As you’re probably aware, there is a recall effort in full swing to oust current Bismarck Mayor, Mike Seminary. As time has gone on, Seminary has become less popular. His comments to a group of Dakota Access Pipeline protestors last year about "standing in solidarity" with them was particularly egregious. But that wasn’t the only reason for his growing unpopularity. Seminary’s own "Livability Summit" last Thursday at Bismarck State College revealed plenty about why the Mayor may be done for.
As part of the summit, Mayor Seminary shared the results of a "livability survey" that was done in the city. Let’s discuss some key points, one by one, that came out of the survey and the summit:
1.Respondents Called for Affordable Housing – while residents of Bismarck would like to see more affordable housing, the Mayor and City Commission has been giving tax breaks to "renaissance" projects, while slapping residents with special assessments that price them out of their homes.
A key example of this, covered by the Bismarck Tribune, was the case of Kim and Diane Martin. The Martin’s had lived in their home for 14 years, only to discover – in legal notices in the paper – that their home was slapped with nearly $57,000 in special assessments as the result of a large development being built next to them.
While the unsympathetic Mayor and City Commission refused to reduce the assessment on the Martin’s home, Chad Wachter – who is president of the development company responsible for the project next to the Martin’s – stepped forward and agreed to pick up the tab for the assessments.
Though the Martin’s situation was thankfully resolved, it still doesn’t exonerate Mayor Seminary from his support of the policies that led to the problem in the first place.
2.Respondents Appreciate Good Schools – one of the top responses to the survey was the appreciation for good schools. Yet, according to Dustin Gawrylow of the North Dakota Watchdog Network, the Mayor has supported the diversion of $15 million from schools to downtown projects. I don’t imagine this is the kind of support for education that Bismarck residents are looking for.
3.Respondents Asked for More "Public Green Space" – 67% of those surveyed said they would like to see more "green space", but the North Dakota Watchdog Network says the Mayor has supported the diversion of $2.9 million from the Park Board to downtown projects. Are you seeing a pattern here yet?
4.Bismarck Residents Need to Accept "Infill Development" – Bismarck-Mandan Board of Realtors Executive Director Nancy Deichert attended the livability summit and says that while there’s not currently a desire for smaller infill development, that Bismarck Residents are just going to have to let the idea "grow on [them]".
What is the message then? It is clear… while the Mayor and other city officials are socking schools and parks with funding cuts and hiking taxes on homeowners, they want the good people of Bismarck to see how great it is to live in high rise apartments. Yeah, these renaissance zones sure are a blessing, aren’t they?
5.Outlying Communities are Seeing Growth – is it any surprise that one of the things that Deichert pointed out was the growth in "bedroom communities"? She identified that the nearby city of Lincoln – and other communities – are seeing double-digit increases in sales. Can anyone blame people for the attraction neighboring communities may offer with more affordable housing and lower cost of living?
6.Burleigh County is Heavy on Entry Level and Service Jobs – another trend identified at the summit was the fact that Burleigh County – where Bismarck is located – has the highest year over year increase in number of jobs. Yet, a lot of those jobs are entry level and service related. But that’s what happens when a community like Bismarck has elected officials that prioritize bars and restaurants, through a renaissance program. And, of course, you get the high taxes to boot along with it.
Considering all of these points, is it any wonder why there is a movement afoot to replace the Mayor? "Better Leadership for a Better Bismarck" is the organization that is leading the recall effort. Perhaps the mission statement on their web site sums all of this up the best:
"Since taking office, Mayor Seminary has lead Bismarck down a regressive path. He’s showed a great deal of ineptitude in dealing with Bismarck finances, a lack of communication and total disregard with citizens’ wishes and a disconnect with citizens’ values, priorities and visions of Bismarck as the state capitol and thriving city in the heart of North Dakota. It’s time to return Bismarck back to a path by which it can remain prosperous and thriving."
The Declaration of Independence acknowledges that there comes a point when "it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another". For those associated with and supporting "Better Leadership for a Better Bismarck" the time for dissolving the political bands with Mike Seminary is now. And given all the evidence, I can’t say that I blame them.