Fargo commissioners reject getting into state Legislature's ERA fight

This is a view of the inaugural meeting in the new Fargo City Commission chambers in the new city hall.  The first meeting was held Monday, Feb. 11, although the city hall opened last fall.    Barry Amundson / The Forum
This is a view of the inaugural meeting in the new Fargo City Commission chambers in the new city hall. The first meeting was held Monday, Feb. 11, although the city hall opened last fall. Barry Amundson / The Forum

FARGO — Fargo City Commissioners rejected, on a 3-2 vote, sending a resolution to North Dakota legislators opposing their efforts to nullify North Dakota's ratification of the proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The measure is to be considered in a Senate committee this week after the House passed the nullification two weeks ago.

Three Fargo women appeared before the commissioners on Monday night, March 25, asking them to send a message to the legislators that the state's biggest city isn't in favor of backing away from a decision made 43 years ago when the state Legislature voted to become the 34th state to ratify the ERA.

Fargo businesswomen Karen Stoker, Arlette Preston and Josie Danz all said the move by the Legislature would send the wrong message to people wanting to move to the state.

Stoker said the ERA simply guarantees the equality of rights under the law based on sex.

She said women don't have the same equal or legal rights under the law now, and pay inequality, violence against women and sexual discrimination is still persistent.

"I think it unacceptable that equality is not included in our constitution, and it's reprehensible that our state would nullify the ratification of equal rights," Stoker said.

Commissioner Tony Grindberg, however, explained that he researched the issue and talked to legislators who are divided on the issue. He said there is a growing debate across the country to renew the effort but that four or five states have withdrawn in the past few years.

He also said he struggled if it was an issue that cities should be involved in and that it should be left to the Legislature. He was worried a resolution would set a precedent for the city commission when it comes to legislative issues, although the city does write letters and have contact with legislators on bills and resolutions and also through lobbyists.

However, Stoker said the information shared in the Legislature during the House vote was false, erroneous and fear mongering.

Commissioner Tony Gehrig, in offering his comment on the resolution, said the 14th Amendment already covers the equality issue and they should leave the state alone on the issue.

Commissioner John Strand, who introduced the resolution on behalf of residents, said it "would help in messaging that we are a welcoming, accepting community and treat everybody equally. " He said there are more than 30,000 job openings in the state and what's needed to attract people is an "open mind and a willingness to give people a level playing field."

"I would hope they (the legislators) would listen to the people of Fargo," Strand said.

It was also noted that Grand Forks passed a similar resolution.

However, only Strand and Mayor Tim Mahoney voted for the measure, with Grindberg, Gehrig and Commissioner Dave Piepkorn opposed.