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Fargo mayoral election set for April 28; commissioners push for city charter amendment

FARGO – When voters here go to the polls April 28, they’ll likely vote for a new mayor, at least one new commissioner and a city charter amendment.

City commissioners agreed Monday to set the date of the special election to find a successor for Dennis Walaker, who died in office earlier this month.

They also agreed to task the city attorney with drafting an amendment so commissioners would not have to resign to run for mayor.

An earlier proposal to amend city codes to change term limits was tabled because commissioners didn’t want to rush into it.

Two mayoral candidates have announced their intention so far: interim Mayor Tim Mahoney, who will have to resign regardless if he wins or not, and former Commissioner Brad Wimmer.

Commissioner Dave Piepkorn has said he’s considering a run.

Timetable

By scheduling the election for April 28, by law commissioners also set several deadlines, according to City Attorney Erik Johnson. The city auditor will have to announce which offices are up for a vote in the official newspaper, The Forum, by Jan. 23. Anyone wishing to run for those offices will have to file with the city by Feb. 23.

There is another unofficial deadline of Jan. 21.

Johnson said that if a commissioner planning to run for mayor were to commit to doing so by that day – meaning he or she would resign – there would be enough time to get the announcement of the vacancy in the newspaper for the April 28 election.

Commissioners can still file to run for mayor after Jan. 21, Johnson said, but that would require the city to hold a second election for that commissioner’s seat.

Piepkorn initially raised concerns that commissioners would be “penalized” with an earlier deadline, but was mollified upon learning he could still file up until Feb. 23 like anyone else.

The cost of the special election is in the $22,000 to $25,000 range, City Auditor Steve Sprague has said.

Election laws

The resignation requirement is part of the city’s home rule charter, which means only voters can amend it.

Commissioners asked Johnson to draft a resolution to put the amendment on the ballot for a vote at the next commission meeting.

Piepkorn dissented. He earlier said he doesn’t like the idea of a commissioner who doesn’t win the mayor race falling back on his or her commission seat.

Another proposed change to the election law that commissioners have begun discussing is to change the term limits to five terms for commissioners and mayors. City code currently limits commissioners to three successive terms with a fourth allowed if they win office as mayor.

Since it’s a city ordinance, commissioners can vote on the change themselves. But they agreed with Commissioner Melissa Sobolik, who felt it would seem “opportunistic” for them to make the change now.

Commissioner Mike Williams, who is on his last term, said commissioners can always come back to it after the election.

Tu-Uyen Tran
Tran is an enterprise reporter with the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. He began his newspaper career in 1999 as a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald, now owned by Forum Communications. He began working for the Forum in September 2014. Tran grew up in Seattle and graduated from the University of Washington.
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