FARGO — A group to be called "WeAreOne" took a step forward this week when the Fargo City Commission voted 3-2 to sign an agreement to form the panel that would work on race relations in the Fargo Moorhead metropolitan area.
It would be managed through the Fargo Human Relations Commission and could possibly also involve West Fargo and Moorhead, though neither city's leaders have taken the issue up yet at their meetings.
WeAreOne would meet regularly to discuss issues including community policing, safety, inclusion, communication and economic opportunities.
Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney said the organization's goal is to have "open dialogue and build trust" between the communities of color and the cities.
The mayor said he didn't know the makeup of the group yet but it would likely include representatives of the human relations commission, city planners, community police officers and a new city community outreach official that is in the proposed budget for the coming year.
West Fargo Mayor Bernie Dardis, who had just received the statement of intent and agreement on Wednesday, July 29, said he would have to share the document with his fellow city commissioners for a discussion on what direction they would like to take.
"From a personal standpoint, I am always willing to sit down with any resident of West Fargo to discuss any issues," Dardis said. "My door is always open."
Moorhead Mayor Johnathan Judd said he also had to present the document to city staff and the council, but he emphasized that they are "absolutely" working on "equity and inclusion in our community."
"We'll let the staff and council look at the agreement and then we'll go from there," Judd said.
A discussion on WeAreOne didn't get off to a positive start at the Fargo City Commission meeting on Monday night when the leader of racial equality group OneFargo, Wess Philome, started talking to the commissioners about having a voice in the hiring of the city's interim police chief. The mayor thought Philome would be addressing how to proceed with the new organization so he cut him off from speaking any further.
Philome then left the room with other members of his organization.
In an interview on Wednesday, though, Philome said he was still interested in signing the document and having members of his group participate as long as the cities are "genuine" in wanting to have a dialogue on issues.
Philome said his group was instrumental in trying to get such an organization going in the F-M metro area as it followed a huge peaceful rally in Island Park on June 5 where the "WeAreOne" name was born.
In that rally, the F-M area mayors all spoke as well as members of the area's Black and Native American communities. It replaced a planned sit-in at Fargo City Hall that same day after a peaceful rally turned violent in downtown Fargo on May 30 in the wake of George Floyd's death in Minneapolis.
The agreement passed in the Fargo City Commission meeting Monday night didn't have unanimous support. Commissioners Tony Gehrig and Dave Piepkorn voted against the measure.
Gehrig said he was "all about meaningful dialogue," and that he thought the Fargo Human Relations Commission should handle any of the issues and not another group. Piepkorn was silent on any of his objections.
Commissioner Arlette Preston said they needed to endorse the group and that about 25 questions requested and collected from the public on race relations could be the "framework" to start the dialogue.
Commissioner John Strand said the unrest and tone in the meeting on Monday night was a testament to the need to "step up our dialogue."
"North Dakota in 2020 is not the same as North Dakota ever before," Strand said. "This agreement is needed. We need to show from our end that we mean what we say to the people in our community who say they don't always trust us, they don't believe us. It won't hurt us to show that willingness to be open to hearing them."
Fargo Human Relations Commission Chairman Matuor Alier agreed.
"We're looking at ways to work together," Alier said. "We're open to ideas that will make Fargo a better place."