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Kindred council member target of recall effort

Kindred City Council member Julie Johnson. Kim Hyatt / The Forum

FARGO — Several weeks after Kindred's mayor and city auditor temporarily resigned because of a personality conflict with a City Council member, storm clouds are back over City Hall with an effort to recall that council member.

Julie Johnson, who's in her second term representing this city of 700 about 15 miles southwest of Fargo, is the target of the recall by a group of city residents who say she is aggressive and disrespectful. She maintains she was only doing her job, which includes working with the city auditor to review city finances, and feels hurt by their attack.

Johnson has openly expressed frustration with City Auditor Twila Morrison because Morrison wouldn't immediately give her access to city records. Mayor Jeff Wanner, Johnson's father, tried to make peace between the two but was rebuffed.

In anger, both he and Morrison resigned in early March but came back a few weeks later.

Morrison said the recall committee needs 112 signatures, or 25 percent of the votes cast for Johnson in the last election, to force a special election. The City Council meets at 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 3.

The recall committee is led by Ozzie Peraza, a former City Council candidate, Shawn Peraza, Tod and Tara Welter and Joel Ronningen. The Forum sought comments from Shawn Peraza and she said she would ask another group member to answer questions but none called back.

In their petition, they said, Johnson "continues to cause division, has embarrassed our city and cost our community thousands of dollars." They said "refuses to accept facts and lacks the capacity to move past the issues once addressed because of personal vendettas and misplaced agendas."

The petition doesn't specify how Johnson is doing these things.

In a statement, Johnson said, "This has nothing to do with my responsibilities as a City Council Member but more a personal attack and opinions of the recall committee whom I have seen at one council meeting during the last five years I have served."

She said she's had "positive feedback from a number of citizens on the job I have been doing as a city

council member."

The conflict with Morrison apparently had to do with Johnson's request to see which residents had past-due water bills. Morrison said she didn't hand the list over because she wanted to make sure the names were public records.

Wanner has said not giving the records to Johnson would've violated open records laws, but Johnson believes the disagreement should never have escalated as it did.

Morrison also changed her own job description, which she has conceded was a mistake.

Johnson made these issues the topic of a special council meeting on Jan. 30. They came up again at another contentious meeting on March 1, when Morrison played a recording of her and Johnson having an intense argument.

Wanner and Morrison resigned after that meeting, though Wanner's resignation was not official because it wasn't in writing. Morrison was reinstated by the council later.

While Johnson has said she would act in a more professional manner in the future, she hasn't regretted how she acted with Morrison.

In her statement Tuesday, she said when she asks tough questions it's both for herself and for residents who want answers. "I understand that others have their own thoughts and ways of doing things. I have a strong direct personality and feel I was elected because of who I am."

Tu-Uyen Tran
Tran is an enterprise reporter with the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. He began his newspaper career in 1999 as a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald, now owned by Forum Communications. He began working for the Forum in September 2014. Tran grew up in Seattle and graduated from the University of Washington.
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