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City Commission candidates talk special assessments at forum

City Commission candidates, from left, Tim Flakoll, incumbent Tony Gehrig, Liz Maddock-Johnson, Kelan Oster, incumbent Dave Piepkorn and Mike Williams participate in a forum Tuesday, May 8, at North Dakota State College of Science in Fargo. Kim Hyatt/The Forum

FARGO — In a City Commision candidate forum Tuesday, May 8, the panel tackled topics of housing affordability, flood protection, mental health, separation of church and state, a new event center and — by no surprise — special assessments.

"This topic never goes away," said candidate Tim Flakoll of specials. "It's talked about ad nauseum, but no one has ever moved the ball."

Incumbent and Deputy Mayor Dave Piepkorn said the state Legislature failed in reforming property taxes. Along with candidate Mike Williams, a grassroots activist and former commissioner, they said there should be property tax reform through an initiated measure.

Piepkorn said the last thing the commission needs is another former Republican legislator in referencing Flakoll, who served in the state Senate from 1998 to 2016. Current Commissioner Tony Grindberg, whose term expires in 2020, was a senator from 1992 to 2014.

Candidate Liz Maddock-Johnson said she is running for the commission to add a different perspective to the city's governing body. The commission is composed of all men, and she is one of three women running for two open seats held by Piepkorn and incumbent Tony Gehrig, who touts a plan to eliminate specials by utilizing a sales tax now and raising utility rates.

In total there are nine candidates in the commission race, but only six were at Tuesday's forum held at the North Dakota State College of Science in Fargo. Hosts of the forum said candidate Lenny Tweeden did not respond to requests to attend and candidate Linda Boyd had to attend a Fargo School Board meeting. Former commissioner Arlette Preston was absent as well.

Moderators asked the panel whether the Ten Commandments monument in front of the Civic Center should stay or go. Williams said he already voted to remove it in 2005 and he would vote the same. The only other candidate in favor of removing the controversial monument was Maddock-Johnson, who said doing so would be respectful of a diverse community.

On the topic of a proposed $51 million performing arts facility, Gehrig said the city has to first focus on the diversion and affordable housing. Candidate Kelan Oster said the city can't afford it, but Piepkorn argued, "It's going to be a great asset for downtown."

The city election is June 12.

Kim Hyatt

Kim Hyatt is a reporter with The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and a 2014 graduate of the University of Minnesota Duluth. She started her newspaper career at the Owatonna People’s Press covering arts and education. In 2016, she received Minnesota Newspaper Association's Dave Pyle New Journalist Award and later that year she joined The Forum newsroom.

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