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Candidate forum focuses on human rights

Candidates for Moorhead mayor and City Council said Thursday that education is a major weapon in battling discrimination, with some advocating giving the city's human rights commission more teeth.

Moorhead Mayor Mark Voxland

Candidates for Moorhead mayor and City Council said Thursday that education is a major weapon in battling discrimination, with some advocating giving the city's human rights commission more teeth.

Others attending a candidate forum hosted by nonprofit organizations said the volunteer board doesn't have the training or resources to assume an enforcement role.

Mark Voxland, who is running for re-election as mayor in Tuesday's city election, said when he helped establish the human rights commission the board's intended charge was to promote education.

"Education, I believe, is still the key," Voxland said.

Travis Reimche, Voxland's challenger, said giving the board enforcement power would require staffing the city isn't financially prepared to add right now.


He said anyone who encounters discrimination should take their concerns to the City Council and mayor.

John Graves, who is running for a 1st Ward seat on the City Council, said no one should have to deal with discrimination and he said there are state and federal laws to protect people's rights.

Dan Bacon, another candidate for the 1st Ward seat, said he would favor giving the commission some enforcement ability if regulations allow it.

Luther Stueland, who is also running for the 1st Ward seat, said he believes existing laws and enforcement agencies are adequate.

In the 2nd Ward race, Mark Altenburg said adding city staff isn't realistic right now. He advocated establishing a data base that would let prospective renters know if a landlord has a history of discrimination.

Joe Sumers, another candidate for the 2nd Ward seat, said giving the commission enforcement powers is something the council should explore in the future.

The incumbent 2nd Ward candidate, John Rowell, informed organizers ahead of time that he would not be able to attend Thursday's forum.

Brenda Elmer, a candidate for the council in the 3rd Ward, said she would be open to talking to the commission about additional tools it may need.


The 3rd Ward incumbent, Lauri Winterfeldt, told organizers she could not attend and a stand-in spoke for her.

Her representative, Kera Halvorson, said Winterfeldt views discrimination as a crime and she said anyone who feels they have been discriminated against should have access to law enforcement investigators and prosecutors.

Candidates were asked whether they would support a recommendation recently passed by the Moorhead Human Rights Commission that the city establish a domestic partner registry.

Josh Boschee of the Pride Collective and Community Center said a domestic partnership registry is symbolic and would not impose requirements on the city or employers.

He said it would offer same-sex or opposite-sex partners in a committed relationship the opportunity to secure a certificate they could show to employers who require such paperwork before extending benefits.

Altenburg said he didn't see it being a problem, as long as no groups were discriminated against in the process.

"I would agree with that," Sumers said.

Elmer said the issue was new to her, but she would be open to seeing what the human rights commission comes up with.


"Laurie wholeheartedly supports the domestic partnership registry," said Halvorson, Winterfeldt's stand-in.

Voxland said he would have to learn more about the proposal and its potential impact on things such as employment contracts before he could say yes or no.

Reimche also said he would have to find out more before making a decision.

Graves said he would keep an open mind.

"On the surface of it, I'm quite supportive," Bacon said, adding he would like to know more before giving a firm answer.

Stueland said he would have to see the language of a proposal before he could decide.

Groups hosting the forum Thursday were Centro Cultural de Fargo-Moorhead, Mujeres Unidas/Women United, the Women's Network of the Red River Valley, the People Escaping Poverty Project and Minnesota State University Moorhead students.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555

Moorhead Mayor Mark Voxland

Related Topics: MOORHEAD
I'm a reporter and a photographer and sometimes I create videos to go with my stories.

I graduated from Minnesota State University Moorhead and in my time with The Forum I have covered a number of beats, from cops and courts to business and education.

I've also written about UFOs, ghosts, dinosaur bones and the planet Pluto.

You may reach me by phone at 701-241-5555, or by email at dolson@forumcomm.com
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