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Published May 16 2012

Karl makes aggressive bid for West Fargo City Commission seat

WEST FARGO – Candidates for City Commission here engaged in a colorful debate Wednesday, as the two sitting commissioners fended off personal attacks from their lone challenger.

Two commission seats are up for election on the June 12 ballot.

Mark Simmons and Mike Thorstad are both running for re-election, while former mayoral candidate Peter Karl is aiming to unseat one of them.

During Wednesday’s candidate forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters, Karl was unabashedly hostile toward Simmons, Thorstad and other city officials.

He repeatedly accused them of irresponsible leadership and wishing harm upon West Fargo’s residents through inaction and the decisions they’ve made.

Karl advocates for a mass-transit system and for making West Fargo’s volunteer fire department a full-time operation. He also pledged to lower residents’ taxes by paying for multimillion-dollar road projects solely through state and federal grants.

Karl says city leaders have “no desire” to listen to his ideas.

“I’m offering a solution,” Karl said. “I have a plan, and it will work.”

Simmons and Thorstad defended their work as commissioners.

They described various efforts to fortify and expand infrastructure that accommodates West Fargo’s explosive population growth since 2000, while holding the line as much as possible on property tax increases.

During Simmons’ and Thorstad’s tenure on the commission, major businesses – such as Monsanto and Caterpillar – have invested in expanding their West Fargo sites, adding jobs and commercial tax revenue to city coffers.

By this fall, the city will also be home to North Dakota’s first CostCo store, which will bring 300 jobs.

“The city is growing, and there’ve been a lot of changes,” Thorstad said. “We’re doing a lot of positive things in the city.”

After relentless attacks from Karl, Simmons concluded his remarks by emphasizing his passion for public service and the work the commission has done to better West Fargo.

“It’s tough for me to sit up here and be criticized by a lunatic,” Simmons said. “I love what I do. We’re moving forward. We have businesses who never would’ve thought of coming to West Fargo five years ago, but they’re here now because of the work we’ve done.”

Simmons is seeking a third term, while Thorstad is seeking a second term.

Karl ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2010. This is his first bid for City Commission.

Commissioners are elected to four-year terms and receive an annual salary of $7,575.

Also Wednesday night, the League of Women Voters held forums for West Fargo’s park board and school board candidates, who also discussed the challenges and successes of the city’s recent growth.

For the school board, five candidates are vying for three open seats.

Incumbents Kay Kiefer and Patti Stedman are seeking re-election, while newcomers Gail Flom, Jeff Shirley and Shelley Treib are also seeking a spot on the board.

Shirley and Treib did not participate in Wednesday’s candidate forum.

Stedman, Kiefer and Flom discussed how the West Fargo School District has adapted to the city’s rapid growth and how West Fargo’s schools might operate going forward.

School board members serve four-year terms and receive an annual salary of $4,100.

Meanwhile, two seats are open on the West Fargo Park Board this summer.

The two incumbents, Kathy Scully and Todd Rheault, are seeking to keep their seats, while former member Ken Zetocha is challenging them to retake a spot on the park board.

Scully, who’s seeking a fifth term, has served on the board since 1996. She did not participate in Wednesday’s candidate forum.

Rheault is seeking a second term after having been elected in 2008.

Zetocha served two terms on the West Fargo Park Board from 2004 through 2010. He lost his re-election bid then, when he was ousted by challenger Jeff McCracken.

Park board members serve four-year terms and receive an annual salary of $1,904.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kristen Daum at (701) 241-5541

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