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Erik Burgess, Published July 19 2012

Clay County Commission election packed with known quantities

CLAY COUNTY – If this year’s County Commission race here were a summer Hollywood drama, its cast would most certainly be Oscar-worthy.

The star-studded lineup for the Clay County Commissioner primaries this fall includes several names which should be familiar to voters – former mayors, longtime city employees and headline-making flood fighters.

All five districts were adjusted in redistricting this year, so all five county commissioner seats were up for grabs.

In District 2, five are on the card: Jay Buchfink, bio-med director at SanfordHealth; Traci Goble, former Georgetown mayor; Frank Gross, a Dilworth city councilman; Ken Parke, Dilworth city administrator; and John Young Jr., former mayor of Hawley.

In District 3, four are running: Greg Anderson, former chairman of Oakport Township; Jon Evert, the incumbent for 18 years; Duane Hansen, a rural Hawley man with a history of threatening county officials; and Gary Peterson, a longtime Moorhead bar owner.

Incumbents in districts 1, 2 and 5 are running unopposed.

While redistricting happens after every census, County Administrator Brian Berg said it’s uncommon to have all five seats available during an election.

“I’m glad this only comes around once every 10 years,” Berg said.

The primary will be held Aug. 14.

District 2

Jay Buchfink, 48, has been the bio-med director at Sanford since 2009, and although he has no experience in elected office, he said he considers this an advantage.

“I’m hoping that because I’m not a career politician that I will bring the average person’s opinion (to the board),” Buchfink said.

He said he is running for commissioner in an effort to be more involved in government, a sentiment he hopes the average voter will understand.

“I’ve been kind of one of the silent majority, sitting back and being frustrated with the situation but not really taking enough of an active role,” he said.

Traci Goble, 38, has always dreamt of being in government.

“Ever since I was a little girl, I always wanted to be a mayor,” she said.

But moving up in government is another life goal for this Detroit Lakes native who resigned from her position as mayor of Georgetown in May.

“My passion is visiting with people and helping people and listening and getting things done,” she said.

She said two issues she would tackle as commissioner are flood control and quality of roads.

Frank Gross, 67, has considered running for commissioner for some time, but never did out of respect for the incumbent, Jerry Waller.

“I never ran against him because he’s a good friend of mine,” Gross said.

A former mayor of Dilworth and a city councilman in his ninth year, he said he wants city employees to be more involved in the budgeting process, and as commissioner he would reward departments for efficient use of funds.

“Happy employees make good employees,” he said.

Ken Parke, 57, has been the Dilworth city administrator for 19 years. Before this, he was the city’s finance officer for 14 years.

Parke said his varied experiences make him a good candidate.

“I think I bring a lot of valuable knowledge and experience to the county commission,” he said.

Parke has lived in Clay County for 32 years.

Jon Young Jr., 76, wants to be a staunch advocate for rural Clay County.

The former mayor of Hawley and current city councilman said officials often don’t pay attention to the needs of the rural western parts of the county.

“For a number of years now, all the commissioners have lived within about five or six miles of the Red River,” he said. “When you don’t live out here, and you aren’t out here a lot, you don’t see what things are like.”

District 3

Some may call Greg Anderson, 54, a hero for his flood-fighting efforts in Oakport when he was chairman of the township board, but Anderson insists he’s nothing special.

“I’m just that guy from Oakport,” he said.

A retired deputy chief from the Moorhead Police Department, Anderson said teamwork is crucial in any government position.

“We proved that during all the flood fights,” he said. “We did a heck of a job for a tiny little township.”

He said he believes the board is efficient, and he’d like it to continue being so.

Jon Evert, 45, is the incumbent, and said he really just wants to finish the four-year term he was elected to two years ago.

“I’d certainly like to fill out my term, so that’s why I’m running again,” he said.

Evert has served as commissioner in District 2 for 18 years.

He said the Fargo-Moorhead diversion project is an issue on his mind.

“While I support the need for Fargo-Moorhead to have a diversion, I don’t support the need to flood out the communities down here in the south end,” he said.

If there’s a dark horse in the District 3 race, it’s probably Duane Hansen. Hansen, 60, of rural Hawley, has never been an elected official, but it’s not for not trying.

“I’ve attempted to run for sheriff a minimum of four times, and they have yet to put me on the ballot,” Hansen said.

Hansen, who admits he doesn’t often see eye to eye with county officials, said he is concerned with fair access to public information and making sure everyone is treated equally by government.

“The small people are just kind of being pushed to the side, you might say, for the good of the few,” he said.

According to court documents, Hansen had five charges of disorderly conduct filed against him in Clay County in 2011, and he currently has a restraining order filed against him by Clay County Sheriff Bill Bergquist.

Gary L. Peterson, 59, has lived in Clay County for more than 50 years. The longtime owner of J.C. Chumley’s in Moorhead, Peterson said after 35 years of wearing that hat, he was burned out.

“When a lot of your late-night crowd are younger than your kids, it was probably time to retire because you really don’t have a lot in common,” he said, laughing.

Peterson said he doesn’t have any major issues with how the county is being run now.

“I just want to work for the constituents of District 3,” he said. “I guess I would like to pay back because the county’s been good to me.”

Wayne Ingersoll, Kevin Campbell and Grant Weyland are running uncontested in districts 1, 2 and 5, respectively.


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Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518