Rick Olson: Death Of Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker Leaves Questions About Replacement


Given the shocking news of the death Tuesday evening of three-term Fargo Mayor Dennis “Denny” Walaker, this has caused many people in the community to wonder about the process of how the vacancy will be filled. Walaker, 73, had just been re-elected to his third consecutive four-year term as mayor in June.

I did some quick research, and discovered that the process of filling the vacancy is spelled out in city ordinance. The mayor’s unexpired term will have to be filled in a special election, which will be need to be called by the city commission. I presume the commissioners will set the date for the election for as soon as one can be held. The ordinances are silent as to a specific period of time in which the vacancy must be filled. Meanwhile, as deputy mayor, Commissioner Tim Mahoney has assumed the role of acting mayor.

However, if Walaker’s death had taken place less than six months from when the next city-wide election occurs, then the commissioners would have had the authority to appoint an interim mayor. The individual so appointed under such a scenario would have to become a candidate and be duly elected at that election if he or she wanted to continue serving as mayor for the remainder of the unexpired term.

While the Fargo Home Rule Charter does not directly speak to the death of an incumbent, I did find the following provisions for filling the vacancy. Article 2, Section 18 states: “Any member of the governing board may resign by filing a written resignation with the city auditor. When a vacancy occurs or whenever a resignation is submitted pursuant to section 12 of this Article, the governing body must call a special election to fill such vacancy for the unexpired term unless a city-wide election occurs within the next six months. In that case, the governing body may fill the position by appointment until the vacancy is filled by election.”

Also, Article 2, Section 12 of the city charter pertains to whenever a sitting city commissioner becomes a mayoral candidate during their term of office as a commissioner. Such an individual must resign his or her seat on the city commission in order to run for mayor, thus setting the stage for a special election to be held in order to fill the vacating commissioner’s seat.

The five members of the Fargo City Commission include the mayor, who serves in a dual role of mayor and president of the city commission, and the other four commissioners.

Denny was definitely a legendary guy. He loved and cared for our city during his entire career of public service. He will be missed. I would encourage all of the people of Fargo who would be so inclined to join me in praying for the Walaker family.