Candidate Profile: Christianson cites passion for wanting to be where the decisions are made
WILLMAR — Incumbent Willmar City Council member Ron Christianson says he is seeking re-election to a sixth four-year term on the council because he still has a passion for wanting to be where the decisions are made that affect his ward, his neighborhood and the city in general.
Christianson faces Steve Gardener and Rich Taylor in Tuesday’s primary election for Willmar’s Ward 2 Council seat. The top two votegetters will face each other in the general election.
“The last couple of years we’ve had some controversy. But I think I can help Willmar be a better place tomorrow than today. I have a real interest in keeping Willmar a city to live, work and play in,’’ he says.
“We’ve had a couple of challenging years. But I think we can all agree that Willmar can be better tomorrow than it is today. It’s been a great time living in Willmar. I enjoy the community. We’ve got what a lot of other people wish they had: lakes, 4 seasons and a great community to live in.’’
What’s right with Willmar?
Christianson said what’s right in Willmar is what everyone takes for granted: timely response by the police department, fire department, and ambulance service; sewer and water that work; electricity; and a regional hospital.
He said the city is a partner with Kandiyohi County in the Economic Development Commission “and we need to continue to support them in their efforts to bring business to Willmar,’’ such as the MinnWest Technology Campus.
City’s role in encouraging economic development
“The best thing we can do is support our Economic Development Commission and all its efforts to bring new business and to keep business here. Government doesn’t create jobs. We in the government can create an environment that’s healthy for business. I think we’re doing that by expanding the industrial park, helping out the Jennie-O (Turkey Store) plant that we just did,’’ he said.
There are several organizations in Willmar, the Chamber being one and the EDC and the city’s own planning and zoning (director) Bruce Peterson that speaks to local businesses and asks what the city can do for business, he said.
“That’s where most of our jobs come from is expanding business. It isn’t from new business. Regarding the industrial park, we’re doing all we can to make it better for others to come into the industrial park. But keep in mind every city in the state has an industrial park and they’re all looking for more industry to come in.
“It may be slow in filling that park up. But we’ve got a lot of space out there and more to expand to the west. We need to hail the efforts of the EDC and all they’re doing. And recognize that ag is a major part of our community as far as business and economic development and continue to support them and the many commissions and boards under the EDC.’’
Christianson said newcomers are not refugees, but are here on asylum because they are from a war-torn country. They come in almost as full-fledged citizens. The issue is the pace at which the demographics are changing in Willmar, he said.
“It is no surprise that Willmar is just below 30 percent nonwhite today. Government is service-oriented. We can help them with EDC revolving loan funds for people that want to go into business. We have the college and the schools are accepting them,’’ he said.
“I think we’re doing pretty much what we can for the minority group in Willmar. When someone immigrates here, we expect them to assimilate also. We’re an aging city. People have lived here many years and it’s tough to accept another culture that doesn’t want to assimilate. The ones that are assimilating in our culture are going to school, are being educated. I think we’re doing all we can to help the immigrants that are here.’’
Balancing expert staff advice vs. being a voice for average citizens
Christianson says staff and advice from the average citizen are different. The council hires an administrator to administer council policies. The council comes up with those policies from citizens who have concerns.
Christianson said that he hears concerns from citizens and passes those concerns to the administrator or the appropriate department and hopefully it gets taken care of.
Privatization of city services
Christianson said he raised the idea four or five years at a Public Works/Safety Committee, looking into some aspects of city services. He said the top issue facing cities is where to get funding for services.
“I think it’s something we need to consider. It’s worth looking into if we can save taxpayers dollars. We need to be more prudent in deciding where and how to spend. I think we have to consider every aspect of spending government dollars and this is just one of them.’’
Solution for street repairs
He said the council has discussed other ways of handling street repairs. He said assessment hearings are not fun when constituents say their street does not need work and the city should work on other streets.
Low morale among city employees
“I don’t think morale is low because of the City Council. We’re going through a transition period. We have an aging workforce in Public Works, the utilities, City Hall. They are retiring. Anytime in a transition, you have a morale problem. It has to be solved probably at the staff level. They need to get together more often, talk more often, make sure everybody understands their duties.’’
The candidate’s comments are excerpted from appearances on KWLM’s Open Mic program and from the Willmar Area League of Women Voters Ward 2 Candidates Forum.