Rick Olson: Process For Filling Fargo Mayoral Vacancy Is Unfair


Former Fargo television newsman Jim Shaw wrote about the process for filling the vacant mayoral position in Fargo in his column last Sunday in The Forum.  Shaw pointed out that the process for filling the unexpired term, caused by the unexpected death of the legendary Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker, has brought up some rather thorny issues.For example, the thorniest issue at present is a provision in the Fargo city charter which decrees that when a sitting member of the city commission chooses to run for mayor, then said member must resign from the commission in order to do so.  How ridiculous is that?  Shaw pointed out numerous instances where a number of current officeholders ran for higher office, those individuals were not required to resign their current positions.

>He pointed out that when John Kerry and John McCain ran for president and lost, they were allowed to return to their seats in the U.S. Senate.  McCain, a Republican, is the senior senator from Arizona.  Kerry, a Democrat, served in the Senate from Massachusetts and is now the U.S. Secretary of State.  Shaw also pointed out that when state Sen. George B. Sinner, D-Fargo, lost the election for North Dakota’s lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, Sinner was allowed to retain his seat in the state senate.

Then, of course, Barack Obama was elected to the U.S. Senate from Illinois in November of 2004. In 2007, midway through his first Senate term, he started his campaign for the White House.  He was hardly seen in the Senate chamber during his presidential campaign, yet he was allowed to keep his seat.  He resigned his seat in the Senate so he could be inaugurated as President of the United States on Jan. 20, 2009.

The question which begs to be asked pertaining to the current mayoral vacancy in Fargo is this.  If a U.S. senator doesn’t have to resign from the senate in order to run for another office, then why does a sitting member of the Fargo City Commission have to resign their seat in order to run for mayor?  The people of Fargo obviously voted for this change in the city charter at a time when no one really considered the fact that one day, this provision would come into play.  With the unexpected death earlier this month of the legendary Dennis Walaker, this provision has come to the forefront.

The point is this.  I don’t know of any city, county, or any other political subdivision in North Dakota which requires the members of its governing body to resign in order to seek higher office.  It seems to me that it is quite unfair to penalize any one of the presently-sitting commissioners who may want to throw their hat into the ring to replace Walaker.  It is ridiculous to penalize these people by requiring them to step down from their positions on the commission.

There has been some wide speculation that Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, North Dakota’s junior senator, may be interested in coming home to run for governor in 2016.  If Heitkamp were to come home and become the Democratic-NPL Party’s candidate for governor, she would not have to resign her seat in the U.S. Senate in order to do so.  If she were to run and win the race for governor, then of course, she would have to resign from the Senate in order to be sworn in as governor.

In conclusion, it is my opinion that serious consideration should be given to repealing the requirement that a currently-sitting member of the city commission must resign their seat in order for he or she to run for mayor.  This would require an amendment of the city charter, which would have to be approved at a subsequent city election.