Berg takes top Clay County position

Becker County Administrator Brian Berg is saying goodbye. Berg, 59, has taken a job next door: He is the new administrator of Clay County, which has a workforce of about 450, compared to 300 employees for Becker County. Clay County's budget is ab...

Brian Berg
Brian Berg at his office in the Becker County Courthouse.

Becker County Administrator Brian Berg is saying goodbye.

Berg, 59, has taken a job next door: He is the new administrator of Clay County, which has a workforce of about 450, compared to 300 employees for Becker County.

Clay County's budget is about $60 million, with a $27 million levy, both about a third bigger than Becker County's.

Berg gave his 30-day notice in late June and his last day in Becker County will be July 23.

He was selected from a field of five finalists, and Clay County commissioners praised the quality of those finalists but said Berg rose above the rest throughout the selection process, making him the clear choice.


Berg lives in Fargo with his wife, Barb.

"He came from a very good background with his management abilities, his styles and the length of time he's been involved in management," Commission Chairman Kevin Campbell told The Forum newspaper. "His experience was just quite significant."

Berg has been administrator in Becker County since 2002. Prior to that, he was a marshal with the U.S. Marshals Service from 1994-2002 and superintendent of the North Dakota Highway Patrol from 1985-93.

Berg gave credit to county department heads and commissioners for the accomplishments of the past 7½ years.

"The board played a big part, they're the final decision-makers ... and we've been blessed with awesome department heads, they've chosen to work together for the betterment of Becker County," Berg said.

"The spirit of cooperation and doing our job in the most efficient and effective way -- spending less and offering more -- that's been the true success," he added. "My strength lies in being a team leader and getting more out of people than maybe sometimes they think they're capable of doing."

Some of the board decisions made during Berg's time have been controversial, but most share the common theme of providing better government at the most efficient cost.

That started with the minimum security jail, an idea championed by then-new sheriff Tim Gordon.


"The sheriff deserves a lot of credit," Berg said. "The establishment of the minimum security jail has been a huge success -- it has saved the county hundreds of thousands of dollars."

The minimum security workhouse also took care of a waiting list of over 100 people waiting to serve their court-ordered jail time.

Prior to Berg's arrival, the county had spent 15 years and several hundred thousand dollars on plans for a new jail, and had purchased 15 acres of land north of Seaberg's Yamaha on Highway 59 to be the site of a new government center.

(The site is still owned by the county and would make an excellent location for a joint Detroit Lakes-Becker County highway/street department center, Berg said. Unfortunately, a federal stimulus grant to that effect was rejected).

The incorporation of the county nursing service into the human services building was more controversial.

When the board voted to pull out of the Multi-County Nursing Service, and the joint powers agreement with Mahnomen and Norman counties, "it was looked on as hostile at the time," Berg said. "But it has saved the county tons of money."

The county spent $220,000 a year in levy dollars on the nursing service, including $48,000 a year in rent on the building in the Detroit Lakes industrial park.

Now it spends $68,000 in levy dollars a year on the county health program.


By having county social workers and nursing staff work together, the county was able to eliminate duplicated services, and it has also been able to obtain more state funding through better reimbursement rates.

"The board was the big push on that," Berg said.

To make room for the nursing service, the county spent about $1 million on a 7,500-square-foot addition to the Human Services building and creation of a nearby parking lot.

"We had been looking at space needs a great deal," Berg said. Long-range planning led to the $10.5 million courthouse expansion and renovation project.

But first a plan to move county offices into the former Ben Franklin building was rejected: Opponents wanted retailers in the downtown area, not government offices.

The courthouse expansion, renovation and new parking lot at the site of the former Berean Baptist Church consolidated far-flung county offices and provided much-needed district court improvements.

The county now saves about $164,000 a year in rent and other costs. And a new heating/cooling system is so efficient that costs didn't increase even though the size of the building essentially doubled.

"I'd like to think that the courthouse expansion here and the remodeling of the courthouse building has been successful," Berg said. "The state is extremely happy with the (courts) facility here."


Other changes include the consolidation of the county auditor and treasurer positions into one job, as well as combining the county assessor and environmental services director positions.

Berg has high hopes for the latest county efforts as well, including joining with other counties in the Perham incinerator project, and developing a county recreational plan with a twist -- oversight by a planning and zoning-type panel.

The toughest part of the job, Berg said, has been "dealing with the varieties of personalities in government, both in and out of the structure. You have to please your bosses (the five county commissioners), but be morally and legally correct. That's what I've used to guide my decisions. Not just legally correct, it has to be the right thing to do. I preach that internally and I live by that."

What To Read Next
Get Local