Election roundup: City Commission race Part II

Chuck Wickenhofer


Mark Motis

Mark Motis, who was born and raised in Hankinson, N.D., has been involved in local government since he moved to the region in 1973.

“I came to Minnewaukan as principal of the Fort Totten Elementary School,” Motis said. “I’ve been involved ever since in city matters.”

Motis served on the Minnewaukan City Commission and on the county seat in Benson County, but perhaps his most challenging role was as mayor of Minnewaukan during a time when flooding threatened to overtake the city.

Though Devils Lake had been rising since 1993, when Motis took over after becoming interim mayor in 2011, following the felony conviction of the previous mayor, the flooding had already become an existential threat to the town.

“FEMA finally realized that we were worth saving, and the story generated by the population was that they did a buyout of Churchs Ferry for practice, and Minnewaukan was going to be next,” Motis said. “It didn’t quite work out that way.”

Motis described how he influenced the federal government to bring relief to Minnewaukan.

“You have to write a lot of letters and you have to get engineers on your side,” Motis said.

Another issue related to the devastating flooding was the heavy truck traffic resulting from the building of levees to protect Devils Lake.

“That was a period of time when we had about 100 and some trucks going through town every day,” Motis said. “They were building the dike here; that was a mess.”

Following a relocation plan that was initiated in order to save homes from flooding, Motis sold his home in Minnewaukan and moved to Devils Lake. After moving to the city, it wasn’t long before Motis felt the need to serve his community once again.

“I’m an interested citizen,” Motis said. “I’d make a difference by researching the issues and voting the way the people want. If you’re elected by the people, you vote what they want.”

Among the issues that Motis believes the people of Devils Lake want addressed is economic development. On that front, he is satisfied with the progress that the city has made.

“I think we’re doing a fine job with that,” Motis said. “We have construction going on right now; two more fast food places, and a new hotel that’s not (yet) operative. The Cenex station is certainly a big thing.”

Though his candidacy is not based on any one specific issue, Motis named two areas that he believes should be addressed.

“I’m worried about the fight that’s going on with the (oil) pipeline,” Motis said. “Trains came in here with cars of pipe, and if you go north of town on 20, you don’t have to go very far, you’re going to see a field fenced off and pipe that’s all laying there ready to be put in the ground.

“I sure don’t want (the pipeline) in the lake,” Motis added. “We certainly don’t want anything to happen to the lake, and right now we’re (also) fighting with controlling carp so they don’t get in the lake.”

The other issue Motis expressed concern about was the operation of the Altru Clinic and its relationship to Mercy Hospital.

“I think Altru Clinic could do more to support our hospital. As soon as somebody comes in there with more than a cut finger, they send them to Grand Forks,” Motis said. “We’ve got a good hospital here. Don’t kill it. Everything is in danger if it’s not patronized.”

After serving Benson County and Minnewaukan for many years in different roles, Motis feels that he has the experience and integrity necessary to make a positive impact as a city commissioner.

“I’ll do a good job. I’m not Hillary Clinton and I’m not the other cowboy,” Motis said. “I’m not going to say that I’m going to work on this or I’m going to work on that. I will do my best, and I’m not making any promises. I won’t lie.”

Ben Sander

32-year-old Ben Sander, who grew up in Devils Lake and lived in the city most of his life, hopes to bring a fresh, younger perspective to the City Commission.

Sander, who co-owns the downtown shop Boots & Heels with his wife, Amber, is an advocate for the promotion of small businesses like his.

“It’s great that we have an organization such as Forward Devils Lake to have a mediation or a confidentiality type of thing for businesses come in and set something up, especially for large businesses, anyway,” Sander said. “I’d just like to see a lot more done for smaller businesses, too.

“Everybody loves to see that big fish out there wanting to come at your lure, but the big ones aren’t always what’s going to feed you,” Sander continued. “It may be nice to have them in your trophy case, but the little ones are going to be the good eating.”

Sander expanded on his ideas about how the city could better promote small businesses, drawing on his background as a small business owner.

“If I was going to name one main issue, I would say development. I can see the potential that Devils Lake has; we’ve all seen the growth in the past five years,” Sander said. “I’d like to foster a culture of improving what we have. I think we can encourage more small businesses, because overall the whole economy in a sense is focusing more on smaller stores, going back to what our grandparents had. Our generation is kind of getting sick of the big box (stores).”

Though Sander is running as somewhat of an outsider, he reports that he has followed city politics and believes his time living in Grand Forks adds to his perspective on how the city could be run differently.

“I wasn’t a regular attendee of the (city) meetings, but I did read the minutes and I had interest in it,” Sander said. “I think I provide some good insight, having lived in Grand Forks with a young family.

“I haven’t been on a commission; I’ve hardly been on a board, period,” Sander added. “I’m a rookie in that sense. I feel that getting into that position lends opportunity to question why things are done this way.”

One of the issues that Sander believes in strongly is the need for childcare in the city. The candidate believes that availability of childcare in the city is key to economic growth.

“It is a drastic issue. I’ve heard many instances with people trying to move to town for a nicer job, and it’s really hard to find childcare,” Sander said.

The Sander family has experience with childcare, and he seems to think that the availability of adequate options in the city needs to be more fully addressed.

“My wife ran a home childcare service in Grand Forks, and we know how difficult it is,” Sander said. “The effort with Devils Lake Kids, what was going on there, I’m not sure what happened. I think things might have been able to be done differently, looked at differently.”

Another recent issue that concerns Sander is the proposed oil refinery, which is on hold for the time being. Though he didn’t take a position at the time, he did question the ideas driving the approval of the project.

Sander also wondered about how an oil refinery would fit into the culture of Devils Lake.

“I was really in between on the oil refinery. I saw the dollar signs clicking in everybody’s heads, and I think that was the major motivation,” Sander said. “That would have been great, but in the back of my head, the health concerns, the image of the community; we’re a recreational (community), our visitor’s bureau focuses so hard on fishing. It’s obviously a big thing, but if we’re going to focus on fishing, why would we build a huge industrial eyesore? There were a lot of questions for me and a lot of people.”

Though the somewhat apolitical newcomer to the campaign season admits that he doesn’t have a great deal of political experience, Sander hopes to draw not only on his agricultural and marketing background, but on his youth in order to sway potential voters.

“Because I’m a marketing person and an ag person, I think it does provide some insight,” Sander said. “I’d be drastically different. The gentlemen that serve now are very well experienced in what they’re doing and where they’ve come from sitting on the commission for so long. I think I’d provide a little bit younger perspective, because I see things differently than they may have over time.”