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Fargo task force considers commission term limits, mayor's job

Mark Johnson, second from left, shares information about different forms of city government Thursday morning, Oct. 13, during a meeting of a task force looking at possible ways Fargo city government and elections migh be changed. Dave Olson / The Forum

FARGO—A task force studying possible changes to Fargo city government and how elections are run spent part of its meeting Thursday, Oct. 13, discussing term limits and whether Fargo should make the mayor's job a full-time position.

Former Fargo mayor Bruce Furness, chairman of the task force, said when people "get entrenched in a position, they do things they shouldn't do."

Other task force members agreed that term limits are generally a good idea, including former city commissioner Arlette Preston, who said that in her opinion eight years was about as long as someone should be a commissioner.

City commissioners in Fargo are limited to serving three consecutive four-year terms. Any commissioner who has served in the capacity of mayor as well as city commissioner may not serve more than four consecutive four-year terms, according to the city's website.

The election and governance task force was formed in August following a June election that saw 11 candidates vie for two commission seats.

Tony Grindberg, who won one of those commission seats with 16 percent of the vote, called for establishing the task force while campaigning, stating he worried that elections with large numbers of candidates would result in winners rarely getting a majority vote.

Furness, who was on the commission from 1994-2006 when the city changed from a runoff election system to having one election with unlimited candidates, said the goal of the task force is to formulate recommendations for the city commission to consider that will be simple to implement and increase voter turnout.

Besides runoff elections and term limits, the task force is looking at possibly switching to a city council form of government, or to a commission or council that has a full-time mayor.

Mark Johnson, a task force member and an instructor of political science and history at Minnesota State Community and Technical College in Moorhead, said many U.S. cities the size of Fargo still have part-time mayers as Fargo does, but he said the breakdown becomes about 50/50 for cities that are roughly twice the size of Fargo or larger.

Johnson said the commission form of city government has become rare in the United States, noting that that there are likely no more than 100 to 150 city commissions left in the country and most of those are in small cities.

He said in Texas, where the city commission form of government was born, there are no cities that use it today.

According to Johnson, one difference between a city commission and a city council is that members of a commission are often given a portfolio of city departments over which they have some administrative responsibility.

Furness said he hopes the task force will have recommendations for the City Commission to consider by the end of the year.