2023 Annual Conference
Speaker Biographies

Jessica Ackerman is a community advocate, passionate volunteer, and positive leader in Minot, ND. With Aksal Group, she is redeveloping blighted property in downtown Minot to increase the vibrancy and economic impact in the community. She is also reimagining an underutilized alley in the heart of downtown Minot as an inclusive public space that contributes to people's happiness, health, and connections.




Muhammad Amiri is originally from Afghanistan. After spending 12 years in Pakistan, he now proudly calls Bismarck home since 2016 and has U.S. citizenship. Currently, he is a nursing student at the University of Mary. He is driven by his passion for healthcare and a desire to make a meaningful impact in the field and community in which he lives.


Josh Askvig is the State Director for AARP ND. He had previously served as the Associate State Director for Advocacy for the organization. Josh has a broad background in advocacy and election work, having worked on Capitol Hill, as a campaign consultant, lobbyist, appointee and served two terms in elected local office as a Bismarck City Commissioner. He received his Master’s degree from the Graduate School of Political Management at The George Washington University. He is an avid endurance athlete who has completed an Ironman triathlon, multiple ½ Ironman triathlons and time qualified and completed the Boston Marathon. 




DeAnn Ament serves as the Executive Director of the ND Public Finance Authority. She was appointed to this position April 2010. Ms. Ament had served as the Business Manager of the ND Public Finance Authority since May 1998. The PFA’s mission is to develop rural and urban North Dakota by providing political subdivisions and other qualifying organizations access to flexible and competitive financing options for their local qualifying projects. She is a Certified Public Accountant and Chartered Global Management Account. She is past board member of the Council of Infrastructure Financing Authorities, a national organization of state, regional, and local entities working for needed environmental infrastructure funding from governments and capital markets, and for the effective use of these financial resources.



Paul Benning has worked for the ND Department of Transportation for 37 years and has been the director of the Local Government Division for the past 12. He is a professional engineer with decades of experience and a passion for helping communities. He holds a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from ND State University. One of Paul’s primary responsibilities is to be an advocate for the 53 counties, 13 major cities 32 transit providers and 1,300 townships.




Brian Billingsley attended Illinois State University and graduated with a B.S. in Geography with an emphasis in Urban and Regional Planning. He has 30 years of city planning and community development experience and holds a membership with the American Institute of Certified Planners. He began his career in 1993 as a Transportation Planner and then eventually as the Planning & Development Manager for Kankakee County, Illinois for a period covering over 12 years. In 2005, Brian relocated to Caldwell, Idaho to work as the City’s Planning & Zoning Director, a position that he held for 13 years. In 2019, Brian accepted the Community & Economic Development Director position for the City of Minot.




Mitch Bitz currently serves as the director of public works for the city of Mandan and has served in this position since 2018. Prior to this, he served as the battalion chief for the Mandan Fire Department. He has been employed with the city since 2001. In his current role, Bitz oversees the street department, landfill, forestry department, and the utility department. He attended Wyoming Technical College for diesel technology. In addition to working with the city of Mandan, Mitch is also a board member of the Lower Heart Water Resource District. Mitch is a lifelong “student of life”, always looking for the next problem to solve. 




Dave Brousseau has been working for the city of Hazen Public Works department since November of 2004. Starting as a sanitation truck driver initially then moving to a full-time street department position by 2006. Dave assumed the responsibility of the Public Works Director on January 1, 2018, the position he still currently holds. Dave attended school at the -ND State School of Science in Wahpeton with a degree in automotive technology.




Jodi Bruns is a Leadership and Civic Engagement Specialist for ND State University Extension. She works with rural community leaders to assist them in developing long-term plans as well as providing various research-based resources from NDSU. She also delivers professional development training and facilitation for private industry, government agencies as well as communities. Jodi earned a B.A. degree in Mass Communication from NDSU and M.Ed. in Educational Leadership from NDSU. She is a certified trainer for Real Colors®, Everything DISC®, and Crucial Conversations®, The 7 HABITS of Highly Effective People®, and has completed Successful Strengths Coaching through the Gallup organization. She is also a certified mediator.




Russ Buchholz is the Innovations Manager and oversees the innovative operations for the ND Department of Transportation since January 2019. Prior to this position, he served as the Information Technology Director from October 2007 thru December 2018, where he oversaw all IT operations. Prior to his time with the NDDOT, Russ served 26 years with the ND National Guard, retiring in 2007 at the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. In addition to his current assignment, he was chosen to be the Program Administrator for North Dakota’s National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) program and the NDDOT Integrated Pilot Program (IPP) for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS).




Gwen Crawford has served as the Valley City City Administrator since 2020. Previously, she served as the City Auditor/Economic Development Director for Lisbon. In 2019 Crawford received the Leadership Excellence Award for an Appointed Official from the ND League of Cities. She has been active with the Municipal Finance Officers Association ND as a director and most recently as 1st Vice President. She is also a member of NDPIO & GOSCMA. Another highlight for her was being a part of the Rural Leadership of ND (RLND) Class VIII where she continued on to Rural Leadership of ND Alumni Association (RLNDAA) where she just completed a term as the past president.




Maryellen Dance is the Director of Corporate Training for eni, a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC), and is trained in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy (EMDR). She has worked in a variety of settings with a diverse range of populations, including both children and adults. Maryellen has supported people with substance abuse, eating disorders, domestic violence, personality disorders, bipolar disorders, and much more. Maryellen brings over a decade of professional mental health and training experience to eni.

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Maria Effertz is the Director for the ND Commerce Division of Community Services. She has spent the last twenty-five years exploring the Main Streets and side streets of North Dakota’s rural areas. She knows the best part of rural North Dakota, beside the great food and people, is the imagination and passion rural North Dakotan’s have for their towns and state. As Director, she helps a team who manages the Main Street Initiative, EDA Placemaking Grant program and federal HUD and Department of Energy programs distributed by the state. Maria and her family also own and operate Black Butte Adventures, a rural tourism destination near Sawyer, ND. She has degrees from UND and University of Mary. 




Scott Faehnrich is the Assistant Director of Underwriting at the ND Insurance Reserve Fund (NDIRF), the source of risk services for North Dakota local government. Faehnrich joined the NDIRF in February 2017, bringing with him over seven years of insurance adjusting experience. In his first five years at the NDIRF, Faehnrich served as an Outside Adjuster, handling multi-line and property claims. In October of 2021, Faehnrich was promoted to Assistant Director of Underwriting where he assists in creating and updating the organization’s multi-line coverages, performing risk assessments to assign rates, and manages renewals for the NDIRF’s more than 2,500 members. Faehnrich has a bachelor’s degree in business management from the University of ND (Grand Forks, ND). He also holds an associate in claims (AIC) and an associate in general insurances (AINS) from The Institutes.




Justice Lisa Fair McEvers graduated from the University of ND with a BBA in Information Management in 1993. She was awarded Juris Doctor, with distinction, from the University of ND School of Law in 1997. She was a law clerk to the ND Supreme Court from 1997 to 1998 and then entered private practice until 2001. From 2001 to 2005, Fair McEvers served as the Cass County Assistant State’s Attorney. She was appointed ND Commissioner of Labor 2005 and served until 2010 when she was appointed as a District Judge. She was elected to the same position in 2012. In 2014, she was appointed to the ND Supreme Court, was elected to an unexpired two-year term in 2016 and re-elected to a ten-year term in 2018.



Shannon Fisher serves as the manager for the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund program within the ND Department of Environmental Quality. She assumed this position in March of 2018. Ms. Fisher began working for the Department (previously the ND Department of Health, Environmental Health Section) in 2014 as an environmental engineer in the Clean Water State Revolving Fund program. She has also worked as an engineer for Braun Intertec in the construction materials testing and environmental consulting fields. 



Professor David Flynn began his career at the University of ND in 2001. He received both his MA (1998) and PhD (2001) from the Indiana University (Bloomington) Department of Economics. He received his AB in Economics from Boston College in 1995. Professor Flynn has many research interests. Current papers look at the mechanisms by which demographic and economic changes impact each other. He is also part of a team looking to create accurate population projections and forecasts for the state of North Dakota in light of the significant transformations due to the rise of the oil economy in the state. Additional research interests include looking at impacts, both economic and demographic, from natural disasters as well as topics in forecasting economic performance.




Rich Garman is the Director of the Economic Development & Finance (ED&F) Division at the ND Department of Commerce. As Director, Rich manages a team that is responsible for economic diversification efforts throughout the state, building upon existing efforts and programs, managing growth strategies and unique utilization of capital. Prior to his employment with Commerce, Rich oversaw North Dakota business development projects for Great River Energy. Rich has over 31 years of experience managing projects in the energy industry. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering from SD School of Mines & Technology and degrees in Master of Business Administration and Project Management from University of Mary. Rich is a registered Project Management Professional (PMP).




Doug Goehring has been ND Agriculture Commissioner since 2009. A third-generation farmer, Commissioner Goehring and his son, Dustin, operate a 2,800-acre, no-till farm near Menoken in south central North Dakota where they grow a variety of crops. Commissioner Goehring has been active in ag organizations for many years. He is past president of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) and also past president of the Food Export Association of the Midwest. He is a former vice president of the ND Farm Bureau, a former director of the ND Soybean Council, and is a member of multiple agriculture commodity organizations. He has also served as president and chairman of the board for Nodak Mutual Insurance Co. Beyond his responsibilities to North Dakota’s agriculture industry and research, his portfolio as commissioner includes energy, water, trade, business development, tax equalization, and infrastructure.



Tony Grindberg has degrees in Business and Aviation from Minnesota State University Moorhead and ND State College of Science. He also earned an Economic Development Certificate from the University of Oklahoma and the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University. Grindberg served as Vice President for Workforce Affairs at ND State College of Science (NDSCS) in Fargo, ND from 2016 to 2020, where he was instrumental in creating the Career Workforce Academy, directing TrainND and spearheading government affairs for NDSCS. Prior to launching Grindberg + Associates in 2016 and ultimately joining NDSCS that same year, Grindberg led the aviation division for Appareo, an international technology company. From 2002 to 2012, Grindberg launched and served as executive director of the NDSU Research and Technology Park. Prior to this role, Grindberg served 10 years as senior vice president for the Fargo/Cass County EDC.


In addition to private sector experience, Grindberg also possesses 22 years of legislative experience. He was first elected to the ND State Senate in 1992 and served six terms, retiring in 2014. His public service experience also includes being elected one term (2016-2020) as a Fargo City Commissioner and is currently serving as a Cass County Commissioner.



Jena Gullo is the Executive Director of the Missouri Slope Areawide United Way, Bismarck. Prior to joining United Way, Jena worked with the homeless, mentally ill population as the director of a large mental health program. She then did mission work in developing countries for over 14 years. She has traveled to 35 countries around the globe. In 2013, Jena was instrumental in starting the United Way Backpack Program, which now feeds more than 1,654 local students over the weekends. In 2017, after Bismarck’s only emergency homeless shelter closed their doors, she met nightly with the homeless for months to address their needs and get them to safety. Under her leadership, United Way raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the initial winter homeless crisis and opened an emergency homeless shelter for men, women and children. After raising millions, United Way constructed a permanent emergency homeless shelter and Center for Opportunity, which opened in 2023. United Way shelters nearly 70 men, women, and families nightly and collaborates with various agencies to offer ChildWatch, job training, mental health services, and health and wellness classes at the Center to help people out of poverty.




Scott Harmstead is a Director with SRF Consulting Group, Inc., based out of Bismarck. He has been with SRF since 2012 and since then has been involved with planning and zoning assistance for several cities and counties across North Dakota and beyond. Scott also maintains experience in transportation planning and environmental documentation for transportation projects. Before joining SRF, Scott worked for a county planning department in central California. He holds a bachelor's degree in city and regional planning from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, and a masters degree in public administration from Arkansas State University. He most enjoys engaging with clients and the public to find common ground and a path forward. Scott is a contributing author of the ND Planning Association and Vision West ND’s planning and zoning guide.




Emily Holth is the founder and owner of Sustainable Solution Services. Her roles include mediation, facilitation, training, education, and marketing. She received her BA in Psychology from the University of ND, and she received her Mediation training from the Conflict Resolution Center at the University of ND. Before founding Sustainable Solution Services, Emily was a Conflict Management Consultant for the UND Conflict Resolution Center (CRC). During her time at the CRC, Emily developed courses including Essential Skills for Meaningful Supervision, and Dysfunction to Development: A Team Approach. She gained experience in mediating both family and organizational conflict, working with team development with several businesses, and has offered coaching and professional development to several professional clients throughout the Midwest region.




Will Hutchings is an Urban Planner with Stantec, Mandan. He graduated from Portland State University with a degree in architecture, with an emphasis in urban design, urban planning, and urban studies. He has over nine years of progressive experience in urban planning, first as a Transportation Planner with the Bismarck-Mandan Metropolitan Planning Organization and subsequently as a Planner, then Senior Planner, for the city of Bismarck and now as a planning consultant. His experience includes long-range, small area, transportation and placemaking planning and includes graphic and urban design effective community engagement. At the city of Bismarck, he was responsible for current planning activities, downtown design review, site plan review coordination, and a variety of special projects including the formation and staffing of the Historic Preservation Commission, implementation of EV charging stations, and variety of successful grant application and awarded funded projects. Will’s passion lies in helping communities recognize the many ways the built environment influences everyone’s quality of life – whether it be a strong and resilient economy, a clean environment, enrichment from new social connections and different viewpoints,  or our personal mental and physical health.




Brenna Jessen is currently the Grant Programs Specialist with the ND Industrial Commission. She graduated from Grand Canyon University with her Bachelors in Sports Management in 2016 and completed her Masters in Business Administration online from GCU in 2021. The grant programs currently available under the Commission are the Outdoor Heritage Fund, Oil and Gas Research, Natural Gas Pipeline, Lignite Research, Renewable Energy, and Clean Sustainable Energy. As the Grant Programs Specialist, she works with the applicants wanting to apply for grants under all of these programs, keeps status reports up to date with the grantees, assists with funding and reimbursements, and overall works as the liaison between the applicants and the Industrial Commission throughout the life of their contracts. 




Lezlee Johnson is the Forestry and Fire Management Team Leader with the ND Forest Service. She is a professional forester with many years of experience helping landowners and communities manage their trees and forests and helping rural fire departments with wildfire-fighting training and equipment. The ND Forest Service is the state agency that provides this assistance in North Dakota.




Alicia Jolliffe has been the social strategist at the ND Department of Commerce for the past seven years. Her responsibilities include the oversight of strategy, content creation and campaign management for three different social presences totaling 12 different accounts across the platforms. She is the winner of two Eric-Sevareid Awards during her time reporting at KXMB News and was a team recipient of the Amplifier Award for Marketing Excellence for the ND Sunflower Map. Her passions include story-telling, editing, collaborative projects and anything that allows her to be creative.




Rob Keller has served in multiple public information positions in his career, including the ND Department of Emergency Services as a public information officer during the Dakota Access Pipeline protest. Prior to this position, he had completed a 26-year Army career where he was deployed on two public affairs missions to Iraq, five PIO missions to Ghana, Africa, and worked with twelve Killed in Action soldiers and their families. He was the Deputy PIO for the ND COVID-19 response and has been a FEMA Crisis Communication trainer for over 10 years. Rob recently started a 501(c)(3) nonprofit called ND Public Information Officer Association and is providing training to agencies who may have a need for crisis communication. Rob has a Bachelor of Science degree in Television Journalism.




Kim Konikow is he Executive Director of the ND Council on the Arts and utilizes her combined employment, teaching and consulting work. She brings to the council her unique skills and abilities as a passionate facilitator of opportunity. In this position for the last five years, Konikow works to promote creative growth and strengthen communities across ND through the arts. Kim has a varied background in the arts. Prior experience includes Conference Coordinator for Dance/USA, Washington DC; Executive Director for The Mesa in southern Utah; Executive Director for Minnesota Dance Alliance; Associate Director for Art Awareness, in upstate New York; and Director of Special Events at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. As a teacher, she served as Adjunct Faculty at several colleges and universities across the country. As a consultant through artservices & company, Konikow has been engaged in projects which focus on organizational development. 




Brekka Kramer is the President & CEO of the Minot Area Chamber EDC. Kramer has over twenty years of experience leading community initiatives and moving public policy forward at the local, state and national level. Prior to this position, Brekka was the Vice President and Minot General Manager of Odney. She is a Minot State University graduate.


Donald Kress is the current planning coordinator for the Fargo Department of Planning and Development. Prior to coming to Fargo in 2016, he was principal planner for the city of Williston Planning Department (2012-2016), and a planner for the Los Angeles County Department of Regional Planning (2006—2012). He received a Bachelor of University Studies, with honor, from ND State University (1985) and Master of City and Regional Planning, with distinction, from California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo (2006). He is a member of the American Planning Association, ND Planning Association, and American Association of Geographers. 




Char Langehaug attended Minnesota State University at Moorhead majoring in Biology. She has been involved in everything from biotech prairie restoration field work to genetics. She served as an Assistant Manager at Icelandic State Park working for the ND Park and Recreation Division. From there, she transferred to Cross Ranch State Park to manage the daily operations and assist with the supervision of two additional satellite parks, Little Missouri and Sully Creek State Park. She then transferred to the Central Office to work as the Motorized Recreation Coordinator. She is currently the Grants Coordinator for the NDPRD and manages two large outdoor recreation related programs called the Land and Water Conservation Fund (in collaboration with National Park Service) and Recreational Trails Program (in collaboration with the Federal Highways Administration).




Mark Lyman has lived in Minot since late 2002 and works as the economic development specialist for the Minot Area Chamber EDC. Mark has a bachelor’s degree from Brigham Young University (Provo, Utah) in broadcast journalism and a master’s degree in management from Minot State University. He has volunteered as a board member for the Minot Downtown Business and Professional Association, the Magic City Discovery Center and the Minot Public Library Board.




Deb McDaniel has been active in the gaming industry since the 1980’s and with the ND Gaming Division since 1998, becoming the Director of the Gaming Division in November 2014. Deb has been through four legislative sessions and is in her fifth administrative rule promulgation. The Gaming Division has 12 additional employees, who along with Deb, regulate gaming activity. 




Carlee McLeod is a lawyer specializing in government relations and policy development. She is the president of the Utility Shareholders of ND (USND), which is an association comprised of shareholders of MDU, Xcel Energy and Otter Tail Corporation. Carlee started her career as a legislative intern, followed by an internship with then Governor John Hoeven. Those internships led to a government relations position with the Bismarck Mandan Chamber of Commerce, a stint in private practice, and an appointment to serve as Deputy State Treasurer. Along the way, she taught business law and business ethics at the University of Mary. In her current position, she focuses on energy and tax policy. Carlee earned her B.A. at Concordia College in Moorhead, MN, and her J.D. at the University of ND, School of Law, in Grand Forks, ND.




Amy Munson is the Grants & Contracts Officer and Certified Local Government Coordinator for the State Historical Society of ND. She has been with the agency 20 years and works a variety of grants from both federal and state sources of funding. Amy holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Art History from Gustavus Adolphus College and a Masters in Business Management from the University of Mary.




Daniel Nairn is a senior planner with the city of Bismarck. He recently directed the process for Bismarck’s Together 2045 Comprehensive Plan and is involved in a range of current and long-range planning efforts for the city. Daniel received a Master in Urban and Environmental Planning from the University of Virginia and currently serves on the board of the ND Planning Association.




Representative Emily O’Brien is a graduate of the University of ND in Entrepreneurship and Business Management. In 2016, Emily was elected by her neighbors to represent District 42 as part of the Grand Forks community in the Legislature. She currently serves on the Appropriations Committee, Human Resources Division. She previously served on the Industry Business and Labor and Transportation Committees during the regular session. During this legislative interim, she is serving as a member on the following committees: Budget Section, Legislative Management, Government Finance, Health Care, Health Services, Legislative Procedure and Arrangements, and as the Chairman of Legislative Audit and Fiscal Review Committee.  Emily was appointed to the ND Lottery Advisory Commission, the National Conference of Insurance Legislators Committee, the Higher Education Grant Review Committee, the Workforce Development Council, and the International Legislators Forum. Professionally, Emily serves as the Chief Operating Officer for the Bioscience Association of ND and works alongside her partner, Jacob Green, to grow and develop his commercial and residential framing, drywall, and painting company, managing several rental properties and doing commercial development. You can find her doing books, punch lists, painting, maintenance, snow removal, bidding, or whatever tasks need to be accomplished!



Sara Otte Coleman joined the ND Department of Commerce as Director of the Tourism Division in 2003 and has over 35 years of destination management, marketing, and leadership experience. Her tourism career also includes 15 years at the Bismarck-Mandan CVB. She proudly serves the state as Tourism-Marketing Director and focuses on growing awareness of North Dakota through industry development, strategic planning, statewide branding, consumer marketing and media relations. She attributes the growth of tourism to strong partnerships with tourism providers, a smart marketing team and great visitor services. She has a bottom-line focus and has worked to use research and data to improve the state’s marketing and its ability to motivate visitors to choose North Dakota. Sara also works to develop strategies to support workforce and business recruitment, leveraging the Be Legendary brand and marketing campaigns created for tourism to drive workforce development and strengthen North Dakota’s economy.




Chief Denis Otterness has been a sworn law enforcement officer 33 years, the last three proudly serving as Chief of Police in West Fargo. Prior to this position, he was the Chief of Police and Emergency Management Coordinator for Montana State University in Billings, Montana and worked for the Bloomington, Minnesota Police Department for 21+ years in a variety of roles and promoted through the ranks to Deputy Chief. He has previously worked on a variety of non-profit Board of Directors and served as an adjunct Criminal Justice professor at Normandale Community College in Bloomington.




Kory Peterson was elected mayor of Horace in 2016 and re-elected in 2020. He works with the Economic Development committee and is the chair of the Envison Horace committee. Kory earned his BS in Computer Science from the University of ND. Kory has been involved in many different disciplines of software engineering and is currently working at Noridian in Fargo as the supervisor of Advanced Automation/Robotics. Kory serves on the NLDC board.




Natalie Pierce holds a MURP degree from the University of CA, Irvine and a BA in dance from Barnard College, Columbia University. Among a variety of other jobs, she worked in Government Affairs for the Orange County Association of Realtors. While a Navy spouse, she worked on issues surrounding homelessness for Virginia Beach, VA. In 2014 she laid down roots in North Dakota and shortly thereafter became the Planning & Zoning Director for Morton County. Since 2017, she has served as the state legislative liaison for the ND Planning Association. Natalie is affiliated with the BisMan Writer’s Guild and the Riverwood Women’s Golf Association. 




Katie Ralston Howe serves as the Workforce Development Director for the ND Department of Commerce and has led the state’s Workforce Development Council since joining the Commerce team in October 2019. Over the last four years, Katie has effectively increased board member engagement, leading the council to develop a cohesive system for researching workforce issues and developing comprehensive recommendations that influenced recent workforce policies and appropriations. Under Katie’s leadership, the Commerce workforce team has developed an effective funding model for supporting locally led workforce solutions and a talent attraction system with unique relocation tracking capabilities.




Frank R.E.A. Rodriguez is originally from California and was raised in Pico Rivera. He enlisted into the US Navy served a little more than four years as a ABH, Aviation Boatswain's Mate, as a petty officer 3rd class. While in the Navy, he was a flight deck director on the USS Essex. Additionally, while in the service, I met my wife Kari Rodriguez who was also in the Navy. Kari is from the Devils Lake area and we relocated to North Dakota in October 2012. While living in North Dakota, I got extensively involved in my community as a firefighter, emergency medical responder, served on the economic development committee, Rural Renaissance Festival committee, a member of the VFW and more recently a city council member for Maddock.


Pamela Sagness is the Behavioral Health Executive Director for the ND Department of Health and Human Services. In this position, Pamela provides policy leadership for the state of ND, specifically responsible for reviewing and identifying service needs and activities in the state’s behavioral health system. With experience as a clinical provider in both the public and private sector, Pamela has developed effective programs and policies with a focus on collaboration.




Brent Sanford

Brent Sanford graduated from the University of ND with a bachelor's degree in accounting in 1994. He is a Certified Public Accountant. 


He worked for Eide Bailly LLP from 1994 through 2002, and then became the chief financial officer of Transwest Trucks in Denver, CO. He moved back home to Watford City in 2004, taking over his family-run car dealership. He was elected to the Watford City Council in 2006 and became mayor in 2010. Watford City became the fastest growing community in America from 2010-2020. Most of the growth occurred during the early days of the Bakken oil boom from 2010-2014. The community focused on infrastructure investment and community development activity to address the rapid growth including investing in the historic Main Street area, new retail, new schools, new healthcare, new daycare, and new airport investments.


Doug Burgum chose Sanford as his running mate in the 2016 gubernatorial election. The ticket won the general election. They won a second term in the 2020 election. The pair entered office with a state budget crisis and the DAPL pipeline protests, weathered the storm of Covid-19, and throughout focused on infrastructure and economic opportunities for the state. On December 20, 2022, Sanford announced his resignation as lieutenant governor, effective January 2, 2023, to return to the private sector and spend more time with his family.


Stacy Schaffer is the Founder and Executive Director of 31:8 Project, an organization that works to prevent and raise awareness on human trafficking. She has based her work in advocacy on the ideal that no one person can do everything, but everyone can do something. Stacy is the coordinator for the Demand Reduction Program and an adjunct professor at the University of Mary in Bismarck, ND. She graduated with a Master's Degree in Public Administration from Hamline University in St. Paul, MN. Prior, she received her Bachelor's Degree in Social Behavioral Sciences from the University of Mary. Stacy currently serves as a board member of the ND Association of Nonprofit Organizations, committee member of the ND Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Task Force and member of the Farwest Rotary Club. Stacy often credits her motivation, work ethic, and determination from growing up on a farm near a rural town in North Dakota.




Damian Schlinger is an accomplished professional with a passion for strategic leadership, operational excellence, and community engagement. With a diverse background in public administration and healthcare management, Damian has a proven track record of driving organizational growth, implementing innovative solutions, and consistently achieving outstanding results. Currently serving as the Director of Vocational Rehabilitation at the state of North Dakota’s Department of Health and Human Services, he leads the division in executing the VR mission and ensuring compliance with regulations. 




Major Jay Sheldon is currently serving as the Strategic Plans and Policies Officer for the ND National Guard, Bismarck, ND and as the Battle Captain in the Joint Operations Center for Joint Force Headquarters, Bismarck, ND. In 1997 MAJ Sheldon enlisted into the ND Army National Guard, 1-188 Air Defense Artillery Battalion. In 2008 he accepted his commission in the 141 Maneuver Enhancement Brigade. In 2003 he completed his undergraduate degree at Dickinson State University, Dickinson, ND. Prior to commissioning, Major Sheldon completed the Basic Non-Commissioned Officer Course and achieved the rank of Staff Sergeant. Officer professional military education completed includes Officer Candidate School, Military Intelligence Officer Basic Course, Military Intelligence Captains Career Course, the ADA Re-Classification Course, Intermediate Leader Education, Military Police Captains Career Course, and the Advanced Operations Course. Major Sheldon has mobilized/deployed four times. In 2006-07 to Afghanistan for Operation Enduring Freedom, 2009-10 for Kosovo Forces NATO mission, 2013-14 and 2017-18 for Operation Noble Eagle in the National Capital Region (NCR).



Jason Sorenson is the Utilities Director for the city of Minot and has held that position since June of 2023. Jason has been employed by the city of Minot since 2005. From 2005 to 2011, he was the Water Treatment Plant Superintendent, where he handled the day-to-day operations of an 18 million gallon per day ground water treatment plant. He has also held the position of Public Works Project Engineer for a short time from October of 2011 until May 2012 when he was promoted to Assistant Public Works Director. As the Assistant Public Works Director Jason helped manage the day-to-day operations of the eleven departments that make up Public Works. Due to a recent reorganization of the Public Works Department, Jason was appointed as Utilities Director in June of 2023. He now leads the five divisions that make up the Utilities Department, water distribution, sewage collection, water treatment, sanitation and landfill. Jason is also deeply involved with planning and managing the city of Minot’s portion of the Northwest Area Water Supply (NAWS) project and the Mouse River Enhanced Flood Protection Project, two of the largest water projects currently in the state. Jason holds a BS in Chemistry from Minot State University and a BS in Civil Engineering from the University of ND.




Rick Stenseth is the gaming manager for Northern Prairie Performing Arts and Team Makers Club, Inc. He has been in the industry for the past 40 years, doing all the various jobs and working to promote and protect the industry. He is continuously involved with the city of Fargo, the Attorney General's Office, the Gaming Advisory Board, and as a representative of charitable gaming at the legislature.




Jessica Thomasson is the Executive Director of the Human Services Division within the ND Department of Health and Human Services. Jessica provides oversight and direction for economic health and family wellbeing services within the department. Jessica holds bachelor’s degrees in political science and economics from the University of ND and master’s degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in public policy analysis and urban/regional planning, with an emphasis on rural community development.




Elizabeth Tokach Duran serves as manager of the Clean Water State Revolving   Fund Program for the ND Department of Environmental Quality. She was appointed to this position in May of 2019. Ms. Tokach Duran has served as  an Environmental Engineer with the Department since 2013. Within this position,  she has managed projects for Dickinson, Williston, Watford City, Fargo, Grand Forks, and Minot among others. Prior to joining the ND Department of  Health/Department of Environmental Quality, she was a Staff Environmental Engineer for Keitu Engineers and Consultants in Mandan, ND.



John Van Dyke is the Principal Planner for the City of Minot. John has been involved in planning within North Dakota for six years, coming to Minot by way of the Bismarck/Mandan area in October 2020. Prior to his time in North Dakota, John was involved in planning in several communities in the Boise area. John graduated from Boise State University with a bachelor’s degree in Business Economics and a Master of Community and Regional Planning. His professional passion includes assisting communities and individuals with finding holistic solutions to complex and multi-faceted problems related to land use, transportation, and economic development.




Jane Wick is the Loss Control Program Manager at Workforce Safety Insurance. She has been there for 17 years and has oversight of the loss control educational offerings and grant programs.




Brenda Zastoupil has served as the Director of Financial Aid at the ND University System since 2013. In her current position, she oversees and administers state-funded financial aid, student exchange and education incentive programs, including ND Career Builders. In her role she collaborates with campuses, state agencies, state legislators, and ND business to promote state financial aid policy and practice that is designed with student access, affordability and the growth of the ND workforce in mind. Brenda has worked in financial aid at the collegiate level since the year 2001, previously as the Financial Aid Director at the University of Mary.