Gwenia Fiskevold Gould wins Ward 1 seat in special election
After votes were tallied, Gwenia Fiskevold Gould won the Ward 1 seat on the Bemidji City Council, beating out Ron Johnson 87-41.
BEMIDJI — The Bemidji City Council no longer has a vacancy after Gwenia Fiskevold Gould received 67.4% of the votes in the city’s Ward 1 special election on Tuesday, beating Ward 3 Councilor Ron Johnson.
In the unofficial count, Fiskevold Gould received 87 votes while Johnson received 41. There was also one write-in vote. The results are expected to be made official upon recognition by the canvassing board on Friday, April 14.
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 will be finishing the last two years of a term vacated by Audrey Thayer when she was elected to the council’s At-large seat last November, defeating Johnson 2,346 to 2,293 — a mere difference of 53 votes.
Though he lost his run for At-Large and Ward 1, Johnson, 72, will remain the Ward 3 representative on the council through 2024. He has been on the council for the last 22 years, but due to the redistricting that took place in 2022, is no longer eligible to run for his current seat.
Excited to serve
“I’m really humbled. It’s honestly such an honor to get to serve my community in this way and have this opportunity,” Fiskevold Gould said about her win.
Fiskevold Gould shared that one of her primary reasons for running is her desire to serve her community and offer her skills as a young leader.
“Being a city council person doesn’t end with you, there’s a whole community that you’re representing,” she explained. “I really want to encourage people to reach out to me about things they’d like to see our city focus on.”
With plans to be sworn in next Monday, Fiskevold Gould is already preparing and shared her excitement about the work before her.
“I’ve been on the Bemidji Parks and Recreation Commission for a few years, and half of that time we’ve been working on our strategic plan,” Fiskevold Gould said. “It’s coming before the council soon, and it’s such an honor to be ushering in that work we did.”
She also acknowledged many of the challenges facing the council, particularly the recent preliminary removal of Nate Mathews as city manager that’s faced criticism and attention from the public.
“It’s been a very difficult situation to watch unfold,” Fiskevold Gould said. “I believe the city council must do their work in a transparent and accountable manner that respects our city staff and recognizes the rules and responsibilities of the council.”
While she currently is unaware of the council’s reasoning for its decision, she plans to prioritize strong relationships with city staff as a councilor.
“City staff is one of the keys to a successful and smoothly run community,” she explained. “I don’t know why the council took this step, but I do believe that building strong, trusting working relationships between the council and city staff is something that I will prioritize.”
Another goal of Fiskevold Gould’s will be to increase engagement in local governance, particularly in her home ward, which has historically had low voter turnout.
For Tuesday’s election, only 11% of registered Ward 1 voters participated, casting a total of 129 votes. Special elections typically have lower voter turnout, last year’s election to fill a Ward 5 vacancy, for example, only had 14% of registered voters participate.
“I understand the apathy people face when they think of government, and I want to help address that,” Fiskevold Gould said. “I want to help people get better connected to their government.”