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Zaleski: Who flips the bird next time?

Zaleski weighs in on the behavior of Fargo city commissioners.

Jack Zaleski column mug.jpg
jack zaleski column mug

Fargo City Commissioner John Strand wants his commission colleagues to play nice. He wants them to be civil and respectful with each other when they debate. He wants them to honor each other and demonstrate that they can work together.

Good luck with that, John.

Strand was responding to a news-making incident at a commission meeting in late July when Commissioner Dave Piepkorn flipped “the bird” at Commissioner Tony Gehrig after the two had engaged in a heated verbal exchange about a proposed property tax break for a local manufacturing company. Piepkorn’s gesture has been reported as “alleged” and “apparent,” but a review of the video of the meeting and photos made from the video are unambiguous. Nothing apparent about Piepkorn’s large hand raising the appropriate finger to create the ever-popular flipping-the-bird signal. No mistaking it, despite Piepkorn’s flaccid claim he did no such thing. Apparently he’s not seen the video.

Strand said the incident showed that debate at commission meetings had “fallen off the rails,” and that commissioners should “reset.” Might be too late for that. The enmity between Piepkorn and Gehrig looks to be a permanent fixture of commission meetings. Both tend to be cocksure of their respective positions on public policy. Both favor debating techniques associated with junior high school bullies, rather than conduct expected of responsible elected officials. Both men have short fuses. They deserve each other.

However, on public policy matters crucial to smart development of the city, Piepkorn is more enlightened than Gehrig, which admittedly is not a high bar. Piepkorn has a good grasp of the value of tax breaks and other incentives that stimulate development and broaden the tax base. Gehrig’s myopia on that issue should be a disqualifier for serving on the commission. Getting it wrong all the time — in light of evidence that incentives work as advertised — suggests the intellectual depth of an oil slick.

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Given Gehrig’s irresponsible bent on policy and his arrogant hubris when he’s challenged, his vote likely would be “no” on Commissioner Strand’s proposals for respect and civility, which comports with Gehrig’s standing as the most disrespectful, uncivil commissioner among the five. Gehrig’s practiced unfamiliarity with civility, combined with Piepkorn’s demonstrated volatility, could mean the middle-finger bird will fly again. The only question is which one of them will flip it next time.

Maybe in the present political climate, it’s the new normal. God help us.

Click here for more of Jack Zaleski's columns.

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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