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Moorhead strives to be more equitable

An eight-person team from Moorhead that participated in a first-of-its-kind roundtable on building equitable communities last month is now spearheading development of a "civic university" in Moorhead.

An eight-person team from Moorhead that participated in a first-of-its-kind roundtable on building equitable communities last month is now spearheading development of a "civic university" in Moorhead.

Classes would be offered through Moorhead Community Education beginning Jan. 31 and would cover topics on government operations, including how the City Council functions and how property taxes are assessed.

The goal of the one-night classes is "to educate people on how city government works and to pique their interest to want to get involved," said Councilman Greg Lemke, who was part of the roundtable.

Councilwoman and team member Lauri Winterfeldt-Shanks said the classes are, in part, an effort to ensure that everyone has access to government.

She also believes the city benefits from the input of those residents.


The team developed the idea for a civic education program while participating in the Building Equitable Communities roundtable in Indianapolis. It was hosted by the National League of Cities and aimed to help participants develop strategies for fostering equity in their communities.

Lemke said equity involves ensuring that everyone has an opportunity to have their basic human needs met, has a voice in governmental policymaking and is socially accepted by the community.

Barry Nelson, executive director of the Moorhead Healthy Community Initiative, was also part of the team. While he believes Moorhead has a leg up on many other communities when it comes to equity, he said the city still has work to do.

Moorhead youths need the opportunity to be involved in community decision-making, he said, citing a Healthy Community survey that found that only 25 percent of sixth- through 12th-graders in the metro area thinks the community values youth.

Mayor Mark Voxland said he believes the City Council authorized the trip because, while it sees the city as "pretty" equitable, it also sees some shortcomings, such as unhealthy prejudices on the part of some community members and the sense among others that they are not being included in the community.

There was no cost to participate in the roundtable, but Acting City Manager Michael Redlinger said the city would pay an estimated $5,000 in travel expenses.

Several Moorhead residents believe the community does a good job when it comes to issues of fairness and accessibility.

Moorhead resident Gina Sonscrant said that when her high school group approached the City Council and the Human Rights Commission about an issue related to homelessness, she felt they were open to hear her group's views and took their ideas seriously.


And Scott Puffe, whose family owns Puffe's Fine Jewelry, said residents can express their views.

"The people, if they want to be heard, have a forum to be heard in," he said. "If they don't use those forums, it's their own fault."

Moorhead resident Greta Landowski said people in positions of power in Moorhead are invested in the community and accessible.

"I love Moorhead because it's the only place I've ever lived that you can get heard if you go to the right people, and the right people could be your neighbor," she said.

Jesutine Breidenbach, a student at Minnesota State University Moorhead, believes there is opportunity for people to affect city government in Moorhead, but that they may not be aware of it.

"I think that there is a lot of opportunity for people to get involved with city government and things like that, but I don't think a lot of people know that those options are available," she said. "So I think that's part of the problem."

Breidenbach has a disability that requires her to use crutches or a wheelchair. For someone dealing with a disability, Moorhead is "fairly equitable," she said, adding, "I think there's always room for improvement."

Despite generally positive public perception, there are those who struggle.


A 2006 survey by the Wilder Foundation found 236 homeless individuals in Moorhead. That homelessness hits people of color particularly hard. While less than 10 percent of the Minnesota's population of Minnesota is made up of persons of color, they make up 28 percent of Moorhead's homeless population, according to the survey.

Michael Carbone, executive director of the Fargo-Moorhead Coalition for Homeless Persons, puts Moorhead about on par with other U.S. communities when it comes to equity.

"I would hesitate to say that Moorhead is not equitable, but I would hesitate to say that it is more equitable than any other community," he said.

There are many opportunities for people with low incomes to access housing services and participate in the community, Carbone said, but there are still many who struggle with these issues.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Shane Mercer at (701) 451-5734 Moorhead strives to be more equitable Shane Mercer 20071014

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