Two commissioners try to strip Fargo mayor of emergency powers

Mayor Dr. Tim Mahoney offers the police chief position to David Zibolski who accepted via telephone during the Fargo City Commission meeting Tuesday, Sept. 8, in City Hall. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

FARGO — After a heated exchange, two Fargo City commissioners unsuccessfully tried Monday night, Nov. 16, to take away the mayor's emergency powers seven months after they were established.

The vote was 3-2, with Commissioners Arlette Preston and John Strand joining Mayor Tim Mahoney in voting against the motion by Commissioner Tony Gehrig, who was joined by Commissioner Dave Piepkorn in proposing the move.

Gehrig and Piepkorn thought they should have had more input for the mayor's move last Friday to impose stricter limitations and enforcement measures on the city's estimated 800 bars and restaurants.

The two said they learned about it in The Forum.


Regarding bars with occupancy problems, Piepkorn asked, "who decided that they might lose their liquor license?"

"In all of these declarations that are coming out of the blue, we should all be included," he said.

Mahoney said emails were sent out before anything was released, and Strand encouraged Piepkorn and Gehirg to come to City Hall and be more involved "instead of just criticizing."

Strand directly addressed Piepkorn and said it "never occurred to me that I would show up at the meeting and city commissioners would say we aren't in an emergency."

"Is this the kind of Fargo we want? We are the hottest spot in the country, and maybe the world, and we want to erase the declaration of an emergency for god's sake," he said.

Gehrig said the pandemic is a big deal, but added he's concerned about other problems that are developing, such as abuse and mental health issues. He also mentioned First Amendment rights and put particular emphasis on the economy.

The economy, Gehrig said, isn't about dollars — it's about people's jobs and their livelihoods. He said he didn't want to see anymore "edicts" from the mayor and that business in the city should get back to normal with all five commissioners deciding on any issues.


Although public comments have been suspended in recent weeks as the pandemic worsened, some of the few residents in attendance were allowed to speak.

Faith Dixon said she "just buried a pillar of our community, and we see two commissioners talking about liquor and property over people's lives."

She said "people are dying daily" and suggested the two commissioners should be voted out of office.

Bar owner Dave Erickson said one of his concerns was the lack of communication and transparency with the businesses on the latest moves.

He said he had to lay off half of his staff on Monday and would like to be given extra warning when mandates will be lifted.

"We are here to keep people safe," he said, "but also they have to continue their livelihoods."

City Attorney Erik Johnson said the mayor was within his authority in making emergency rulings as in early April the City Commission approved his emergency powers indefinitely until the pandemic ends.

Strand commended Gov. Doug Burgum and the mayor. He said he wanted the governor to know "he has a lot of support" on the statewide mask mandate he issued late Friday night.


Preston added she wanted a report at the next meeting about how the law is being enforced about occupancy levels at bars, "as that's where people are gathering."

"Certainly most are doing it well," she said about bars and restaurants. But she wanted to know how intervention will take place for those who don't abide by the mandate.

Piepkorn responded that he believes bars were being "discriminated against."

He said maybe all retail establishments should have the occupancy rules.

He asked what could be done to help the bars and restaurants survive.

Mahoney said the governor is planning an aid package for establishments and that Piepkorn should advocate on the federal level for more financial aid for small businesses.

Strand added the city should also look into ways to help small businesses.

"The business community needs all of us to get through these times," he said.


The mayor warned that the millions of dollars the city is receiving in COVID relief through the federal government could be in jeopardy without his emergency powers in place.

In addition to a report on enforcement of occupancy, Preston said she would like to see city plans for vaccine distribution and a backup plan for testing and contact tracing if federal funding fails to come in after Dec. 31.

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