BISMARCK, North Dakota — The Williston Herald, Williston, Aug. 23, 2014
Williston, a regional leader
It is time for Williston to be ahead of the curve.
In the past week, two developers and two architects placed designs for convention centers at the feet of Williston City Commissioners. Both represent an economic opportunity, with entertainment value for the citizens of the city.
While it may be hard to imagine a reflective glass structure towering over the skyline of Williston, or a new concrete building contrasted with the old landscape of the Upper Missouri Valley Fairgrounds, Williston has a prime opportunity in its hands with both structures.
We feel it's time for the city to spend some money — albeit $70 million total — and support both convention centers, which we feel would serve two unique purposes.
The proposal in Sand Creek Town Centre would represent a centerpiece project at the development, located next to Menards, Sakura and other retail and dining options. Its hotel would add needed rooms when larger conventions ascend on Williston, and the Prime Group has a knack for building high-quality hotels that would be a perfect fit for conventions.
Bismarck has added 1,000 hotel rooms since 2012, pushing it close to the 4,000 needed rooms for the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference, and people still had to drive from Dickinson or Minot. The addition of the hotel, plus a convention center sized to rival the Bismarck Civic Center, would allow Williston to challenge for the Bakken's largest oil show, and for the first time host it in the epicenter of the oil production.
Along with that, industries' national conventions have already expressed interest in moving the show to Sand Creek's proposed center. It would also open up Williston to host touring conventions, generally hosted far from western North Dakota, that would strike a variety of interests from the general public.
On the other side of the town, the Populous project would be a boon for the fairgrounds. It would serve as a perfect structure for concerts that the Agri Sports Complex and Raymond Center simply cannot properly hold.
It would provide an indoor arena for the rodeos and give Williston something to attract the Professional Bull Riders rodeo to make a stop in western North Dakota, along with its stop in Bismarck. It would also be able to hold numerous conventions of its own, but not necessarily be able to support larger ones with the lack of hotel space on the grounds.
Location is also key. Just as Sakura is, and Menards will be, the Sand Creek center will be visible from almost every angle of approach into Williston — especially from Watford City and Sidney, where the bulk of non-local retail shoppers drive into Williston. It would be noticeable and make a statement about the progression of Williston as a regional leader to residents, travelers and visiting businesses.
The fairgrounds, on the other hand, are largely out of the way of the center of town. There's no direct route to downtown as Sand Creek will have with the expanded 11th Street. For the businesses and industries that would be attracted to the site, there's no way to find it by driving down the main streets in Williston.
It would be a mistake for the city to rely on the current status quo, and not push for more business.
Both convention centers serve a needed and different purpose to Williston. Bringing in both would come at a cost, but if the Legislature comes through as Sen. Heidi Heitkamp hinted at, the state will have its needs covered.
It is time for Williston to get ahead of the game, and truly establish itself as the leading city in the Bakken, before satellite sites in Watford City and Dickinson are able to poach projects and needed business and money flow.
The choice is in the hands of the city, with numerous financial avenues to travel down. It is time to bring more exciting projects to Williston, more attractive projects to make people want to stay in the city, and make more retail want to come to the city.
It'll come at a cost, but the city needs to make an investment in its future as a regional hub before it drags its feet and gets left behind.
The Bismarck Tribune, Bismarck, Aug. 24, 2014
Education board should prove its value
Somehow the Board of Higher Education doesn't get it. With a November vote looming that could abolish the board and replace it with a three-member panel, board members continue to work against themselves.
At a time when they should be a model of how government operates given the level of scrutiny they're under, more mistakes are made.
After being chastised by the attorney general for violating the state's open meetings law, they take the advice of a consultant and ask everyone to leave a meeting so they can have a "frank" discussion. They promised to tape the meeting and release it.
It makes no sense. If they were going to tape it, closing that portion of the meeting wasn't necessary.
Understandably, actions like that undermine public trust.
The board should have ignored the consultant's advice.
Whether asking everyone to leave the meeting violated the law hasn't been determined. However, the board should be aware that it is being closely watched and avoid even the appearance of a violation.
Board of Higher Education President Kirsten Diederich said there was nothing secretive about the portion of the meeting.
She said a frank discussion among board members was needed after the consultant suggested the board needs to assert its authority while working to restore trust and work in collaboration with the college presidents.
North Dakota University System Chief of Staff Murray Sagsveen said there have been mistakes in recent years, but improvements have been made, including the board going through training on open meetings law.
The board also has been questioned recently about actions related to the University of North Dakota and North Dakota State University. Some feel the two universities get special treatment.
Originally, Interim Chancellor Larry Skogen recommended 4 percent and 3.57 percent raises for North Dakota State University President Dean Bresciani over two years.
The increase was higher than those recommended for other presidents, but Skogen said it was needed to put Bresciani on par with similar university presidents.
A board committee balked, reducing it to a recommended 3 percent raise over one year. A wise decision.
The issue with the two largest universities isn't new. It has been discussed for years, but never resolved.
The board members should know they are being closely watched. They can't shy away from tough decisions, but those decisions must be made in a transparent manner.
Measure 3, which would abolish the board, isn't the perfect answer. But, if the board continues to be in the spotlight for the wrong reasons, more voters may be attracted to supporting the measure.
The board has a little more than two months to prove that the current system is worth saving, and to convince voters to do just that.
Minot Daily News, Minot, Aug. 28, 2014
A reason to fear us again
After American journalist James Foley was murdered by Islamic State terrorists several days ago, there was concern about another U.S. reporter taken hostage about two years ago. His name is Peter Theo Curtis.
But on Sunday, Curtis was released by his captors, who turned out not to be Islamic State terrorists. Instead, they are a Syrian rebel group linked to al-Qaida.
Curtis' release was wonderful news — and it carried an important message to Americans.
The message is this: Some Islamic militants in the Middle East are still afraid of the United States. Those who released Curtis clearly were motivated by fear U.S. intelligence agencies would identify them as the journalists' captors, then U.S. military action would follow.
During the past several years, some Islamic militants have demonstrated a distinct lack of concern about angering U.S. officials by attacking Americans. Islamic State terrorist leaders fall into that category.
Unless President Barack Obama's administration takes swift, decisive action against the Islamic State group, its leaders and officials will have no reason to fear us. Neither will other militant Islamists.
If that happens, Americans and our interests will be attacked again, with increasing severity. Obama should give the terrorists reason to fear us.