City Commissioner Says Attorney General Should Investigate "Unethical And Possibly Criminal" Behavior In Diversion Buyouts

Last week I published a guest post from anti-Fargo Flood Diversion activist Trana Rogne who questioned the difference in buyouts between two properties. Noting that one well-connected property owner got a buyout worth 488 percent of the property’s tax assessed value, while a less-connected property owner got a 165 percent buyout, Rogne asked readers to “draw your own conclusions.”

Last the Fargo City Commission approved paying their share of that 488 percent buyout on a 5-2 votes. One of the dissenting votes, Commissioner Dave Piepkorn, blasted the decision and called for an outside investigation in an interview with me on WDAY’s Hot Seat program this morning (audio above).

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#000000″ txt_color=”#ffffff”]”I believe at least there’s the appearance of some unethical and possibly criminal behavior. What I hope happens is that either the Attorney General or some outside group starts looking into this.”[/mks_pullquote]

“Our city attorney was not at our city commission meeting last night which was very interesting,” Piepkorn said, referring to Fargo City Attorney Erik Johnson who, in addition to working for the city, has also worked for the Flood Diversion Authority and the owner of the bought out property Kevin Bertram. “I believe at least there’s the appearance of some unethical and possibly criminal behavior. What I hope happens is that either the Attorney General or some outside group starts looking into this. What I’ve seen so far is that the Diversion Authority they’re not accountable to anybody. That concerns me when they’re spending City of Fargo tax money.”

The owner of the property that got the 165 percent buyout, Brenda Kaspari, called into the program as well and voiced her own concerns.

“We are the other house that is compared to the Bartram property,” she said. “The assessed values were a little bit low. I think we got a fair buyout. But what I want to point out is just the discrepancy of the buyouts should outrage people.”

I asked Kaspari why she thought there was such a difference in the buyouts.

“To be very honest one word I would say is connections,” she said. “I think if one looks at the information in the article as well as the tax records and so forth that’s about the only conclusion that I can draw. I think the properties were probably very, very similar.”

“It’s disconcerting certainly as an individual who was bought out. To the people of Fargo it should be disconcerting,” she added. “The whole diversion is sort of shrouded in a lack of transparency and this certainly speaks to that. I think people should be extremely cautious about what they hear and what they believe.”

Previously I reported that the buyouts in Oxbow have averaged overage 200 percent of the 2014 tax assessed value, while buyouts in Fargo have averaged about 128 percent of the assessed value.

In addition, the Oxbow buyouts have been coming with an average relocation compensation of about $157,000 per property compared to an average of just over $37,000 for Fargo properties.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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