Nancy Edmonds Hanson
Few eyes were dry Monday when council member Shelly Aasen Carlson was appointed by her colleagues to succeed Mayor Johnathan Judd. But as Judd, with tears in his eyes, left the meeting, the new mayor – her own eyes damp – stepped to the podium, where city clerk Christina Rust swore her in as the 33rd mayor of Moorhead.
Judd had just resigned the position he had held for a little over two years to accept an appointment as a judge in Minnesota’s Seventh Judicial District. Carlson was nominated by fellow council member Chuck Hendrickson to fill out his term, which ends Dec. 31, 2022. Seconded by Rochelle Dahlquist, her appointment was endorsed unanimously by the remaining seven members of the council.
Shelly started out a bit shaky: “I don’t really have the words because I’m a little focused on Mayor Judd leaving,” she told those who had just voted for her. But with light prompting by city attorney John Shockley, she quickly warmed up to her role. On Tuesday, after a largely sleepless night, she reflected on her new title.
“Several people had approached me about running for mayor back in 2019, but it wasn’t the right time in my life,” she said the next morning. “When J.J. announced, I supported him wholeheartedly.” Instead, she was elected to the Ward 2 seat that had remained open since Melissa Fabian’s resignation the previous summer. Because it had been open so long, the council decided to return immediately to full strength by swearing her in right after the voters chose Fabian’s replacement. “I had six days between election and being sworn in,” she remembers. (That early induction gave her the second-longest tenure on the present council after Hendrickson, who was first elected in 2014.)
“I still might have run someday,” she muses, “but never against Mayor Judd. He was, and is, phenomenal.”
Now, though, the timing fits well. Both of her and husband Ron’s children have graduated from Moorhead High School and are on their way – son McKinnon into the North Dakota Air National Guard, along with classes at the North Dakota College of Science, and daughter Jordan as a freshman at the University of North Dakota.
“Ron and I are empty-nesters now,” she says. “Our days aren’t full of gymnastics and hockey and orchestra concerts. You hear that when parents suddenly have more time on their hands, they look for new passions. My new passion is serving the city of Moorhead.”
Which is not to say their days are empty. Shelly has worked for the past four years with the Minnesota Elder Justice Center, a nonprofit that brings together professionals from a variety of disciplines – law enforcement, prosecutors, bankers and social workers – to aid elderly victims of abuse, neglect and financial exploitation. “I bring together the multidisciplinary teams that strategize on ending abuse,” she explains. She plans to cut her hours – now mostly remote due to the pandemic – from 40 to 32 to accommodate the demands of the mayor’s job.
Before joining the St. Paul-based center, she was director of victim services for the Clay County attorney’s office. She holds a paralegal degree and a master’s in public administration from Minnesota State University Moorhead. “I’ve always worked in the criminal justice system,” she notes.
Her husband Ron, too, spent years in law enforcement as a Moorhead police officer before joining his father in Cellular Communications. After that business was sold two years ago, he established Signature Home Technologies, specializing in smart home technology. “He uses our home as his guinea pig trying out new devices,” Shelly confides. “Things change all the time. I don’t know how to operate our house anymore.”
Her experience sitting on the council, she says, has given her a good launching pad for learning her new role. But there will be surprises. One came soon after she took over Monday when city clerk Christina Rust took a roll call vote. “I thought, ‘Hey, you missed me,’” she confesses. “But then I remembered that as mayor, I don’t get to vote.”
She comments, “As mayor, I’m going to have big shoes to fill. After the incredible leadership of Del Rae Williams that J.J. carried on and even expanded, it’s going to be a daunting task. And our amazing city staff! If I’m ever able to achieve great things, it will be because of the staff and the people of Moorhead.
“There are such exciting things happening here right now. I just want to help keep them going.”