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Zaleski: Can you say conflict of interest?

Zaleski writes, "Both the potential for and the appearance of conflict of interest would be front and center should Roers Jones become mayor. It’s inevitable, even if everything possible were done to avoid it."

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InForum columnist Jack Zaleski is the former editor of The Forum's editorial page.
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In my 35 years of observing Fargo elections and politics, the municipal election of 2022 is one of the most interesting. There is a lot going on, but two developments require special attention.

The dust-up a couple of weeks ago regarding the failure of Roers Development Co. to live up to a negotiated commitment to build townhomes as part of its new Newman Center complex in north Fargo has affected the mayoral race. Shannon Roers Jones is among candidates trying to oust Mayor Tim Mahoney, one of the most successful and capable mayors in the city’s history. She is a principal officer/lawyer of her father’s company. In a burst of inspired candor, City Commissioner Dave Piepkorn called company president Jim Roers “a liar,” a characterization with which members of the Roosevelt Neighborhood Association would not disagree. The association, city and Roers reached an accord that the company would build the townhomes in a timely manner in order to preserve some vestiges of the neighborhood’s eroding residential ambience. Didn’t happen. Roers violated the agreement, and by Piepkorn’s measure, lied to the city and the neighborhood.

Political tension spiked when Piepkorn wondered aloud if Roers’ conduct would have been challenged if a Roers family member/company officer were mayor. He suggested the matter would have never seen the light of day. Subtlety is not Dave’s style.

Subtlety aside, this much is true: Both the potential for and the appearance of conflict of interest would be front and center should Roers Jones become mayor. It’s inevitable, even if everything possible were done to avoid it. Roers’ company is a big player in Fargo’s building and development, including being the beneficiary of city tax incentives and other goodies. Suddenly the question of the company’s fast step regarding the north Fargo townhomes is the focus of Roers Jones candidacy. As it should be. After all, did daddy/president Jim and daughter/lawyer Shannon discuss the townhome agreement? Naw. Never mentioned it. Yeah, right.

Republican-sponsored candidate forums are political rallies masquerading as public service. Political parties exist for one purpose: to elect candidates of their partisan persuasion. office. That’s it. It’s a peck of piffle when a local party mouthpiece tries to define a candidate forum as public service. It’s the same if events were sponsored by Democrats, Independents or Libertarians. The goal is to gain political advantage. Party hacks who say differently are lying.

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Candidates vying for non-partisan local offices should not participate in cynically disguised political sideshows.

Zaleski retired in 2017 after 30 years as The Forum’s editorial page editor. He is the author of a new history of Forum Communications Company . Contact him at jzaleski@forumcomm.com or 701-241-5521 or 701-566-3576.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.

READ MORE FROM JACK ZALESKI
Columnist Jack Zaleski shares thoughts on the midterm election.

Opinion by Jack Zaleski
Zaleski retired in 2017 after 30 years as The Forum’s editorial page editor. He is author of a new history of Forum Communications Co. Contact him at jzaleski@forumcomm.com or 701-241-5521 or 701-566-3576.
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