Fargo City Commission candidate alleges racism in not being invited to forum
Matour Alier was among those candidates not included in the Cass County United Republican Committee luncheon event on Wednesday, May 4.
FARGO — It was what didn't happen at a Fargo City Commission candidate forum earlier Wednesday that caused concern at a later debate at Fargo City Hall.
Commissioner Dave Piepkorn, who is running to keep his seat, started out his comments at the later forum by saying he thought it "was wrong" that two of the candidates — Matour Alier and Ahmed Shiil, both Black men — weren't invited to a noon luncheon candidate forum sponsored by the Cass County United Republican Committee.
Alier, director of diversity and inclusion for the Moorhead school district and chairman of the the Fargo Human Rights Commission, said by not being invited it was a "prime example" of how the city of Fargo can do more to be inclusive.
"If that doesn't ring a bell to you, it does to me," Alier said at the later forum sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Community Partnership. "We need to do more as well as city leadership."
The other Black candidate who wasn't invited, Ahmed Shiil, didn't directly address the issue but said evidenced by the several women and people of color running for two seats on the City Commission June 14, that they are "the new leadership that we need."
Shiil added there have only been four women who have served on the City Commission in Fargo's history.
When the man responsible for sending out invitations to the Republican committee forum was contacted, Doug Sharbono said that they only had time in the hourlong forum for eight candidates. In all, there are 15 candidates. He said it had nothing to do with the color of the candidate's skin.
Rather, he said the Republican candidates in the race were invited first, with remaining invitations going to candidates who had connections with the committee.
Even in the hour, he said they didn't get to all of the questions that people wanted to ask. He added candidate Victoria Johnson, a Black woman, was at the forum. When asked, Johnson declined to talk to The Forum about the matter.
Alier also said he called Sharbono, who told him that how invitations were sent out was "the way it is."
Despite the explanation, Alier said he felt the invitation issue was "racist."
He said Fargo is diverse, but it needs to work on being inclusive. This event was an example, he emphasized.
Despite the snub of the two candidates being discussed, when the candidates were asked at the later forum if they felt Fargo was an inclusive community, most agreed it was. They called the city welcoming or said it favored equal treatment for citizens.
Candidate Denise Kolpack added the hiring of the city diversity and inclusion director last year was a good move and one that she supported.
Besides questions on other issues facing the city, the candidates were asked a series of "quick fire" questions and asked to respond in one or two words.
When asked to name their top two issues, here were the responses: Anna Johnson, workforce and affordable housing; Kolpack, child care and safety; Alier, special assessments and workforce; Ves Marinov, public safety and special assessments; Victoria Johnson, massive tax incentives and child care; Al Carlson, property taxes and public safety; Will Thompson, workforce and sustainability; Jodi Plecity, financial stability and mental health; Shiil, workforce and child care; Jennifer Benson, government efficiency and safety; Piepkorn,public safety and growth; Philip Deery, affordable housing.
Piggybacking on those answers, the candidates were asked to give a quick response to what their priorities would be on the City Commission.
To that question, the responses were: Alier, end special assessments; Marinov, make sure police have voice and are represented in City Hall, and ending special assessments; Victoria Johnson, work on special assessments and having term limits; Carlson, bringing Fargo into the future; Thompson, a sustainable renewable energy grid and also to examine the city charter of 50 years ago, which hasn't been updated; Plecity, ending community suffering and being financially responsible; Shiil, having a city that loves each other, workforce development and child care; Benson, to continue to serve the public and government efficiency; Piepkorn, getting a performing arts center constructed.
Another quick fire question was if the candidates favored a convention center, a performing arts center or both. Benson said she favored only the convention center while Piepkorn said he only favored the performing arts center. Favoring constructing both of the centers were Anna Johnson, Victoria Johnson, Kolpack, Deery, Marinov, Thompson, Carlson, Shiil, Alier and Plecity.