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Organizers pull plug on recall for Fargo commissioner who questioned cost of refugees

Fargo City Commissioner Dave Piepkorn asks for an accounting of what the refugee resettlement in the Fargo area is costing during the Commission meeting Monday, Oct. 10, 2016. Dave Wallis / The Forum

FARGO - The committee looking to recall Fargo City Commissioner Dave Piepkorn said it will not file its petition in the effort.

In a statement issued in the early morning hours of Friday, May 12, the deadline to submit the petitions, the group said the decision comes after "Piepkorn's recent promise to personally obtain the list of all signatories."

Andrew Lenzmeier, chairman of the Committee to Recall Dave Piepkorn, said in an interview later in the day Friday that the group also may not have had enough signatures to force a recall election, which was prompted by Piepkorn's concerns about the impact of refugees resettled in Fargo.

Lenzmeier said the committee didn't gather enough signatures to ensure there would be enough valid signatures to force a recall after they were vetted by the city auditor's office.

He said the group needed 3,500 signatures and had that many, but they were aiming for 4,000 to be sure the petition would stand. They didn't hit the 4,000 goal, which would have allowed a buffer for any signatures rejected as invalid.

"If we had a couple of weeks (more), we'd be ready to roll," Lenzmeier said.

Lenzmeier said Piepkorn made his promise to make an open records request for the names on the petitions on a radio program that recently aired on The Flag 1100 AM.

"He was saying more explicitly that he was going to comb through the list" to be sure there wasn't anyone on there who shouldn't be," Lenzmeier said. "We were on the margin to turn in. And we were right up against the clock here. We decided not to turn in and not have them disclosed to him. And we had several folks decline to sign for fear of retribution."

"Fargo is a small town," Lenzmeier said, adding that Piepkorn "very much views anyone who questions him as an enemy."

In its statement, the recall group said the two-month signature-gathering effort was meant to hold Piepkorn accountable, saying he has acted as a "bully," abusing his power in an effort to "denigrate and marginalize some of the city's most vulnerable residents."

Piepkorn declined to make a statement about the end of the petition drive.

"I have no comment," Piepkorn said in an email Friday.

Piepkorn has repeatedly sought information on the cost of refugee resettlement for the city of Fargo, saying he believes the resettlement program is an economic burden and a public safety concern.

Piepkorn has requested three refugee reports. He called a report presentation in mid-April — one that he missed while on vacation — "propaganda and fake news."

Lenzmeier said the group will continue to "monitor Dave, and stand up to Dave, and make sure that the city of Fargo knows what Dave is about. .... Everyone on the committee is dedicated to holding Dave accountable for his statements and actions."

The petitions were to be been turned over to City Auditor Steve Sprague's office to be certified.

Lee Ann Oliver, an elections specialist with the North Dakota Secretary of State's Office, confirmed that "once petitions are turned in they are considered public record and would have to be given out if requested."

In its statement, the Committee to Recall Dave Piepkorn said petitioners had spoken to thousands of Fargo residents. The group also praised Fargo for welcoming refugees since the end of World War II.

"Fargo's churches and business leaders have led the effort to welcome these people who have experienced immense loss, hardship and suffering and by doing so given them a second chance at life. These refugees in turn enrich our community, increase our tax base and strengthen our workforce," the statement reads. "In the process they become us; our neighbors, our co-workers, our friends and family members."

Lenzmeier said the recall group hasn't thought of any candidates they'd support against Piepkorn in the June 2018 City Commission election, when Piepkorn is up for re-election.

"Literally, anybody but Dave," Lenzmeier said.

Helmut Schmidt

Helmut Schmidt was born in Germany, but grew up in the Twin Cities area, graduating from Park High School of Cottage Grove. After serving a tour in the U.S. Army, he attended the University of St. Thomas in St Paul, Minn., graduating in 1984 with a degree in journalism. He then worked at the Albert Lea (Minn.) Tribune and served as managing editor there for three years. He joined The Forum in October 1989, working as a copy editor until 2000. Since then, he has worked as a reporter on several beats, including education, Fargo city government, business and military affairs. He is currently The Forum's K-12 education reporter.

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