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Zaleski: Last take on city election

Zaleski endorses Fargo Mayor Mahoney for another term and Denise Kolpack and Al Carlson for Fargo City Commission.

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There is only one significant issue Fargo voters should consider when voting for Park Board commissioners: Island Park. The crown jewel of the city’s parks is due for upgrades and improvements. However, there are competing priorities at play in the Island Park debate: preservation vs. playground.

To be fair, the parks and park programs are among the best in the nation. The variety of indoor and outdoor recreational opportunities is impressive. The condition of parks and other facilities is mostly excellent. The board has been responsible with finances and responsive to changing recreational priorities, including establishment of urban green spaces, trails and nature preserves. The diversified system is managed well. In most areas of parks governance, board and staff have performed competently. The funding success of the spectacular sports complex in far south Fargo is an example of their good work.

Island Park, however, is unique. Proposed changes could threaten the park’s idyllic ambience and its historic purpose. Fargo’s founders carved the tract out of the original city street grid, specifically noting the value of preserving a large, wooded park in the heart of town. Their brilliant planning is reflected in the deep affection Fargo citizens have for the park. Any attempt, however well-intentioned, to erode the cherished characteristics of the park should be resisted.

Not every park in the city needs to be a raucous playground or trash-talk ball field. Not every swimming pool needs to be an ostentatious water park. Not every park should sacrifice trees to accommodate parking and roads.

With those concerns in mind, the district should build a new pool that complements the park’s environment as easily as the old one has. Additionally, improve walkway lighting. Fund full time security to make the urban park feel safer and indeed be safer. Avoid “improvements” that remove trees, either mature trees or new saplings. Raze the condemned Community Theater and replace it with green space and an amphitheater as a symbolic tribute to the theater’s history in the park.

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Before you vote, ask candidates about Island Park. If it’s not their first priority, impress upon them that it should be.

My friend and writing colleague, Jim Shaw, doesn’t endorse candidates for public office. I think he should pick ‘em. He’s covered local government longer than I have. He knows the good ones and the bad ones. Here’s the way I see the city election:

Mayor Tim Mahoney has earned re-election. He has presided over the city’s smart growth, diversifying economy and changing demographics with uncommon intelligence, sensitivity and no-nonsense management skills. He’s been a bridge-builder and a steady hand. The longer Fargo can count on his leadership, the better.

Denise Kolpack and Al Carlson for the City Commission. If that looks like a strange pairing, it is.

I’ve known Kolpack from the time she was starting out as a young journalist to her recent work with a major health insurer. Smart, experienced and empathetic, she’s also quick to speak up when she detects dishonesty or hypocrisy, as she demonstrated at candidate forums. A student of city issues, she would bring a measured, informed and civil voice to the debate.

Carlson is no warm-and-fuzzy fellow, but public service often requires directness. In the Legislature (10 years as majority leader) Carlson did not suffer fools lightly. His approach to city business would be similar. He will bring his knowledge of the interactions of state and city governments to the table. The city could use his nuanced understanding of property taxes, water project viability and public works investments. He’s a fiscal conservative, but he’s not anti-government. Rather, he knows that smart governance can do good things.

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.

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READ MORE FROM JACK ZALESKI
Columnist Jack Zaleski writes about the status of the Republican and Democratic Parties in North Dakota.

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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