- Associated Press - Saturday, April 10, 2021

GARRISON, N.D. (AP) - After more than 42 years in the Garrison city auditor’s office, there’s not much about small town government operations that can take Diane Affeldt by surprise. The long-time city auditor and current president of the North Dakota League of Cities may not have seen everything because she admits she’s always learning, but she has seen a lot.

“When they always ask for a job description, I say, ’Well, there is a job description, but how many pages do you want, because it’s everything. This is kind of the main hub of a city for everybody,” Affeldt said.

Along with her city auditor duties, she over time has added duties as clerk of municipal court, city cemetery sexton and secretary for both the Garrison Airport Authority and Planning and Zoning Commission.

She is assisted by a part-time employee after having handled the office by herself for about 30 years. Management of the office also has changed as computers have replaced ledger books, calculators and typewriters.

However, she’s still in the original office where she started.

“We have just kept it updated as much as possible to make it feel warm and cozy. But I started with a chair and a card table in this office,” she said. “The mayor had a desk, and the auditor had a desk and I had a card table and a chair.”

A Garrison native, Affeldt attended the National College of Business in Rapid City for a year, dreaming of becoming a certified public accountant. Plans changed when she took a summer job with the city auditor’s office, helping with the water billing program from her card table desk, the Minot Daily News reported.

Shortly after she joined the office in 1978, the city auditor left for other pursuits. Affeldt continued to take on additional duties until the city could replace the auditor. The replacement didn’t stay long.

“Finally, they decided to put me in that position,” Affeldt said.

She didn’t necessarily feel ready, but it felt right.

“I loved it right away because I’ve always liked numbers,” she said. “But I didn’t expect it to be my lifetime goal. In the meantime, though, I got engaged and then got married. So it was like, ‘Oh, I guess I’m here to stay.‘”

She and her husband, Rodger, who manages a bait and tackle shop, live just outside Garrison city limits. They raised three children and have five grandchildren, two step-grandchildren and six granddogs. They also had owned a Garrison hardware store for four years.

Active in her community, Affeldt is secretary for her church and entertainment director and secretary for the annual Dickens Village Festival. She had served 30 years as Garrison Chamber of Commerce secretary/treasurer and held various positions with North Dakota Jaycees and North Dakota Ducks Unlimited.

Affeldt also is licensed in child care, enabling her to assist in her daughter’s daycare. In her spare time, she makes tie blankets for family, friends and high school seniors and enjoys big game hunting and spending time outdoors and with family.

As a newly minted auditor years ago, Affeldt began taking in as much training as the North Dakota League of Cities offered to municipal employees. A few years ago, a new state law required that city auditors be trained within a year of being hired. Affeldt and a few other auditors developed a training program to provide the basics. The League of City’s Municipal Finance Officers Association, for which Affeldt had been a board member and president, developed a calendar schedule of tasks as a guide for auditors.

Affeldt also serves as a mentor within the League of Cities. A new auditor, council member or mayor who needs guidance might be directed to Affeldt.

“We make phone calls, emails,” she said. “I’ve gone to visit with them to sit down and go through things to kind of help them through the bumpy road.”

Affeldt, who views her League of Cities connections as a family, served on the organization’s board about seven years before her election to a one-year term as president last September.

Garrison Mayor Stu Merry said both Garrison and the League of Cities rely on Affeldt’s knowledge and experience.

“Her leadership is invaluable,” he said. “She knows how to handle a lot of situations.”

She’s been able to offer input to council members and has tutored many city auditors, Merry said.

“She’s so giving of her time. She gets calls from auditors all across the state throughout the year, and she’s always willing to help and offer her services,” he said.

Garrison was the League of Cities’ small City of the Year in 2007 and 2016. Affeldt records Garrison’s activities and accomplishments each year, and even though 2020 had its challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Garrison’s progress never slowed, she said.

“We just kept going as if everything was normal,” she said. City government accomplishments in 2020 include organizing a new three-person police department, beginning work on a fish-cleaning station, assisting a company with infrastructure to establish a car wash and constructing a runway replacement at the airport. In addition, the school completed a major remodeling and new businesses came to town, including the Dollar General, which is boosting city sales tax collections.

In recent years, Affeldt also has seen changes that make it easier for residents to interact with their city administration.

“It’s always been such an open door for people to come in. They can come here for anything, and we try to make things convenient for them. We have a website that offers online payments. We have alerts on our website so whenever there’s a water break or snow removal or or anything going on, we can send alerts out to our residents, and they love that,” she said. “We try to be more open, to get as much information out to keep them informed.”

Affeldt has begun to think about retirement, possibly a few years down the road. When the time comes, she hopes to stay around long enough to personally teach a new auditor the ropes because she says the background and knowledge she’s gained can’t be learned from a book and she doesn’t want the city to struggle.

“There’s just so much here, invested already, that we have to keep being positive and move forward,” she said.

Affeldt hopes to be supporting that progress even after she someday leaves office.

“This is my town. I want to stay here. I want to see it just keep growing,” she said. “It’s pretty dear to me.”

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