- Associated Press - Monday, June 9, 2014

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - In June 1973, John Warford and his wife Jenny’s 1963 Ford rumbled into Bismarck towing a U-Haul trailer. He was waiting to open his orthodontics practice that September.

Fast forward 41 years. Warford, 68, has served as mayor for three terms (12 years). The practice he founded is now headed by his son, John.

Warford, however, has no plans of retiring. He leaves the mayor’s position this month to become the new dean of business at the University of Mary. The father of four grown children and grandfather of eight (with more coming) still treats patients part-time and enjoys time on his nearby ranch.

The mayoral position is not a 40-hour job, but can involve a lot more than part-time work. Warford has seen the city through economic development, floods, higher traffic demands, divisive zoning questions, a lawsuit over financing downtown projects and unprecedented growth.

He led the city as it built a new airport terminal, partnered with government bodies for a new Liberty Memorial Bridge, built a Bismarck Civic Center expansion, doubled Bismarck’s water capacity, added 70 miles of streets, built two new fire halls and planned another, worked for fire training facilities, widened Washington Street and kept its trees, upgraded the city’s sanitation system and created the Northern Plains Commerce Centre.

During the 2011 Missouri River flood, 16-hour days were common for Warford. He participated in 53 special flood news conferences. He credits a strong emergency plan for helping guide the city.

“We did 11.2 million sandbags for Bismarck-Mandan communities in 2011. It was an epic flood. We attempted to bring the best information we could,” Warford told The Bismarck Tribune (https://bit.ly/1kAX836).

He is proud not one home was destroyed in the Bismarck city limits.

Warford sees community pride as the biggest change for Bismarck since he came to office.

“If I had a part in that, it is the greatest accomplishment … Bismarck has really gotten national recognition,” Warford said. “Now everybody asks, ‘How can we become more like Bismarck?’”

He said the region’s energy, agriculture, higher education, health care, retail, government and manufacturing resources helped Bismarck counter the recession and thrive.

“A lot of people say Bismarck is lucky. Luck, to me, is when preparation meets opportunity. … We’ve done that preparation, we updated our planning,” Warford said.

Warford said he doesn’t mull the negative parts of the job too long.

“No decision is the worst decision. If you listen to all of the pros and cons of a decision, you should be able to make a decision,” Warford said.

He calls the Civic Center expansion “the most studied building” because of two feasibility studies about expanding the building and three public hearings about the Civic Center and an arena option to the north.

“We gathered information that we are a convention center,” he said. “At the same time, what else do we want to be as a community? We don’t just say, ‘Let’s build a 20,000-seat arena with taxpayers’ dollars … We need to have a feasibility study.”

Other divisive issues have been the Baptist Home rezoning question, a citywide ban on smoking, the lawsuit against the city’s urban renewal program and quiet rail. Warford said he will explain his vote during a controversy and tries to be consistent in how he treats people.

He believes he has achieved his campaign slogan of taking economic development to the next level.

“There have been 15,000 more jobs added since I was elected. There were no Renaissance Zone projects and now there are well over 100. We’ve put millions of dollars of investment in our downtown,” Warford said.

He has started some of his duties as U-Mary’s business dean and is eager to guide the students. Half the freshmen are from out of state.

“I hope I can make a difference in some young people’s lives. … I’m hoping we can keep a lot of them in the Bismarck area so we can solve the employment problem and getting talent here,” he said.

One way to do that is to build internships through business community, Warford said.

Adjutant Gen. David Sprynczynatyk of the North Dakota Army National Guard said he has worked with Warford in several capacities - first when Sprynczynatyk served as state transportation director and then when partnering with the Guard.

He said Warford helped drive the success of the new Liberty Memorial Bridge project and pool the multiple government agencies and resources to make it one of the finest bridges in the state.

“He had the vision to get it done from the east end of the river,” Sprynczynatyk said.

He said the mayor played a critical role in the 2011 flood fight and created a special memorial to military personnel lost in the war on terrorism.

“He had the vision to see what was needed to protect the citizens of Bismarck. He makes things happen for the good of the community,” Sprynczynatyk said.

City Administrator Bill Wocken said Warford’s strong vision stands out. He calls Warford a “good and caring man” who spends many hours working on city business and meetings that the public doesn’t see.

“He always uses the term ‘Team Bismarck’ for city departments to operate on. That’s his way of saying teamwork is important,” Wocken said.

Curly Haugland, who sued the city over its tax increment finance district for downtown projects, offered little comment.

“What he has done speaks for itself,” Haugland said.

City Commissioner Mike Seminary said Warford thoughtfully listens.

“He makes sure all of the possibilities have been presented so we can make decisions,” Seminary said.

“Good leadership is so critical in these times and Mayor Warford delivered in a big way,” City Commissioner Parrell Grossman said.

Grossman said Warford “is so incredibly easy to work with, and that inspires good leadership for others and fosters citywide cooperation and success.” He added that Warford has been a fantastic mayor during the city’s explosive growth and economic development.

Warford said he stayed in office three terms because of a passion for Bismarck’s people and felt he had the leadership skills to do the job.

“I hope people say I made a difference in the community by my three terms. … All I do is steer the ship a little bit … Even though there were some decisions I made that did not please everyone, I tried to represent all of the citizens. I tried to make Bismarck a better place to live,” he said.

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Information from: Bismarck Tribune, https://www.bismarcktribune.com


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