burgum cabinet member to resign in a week

In her resignation letter, Michelle Kommer wrote glowingly of the staff at her department and Gov. Doug Burgum.

North Dakota Department of Commerce Commissioner Michelle Kommer speaks on Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019, during the The Chamber's Eggs and Issues event at the Courtyard by Marriott in Moorhead. David Samson / The Forum

BISMARCK — North Dakota Commerce Commissioner Michelle Kommer has resigned her position, becoming the second member of Gov. Doug Burgum's cabinet to do so in the last week.

Kommer will return to the private sector at the beginning of October after nearly two years with the Department of Commerce, according to a press release. Burgum originally appointed Kommer as state labor commissioner in 2016, and she later took on the top responsibilities with Job Service North Dakota before joining the commerce department.

In her resignation letter, Kommer wrote glowingly of her department and the governor, saying the state is fortunate to have Burgum at the helm. Burgum said he was thankful for Kommer's service and lauded her department's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kommer is the second member of Burgum's cabinet to resign this month after State Health Officer Andrew Stahl abruptly resigned last week. Burgum said he and Stahl had disagreed on parts of the state's COVID-19 response, but the governor said this wasn't the reason for Stahl's departure. Kommer said the timing of her resignation is "completely coincidental" with Stahl's departure.

Burgum spokesman Mike Nowatzki said Kommer has fulfilled her original commitment to serve four years in the governor's cabinet, and Kommer confirmed to Forum News Service that she had not been asked to resign.


Kommer said she will take over a company near Fargo where her husband and children live, but she declined to name the firm, citing arrangements that still had to be made. Kommer said her four years in state government were the most challenging and rewarding of her 25-year career, adding that the highlight of her time was working with the "passionate" and "effective" commerce team.

Kommer's department was the subject of a critical report from State Auditor Josh Gallion last year that asserted the department charged more than $850,000 to the wrong two-year budget cycle and improperly classified workers on the state's "Be Legendary" re-branding effort as independent contractors instead of temporary employees.

Burleigh County State's Attorney Julie Lawyer announced in April that Kommer and other department officials will not face any criminal charges stemming from the audit. Kommer, who said she felt vindicated after the announcement, is seeking lawyer fees from the state for a private attorney she retained after the audit came out.

Deputy Commerce Commissioner Shawn Kessel will take over for Kommer in the interim and a search will begin to find a long-term replacement, according to the press release.

Kessel is a former president of the Western Dakota Energy Association and the North Dakota League of Cities, two powerful Bismarck interest groups. Kessel also served as interim commerce commissioner prior to Kommer’s appointment.

Jeremy Turley is a Bismarck-based reporter for Forum News Service, which provides news coverage to publications owned by Forum Communications Company.
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