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Fargo City Commissioner Dave Piepkorn

Mahoney, Piepkorn fight over Mahoney flight to Lincoln to join Fargo group

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FARGO – Two city commissioners got into a public spat Tuesday over a bus trip last week to regional sister cities.

Commissioner Dave Piepkorn took Commissioner Tim Mahoney to task during the City Commission meeting, scolding Mahoney for not being on the bus that city officials took to Sioux Falls, S.D., and Lincoln, Neb.

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Mahoney, along with City Administrator Pat Zavoral, took a plane to join the group in Lincoln on the evening of Aug. 25.

“The message that was sent by you and Pat was your time is much more valuable than all the people that were on that bus,” Piepkorn said.

“Not at all,” Mahoney fired back. “That’s your interpretation. That’s not the message.”

The bus left Fargo on the morning of Aug. 25 and arrived in Sioux Falls in the afternoon. After a tour of downtown, the group traveled to Lincoln, where they stayed the night.

Mahoney said Zavoral couldn’t catch the bus because he had a funeral to attend. Mahoney couldn’t be on the bus because he had to go to a diversion-related meeting in Rosemount, Minn., on the following Tuesday, he said.

“Had I had two days off, I would’ve loved to go on the bus trip, but I was unable to do that,” Mahoney said.

“So however you want me to handle this, if you want me to write a check to you, I would be happy to do that, if that makes you happy,” Mahoney said to Piepkorn. “We all sacrifice time and effort for this job.”

The bus trip cost the city about $2,200. Mahoney said he will personally pay for the flight, which he said cost about $2,000.

The purpose of the Sioux Falls and Lincoln trip was to study the innovative methods these regional sister cities have used to grow their downtowns.

In Lincoln, Fargo leaders saw that the new $180 million Pinnacle Bank Arena helped revitalize an old warehouse district near downtown.

In Sioux Falls, the tour group saw how the city renovated an old high school, built in 1936, into the Washington Pavilion, a space that’s now used as a performing arts venue.

City commissioners voted Tuesday to create two separate task forces – one to further study a new convention center and another to study repurposing the Fargo Civic Center into a performing arts hall.

Zavoral urged city commissioners to consider an architectural feasibility study to convert the Civic Center after visiting the Washington Pavilion.

“It’s sort of a nondescript building on the outside,” he said of the Sioux Falls facility, “and you get to the inside and they have done a lot of amazing things.”

A separate feasibility study is also needed to determine the best location of additional convention space, Zavoral said.

A study commissioned by the Fargo Dome Authority and completed earlier this year found that a new convention center would be economically feasible in Fargo, but the study stopped short of saying where the space should go.

That question has been left up to policymakers, who haven’t yet agreed on a location. The Fargo Dome Authority, an advisory committee to the City Commission, voted in April to recommend the convention space be connected to the Fargodome, but a majority of city commissioners prefer a downtown convention center.

Piepkorn, a North Dakota State alumnus and former Bison football player, indicated Tuesday that he wants the convention center attached to the dome.

But at the end of the day, he said the general public should get the final vote.

“Because this is a big, long-term decision for everybody,” Piepkorn said.

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Erik Burgess
Erik Burgess covers city and county government for The Forum. He started as the paper's night reporter in 2012, after graduating from Hamline University in St. Paul, Minn. He was born and raised in Grand Forks, N.D., and also spent time interning at the Grand Forks Herald.  Have a comment to share about a story? Letters to the editor should include author’s name, address and phone number. Generally, letters should be no longer than 250 words. All letters are subject to editing. Send to letters@forumcomm.com
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