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Controversies come to light at Clay County candidate forum

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Clay County Sheriff candidates Mark Empting, Mark Hendrickson, Jason Hicks and Scott Steffes wait for the Clay County candidate forum to begin Thursday, Aug. 9, at the Moorhead Public Library. Erin Bormett / The Forum2 / 5
County commissioner candidate Mari Dailey gives her opening remarks at the Clay County candidate forum Thursday, Aug. 9, at Moorhead Public Library. Erin Bormett / The Forum3 / 5
Attendees listen to county commissioner and sheriff candidates speak at the Clay County candidate forum Thursday, Aug. 9, at the Moorhead Public Library. Erin Bormett / The Forum4 / 5
Sheriff candidate Mark Empting speaks during the Clay County candidate forum Thursday, Aug. 9 at Moorhead Public Library. Erin Bormett / The Forum5 / 5

MOORHEAD — With only days remaining until voters in Clay County hit the polls on Tuesday, Aug. 14, candidates for sheriff and one open spot on the board of commissioners took part in a public forum Thursday, Aug. 9.

In the contested Clay County Commission race for District 4, incumbent Kevin Campbell was a no-show at the candidate forum hosted by the League of Women Voters of the Red River Valley at Moorhead Public Library.

Campbell was thrust into controversy last week when The Forum reported that Campbell's girlfriend was arrested and charged with assaulting two Moorhead police officers after entering a north Moorhead bar and shouting obscenities at her ex-husband and Mari Dailey, one of Campbell's challengers who is currently a Moorhead City councilwoman.

Dailey did not address the incident at Thursday's forum, but candidate Al Gordon — who lost to Campbell in the 2014 election — told The Forum that the situation is "a poor reflection on the position."

Campbell told The Forum that he was out of town on vacation when he first heard about the candidate forum late Sunday.

At the forum, Gordon publicly accused an unnamed deputy with the Clay County Sheriff's Office — where he previously worked for more than a decade — of using a department vehicle for personal use to attend a wedding in Minneapolis, and another employee within the department for allegedly "selling real estate on county time."

Both candidates agreed that a new commissioner elected to the open seat would be of benefit during a time of big changes in Clay County, including the new law enforcement center, county administrator, Moorhead chief of police and soon-to-be new sheriff.

Sheriff's race

Four candidates running for sheriff shared the microphone Thursday and many views on existing county programs, such as needle exchange and jail ministry. They offered tactics on addressing the opioid crisis — an issue many agencies are grappling with across the country.

Three of the four candidates are hometown boys growing up in the Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton areas who now work in the sheriff's office: Lt. Mark Empting, Detective Jason Hicks and Deputy Scott Steffes.

Mark Hendrickson, a parole officer for the state of North Dakota who manages one of the Cass County drug courts, is the only "outsider" working on the other side of the Red River who is running for sheriff. He grew up in Warroad and later attended Concordia College.

On the topic of social media, candidates agree it is a powerful tool to help combat crime and find missing persons. But Hicks addressed the downfalls of the internet if not used appropriately, such was the case with a comment he made in 2015 that sparked an internal investigation.

"Somebody should of stomped his guts out," Hicks wrote in a Facebook comment about a man who was observed taking photographs at Fargo's Island Park Pool, which was full of children.

Empting, a 16-year-year veteran with the department who also serves as the Dilworth fire chief, also aired mistakes at the forum, admitting that he was asked to leave the Becker County Sheriff's Office as a first-time officer for a "stupid mistake when I was a kid"

"It was not criminal or illegal," he said. "It was very embarrassing."

In an interview with The Forum, Empting said the situation dealt with a mutual relationship. He declined to comment further.

Kim Hyatt

Kim Hyatt is a reporter with The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and a 2014 graduate of the University of Minnesota Duluth. She started her newspaper career at the Owatonna People’s Press covering arts and education. In 2016, she received Minnesota Newspaper Association's Dave Pyle New Journalist Award and later that year she joined The Forum newsroom.

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