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Published June 26 2012

Piepkorn has silent exit from City Hall

FARGO – After four years of making waves in City Hall, Dave Piepkorn has made a swift and quiet exit from public office.

But his abrupt departure has not fallen on deaf ears.

Piepkorn’s outspoken personality became a staple on the Fargo City Commission after he was elected in 2008. However, the outgoing commissioner – who lost in a re-election bid earlier this month – was notably absent at a Monday commission meeting that would have been his last as a city official.

Piepkorn told The Forum on Tuesday that “other commitments” kept him from attending, but his absence was noted publicly by other board members, with whom Piepkorn appeared to have a rocky relationship.

It’s not the only way since being beaten at the polls that Piepkorn has seemed to shy away from public attention and his remaining duties in public office. He did not return requests for media interviews after the election, and he also severed his ties with City Hall.

City officials said Piepkorn cleared out his office in City Hall last week and didn’t attend the June 20 meeting of the Liquor Control Board, where he served as the City Commission’s liaison.

“You couldn’t be too surprised, could you?” Piepkorn told The Forum on Tuesday.

Piepkorn had developed a reputation for his vocal opposition to issues that other city leaders generally favored. That created a rift between Piepkorn and the four other board members, who include Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker.

Fargo voters elected Melissa Sobolik to the commission on June 12, while also voting Mike Williams in for his third term. There were two open seats on the board. Sobolik, who will replace Piepkorn, will be sworn in July 9.

In a first for the mayor, Walaker endorsed Sobolik in the commission race. He didn’t back any other City Commission candidate.

Under regular circumstances, the singular absence of a city commissioner at the board’s bi-monthly meetings would not be unusual. But Commissioners Tim Mahoney and Brad Wimmer pointed out the absence during the meeting, commenting on Piepkorn’s service and his “nice work” on the liquor board and in promoting Renaissance Zone projects.

“As a commission, we’d like to thank him for his hard work,” Mahoney said at the close of Monday’s meeting. “We’ll miss some of the interesting arguments, but he did a nice job … on all these different issues.”

City leaders told The Forum after the meeting they had a plaque ready to give Piepkorn at the meeting to commemorate his service to the city. Instead, the plaque stayed hidden beneath plastic wrapping, carried off in the hands of the board’s secretary.

Piepkorn will now receive it without the public appreciation the board members said they wanted to send him off with.

“It’s too bad he didn’t show up,” Wimmer said after the meeting. “Normally we like to have a little ‘ta-da’ and give some kudos and say some thanks.”

Two years ago, after Piepkorn defeated then-Commissioner Linda Coates, Coates attended her final board meeting and received the public farewell, Wimmer said.

In recent months with the election approaching, the friction between Piepkorn and the rest of the commission was more apparent.

Earlier this year, Piepkorn joined Williams in opposing the sales tax extension measure that Fargo voters approved this month by a slim margin.

Walaker, Mahoney and Wimmer said it was difficult to gain 60 percent of Fargo voters’ approval when two of the five board members publicly opposed the measure.

Piepkorn also openly criticized plans to add on-street bike lanes on portions of 10th Street North and University Drive. In questioning the bike lanes proposal, Piepkorn chastised Fargo traffic engineer Jeremy Gorden, telling him “if you worked for me, you wouldn’t work for me.”

Then, with a week to go before the June 12 election, Walaker made an unprecedented move. For the first time in his tenure as mayor, Walaker endorsed a candidate – the challenger, Sobolik – in a commission race. Walaker praised Sobolik’s qualifications but would not say who he wanted Sobolik to replace.

On election night, Sobolik also had support from Mahoney and Wimmer, who joined Walaker at Sobolik’s celebration party.

“I don’t think there’s much to say. I think what has happened speaks for itself,” Piepkorn said Tuesday. “It was a public election, but to have two of the city commissioners and the mayor actively campaign against you, that’s really something.”

Piepkorn said he’s not bitter about the loss.

“Not at all, but I would say I’m very surprised about how they behaved, but that’s how it goes. That’s politics,” he said.

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