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‘Not a representation of our community’: Fargo commission remains all-male despite several women candidates

The Fargo City Commission1 / 4
Linda Boyd2 / 4
Arlette Preston3 / 4
Liz Maddock-Johnson4 / 4

FARGO – Another election cycle has passed with no women winning seats on the all-male Fargo City Commission. Three women – Arlette Preston, Linda Boyd and Liz Maddock-Johnson – campaigned but were unsuccessful in Tuesday’s election.

Preston worries that the lack of female leadership could send a message to young girls that achieving elected office is unattainable. She said women bring things to the table that men don’t.

“A woman comes with a different perspective. We have different experiences than five white men, and those differences are so important,” she said, noting that women tend to approach conflict resolution differently than men.

Preston, who served on the commission from 1992 to 2000, said before she joined the body, there had not been a female commissioner for about 20 years. She said it’s disappointing to see that go backwards.

Boyd and Preston came in third and fourth, respectively, in a race in which the top two vote-getters won spots on the five-member commission. Incumbents Tony Gehrig and Dave Piepkorn were re-elected.

Boyd, another former commissioner, said it’s an absolute advantage to have a woman on the board, and that it’s important to have gender diversity and other kinds of diversity as well.

“I think five middle-aged, white guys is not a representation of our community,” she said.

The West Fargo City Commission also remains entirely male. No women were on the West Fargo commission ballot Tuesday.

In both Cass and Clay counties, one of five county commissioners is a woman.

Mary Scherling, the lone female commissioner in Cass County, said commissions and boards should try to reflect their constituency, and when clearly half the population is female, it would make sense to have more women in elected positions.

Traditionally, Cass County has had one woman and four men on the commission. That has just been the dynamic, she said.

“I’m usually the only woman in the room, and I attend a lot of meetings where I sit there with a lot of guys, a lot of the time,” she said.

In a distinct contrast, Moorhead’s mayor and five of the eight City Council members are women – a rare occurrence in the state and across the country.

Barbara Headrick, a political science professor at Minnesota State University Moorhead, offered an explanation as to why Moorhead’s council has more women than Fargo’s commission.

Headrick pointed out that Moorhead council members represent their specific ward or neighborhood, while Fargo commissioners represent the entire city. She said candidates in Moorhead do not have to be known all across town to win election, while Fargo commissioners run in citywide elections.

Fargo is yet to have a female-dominated commission. There’s never been more than one woman on the board at a time, according to Boyd and Preston.

The last woman on the Fargo City Commission was Melissa Sobolik, who left office in 2016 after serving one four-year term. In 2016, five women unsuccessfully ran for commission in a field of 11 candidates.

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