Candidates share priorities ahead of Bemidji's Ward 1 special election
Candidates Ron Johnson and Gwenia Fiskevold Gould share their priorities and motivations for running in Bemidji's Ward 1 special election on Tuesday, April 11.
BEMIDJI — With Bemidji’s Ward 1 special election drawing closer, candidates Gwenia Fiskevold Gould and Ron Johnson share their motivation for running and what they hope to accomplish if elected.
The election, set for Tuesday, April 11, will fill a vacant seat left on the Bemidji City Council after At-large Councilor Audrey Thayer vacated the seat for her current position. The winner of the election will finish out the current term, which runs through 2024.
Gwenia Fiskevold Gould
Fiskevold Gould, 34, is the director of annual giving at the Bemidji State University Alumni and Foundation and serves on several area commissions and boards. She currently lives in Bemidji with her husband Joe, who was recently elected to the Beltrami County Board, and their dog Coya.
Fiskevold Gould’s primary reason for running is her desire to serve her community and offer her skills as a young leader.
“This is my home,” Fiskevold Gould said. “I’m running to finish a term on the city council because I believe that if you have something to offer your community you should step up.”
This belief ties in closely with one of Fiskevold Gould’s biggest priorities, which is to increase involvement and interest in local government.
“I understand the apathy people face when they think of government, and I want to help address that,” Fiskevold Gould said. “I feel like in Bemidji we have the opportunity to make a real impact in our community when we step up.”
Her concerns around apathy related to local government are particularly of note in an election for Ward 1, which had the lowest voter turnout in the city in the 2022 election.
Alongside this desire to increase engagement, Fiskevold Gould’s other priorities include addressing Bemidji’s ongoing housing shortage, improving the city’s parks and trails and working to strengthen the community.
“(I want) to make sure that Bemidji is addressing things like our housing shortage,” Fiskevold Gould said. “I want residents to know that when they participate that they actually have an impact on the direction of our city.”
Johnson, 72, is the current Ward 3 representative on the city council, but due to redistricting will not be eligible to run for his current seat and has filed as a candidate for the upcoming Ward 1 election.
He previously ran for the At-large position in November, but lost to Thayer who received 2,346 votes, compared to Johnson’s 2,293. A mere difference of 53 votes.
A lifelong Bemidji resident, Johnson works as a Design and Promotions Manager at Lakeland PBS in Bemidji and has served on the city council for 22 years.
“There’s always different issues. It doesn’t get boring, that’s for sure,” Johnson said.
Johnson believes that his experience on the council and in two statewide organizations representing Minnesota cities makes him the ideal candidate for the Ward 1 seat.
“I’ve represented Ward 3 for 22 years on the council. I have more experience on the council than our mayor and our council all put together, times two,” he shared. “That’s unique.”
Johnson shared that his priorities were increasing housing and supporting city law enforcement.
“We could use more workforce housing, but supportive housing is probably a bigger need,” he said. “(We also) need to take care of our police and we need to pay them right and have them fully staffed.”
Specifically, Johnson hopes that the recent savings from the Sanford Center after its change in management could go towards both of these goals.
“I’d like to see that money put into law enforcement and maybe co-sponsoring grants for housing,” he left off.
The election for the Ward 1 seat on the Bemidji City Council will be held on Tuesday, April 11, and in-person voting will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the American Indian Resource Center at 1630 Birchmont Drive NE.
Early voting will be available through Monday, April 10, at Bemidji City Hall. Hours for early voting will be from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Mondays through Fridays.
Additional early voting will be available from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, April 8, and from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday, April 10.
Absentee ballots can be requested in person at city hall, by emailing the city clerk at email@example.com or by calling (218) 759-3570. Ballots must be returned to city hall by election day, either by dropping them off in person or through the mail.