FARGO — As the Fargo-Moorhead area continues to grow, some local professors and politicians are considering the benefits of increasing the size of local city commissions to create more representation.
Many candidates running for a city commission seat have brought up this issue — especially since Moorhead's city council has more elected members than Fargo's commission. The neighboring city has less than half Fargo's population.
"As Fargo grows and becomes more diverse, it's something the city should really think about," said NDSU political science professor Nick Bauroth.
Fargo's population is just over 129,000 people based on U.S. Census estimates, and only has five people in the city commission. Moorhead is estimated to have more than 44,000 people with nine people in its city council.
For Fargo, commission members are elected "at-large," meaning anyone from the city can run for the seats and any Fargo voter can pick them.
"You tend to have representation that's homogeneous," Bauroth said. "You tend to have people who reflect the majority of the city. So in North Dakota, you're going to have fairly conservative politicians more or less, and they're all going to be white more or less."
Moorhead is ward-based. The city is split into four wards, each with two seats on the council. The Mayor makes up the ninth seat. A council member focuses on their own neighborhood. The mayor gets a seat on the board in both models.
"The idea is that the city is a complicated organism and that the various neighborhoods, the various parts of the city aren't going to require the same thing. In terms of politics, in terms of services, development, whatever it might be," Bauroth explained.
Fargo city attorney Eric Johnson said in his time, this topic has been brought up before.
"From time to time, there's some discussion about changing the makeup of the city commission, adding commissioners," Johnson explained.
In fact, both Johnson and Bauroth spoke about the same pros and cons both models have.
"Some people think there's a better sense of representation because you're closer to your particular council member," Johnson said. "On the other hand, the people that seem to promote the idea of a commission form of government where everyone is at large, is that all the commissioners are looking at the city as a whole and not just looking out for their ward."
Johnson said if it were to change from a commission to a larger council, it would be up to the voters. They can get petition signatures to put an initiated measure on the ballot during election season. The commissioners could also initiate a measure, but the final decision would still be up to the voters.
Whichever group creates the measure would need to figure out transitional details, like when it would change and how it would affect current commissioners.
This is how Fargo's current commissioners represent the city by location.
According to public records, Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney lives in the southwest end of Fargo. Commissioners Arlette Preston, John Strand and Tony Gehrig live just north of Downtown. Commissioner Dave Piepkorn lives in deep north Fargo. This leaves out a massive chunk of south Fargo, areas along 13th avenue south, and everything northwest of the I-94/I-29 interchange.
Will a change be proposed? Bauroth thinks it's inevitable.
"At some point in time, I would expect that this is something that people will take a closer look at, and think about whether that a city the size of Fargo in the 21st century really should have," he said.
Bauroth highlights Fargo has been using its commission model since the early 1900s when its population was much smaller.