Behind the scenes of candidate forums

Last week was a bit of a blur, preparing for and then producing the first of four candidate forums. Wednesday night was the Minot Park Board candidates night at Roosevelt Park Zoo and it was successful. Actually, it was more successful than I had anticipated in terms of attendance. The room was arranged to seat around 80 people and there weren’t that many seats empty by the time things were underway. It was gratifying to see so many people attend, ask good questions and pay close attention to answers from those participating Park Board candidates. Obviously the strong participation demonstrates public interest in Minot parks, their operations, programming and future.

The evening’s moderator, Tom Rafferty from our forum partner, the Minot Area Chamber of Commerce, did a great job letting the questions from the audience and candidates’ answers remain the focus. Candidates did a good job sharing their visions and ideas of what they could bring to the board, and the venue was perfect. My one regret is not being able to arrive earlier in the day for a quick walk around the zoo – it’s my favorite walk in Minot.

Since the forum, folks who were there and gave us some feedback were also quite positive.

One reader wrote in to ask how we are handling forums at which all candidates can’t be present. It’s a good question and actually something we discussed internally a couple of weeks ago. With so many candidates in a number of races, it was inevitable that some would have other obligations, be out of town, etc.

Initially, we flirted with the idea of permitting candidates who would be out of town to appear via phone or Skype. Technology provides a lot more options these days. However, there were problems with that. Some absent candidates might be available for wired participation; some might not. It also would open the door for others to elect to appear from remote locations and we feel that being able to meet and mingle with audience members is an important aspect of the forums.

It was quite a quandary. We don’t want to penalize any candidate for not being able to attend; but in the end, forums are organized for the benefit of the public first and foremost.

Finally, we decided that while remote participation was too much of a distraction, there might be a way for absent candidates to at least have a presence. As of press time, there are a couple of candidates for Minot School Board who are unlikely to be able to attend their forum this week, Wednesday, May 16 at the MSU Conference Center. Both have been invited to have a spouse or other surrogate read an introduction for the candidate in the opening of the event when other candidates introduce themselves. It won’t be a distraction and seems like a small compromise.

Additionally, all candidates are permitted to drop off or have dropped off campaign material at forums, whether they can participate or not.

Finally, all candidates are receiving Minot Daily News questionnaires. We will publish some of these questions and answers as we profile each candidate. The questionnaires in their entirety will be posted on our website for anyone to access through the election.

All in all, between forums, upcoming candidate profiles and the questionnaires, we think we are providing plenty of opportunities for voters to get to know those running for offices and make informed choices.

On a personal note, I want to thank everyone involved in the forums. When we started these in 2016, I had no idea how much hunger there was out there for events like these. That clunky first year featured a number of races and the important issue of the change in city government structure. Turnout was fairly light, but solid enough for a first effort that we returned last year. That turnout was outstanding, standing room only in a ballroom at the Grand Hotel with easily 300 in the audience. That then led to the decision to separate the forums this year.

The growth in audience is only possible because Minot voters are engaged with their community and take their civic responsibility seriously. It demonstrates residents’ love of the community and strong desire to see Minot prosper. There is very little more satisfying to a newspaper editor than to see this level of civic engagement.

So, thanks to everyone who participated in last Wednesday’s forum and those who participate in our upcoming ones.

Please join us this Wednesday, May 16, 6:30 – 8:30 p.m. at MSU’s Conference Center on the third floor of the Student Center for the school board forum. I hope to see you there, and feel free to come say hello.