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Contest set for office of mayor of Willmar; Christianson facing challenger in Ward 2

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WILLMAR -- Willmar voters will have a choice of two candidates for the four-year office of mayor in the Nov. 2 general election. They are incumbent Mayor Les Heitke and challenger Frank Yanish. Both candidates filed affidavits of candidacy by Tuesday's 5 p.m. deadline. The last contested mayor's race occurred in 1990 when retired city clerk Richard Hogland defeated Mayor F.J. "Ole'' Reynolds.

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Council members also serve four-year terms. Five filed for the four seats that will be open on the City Council.

They are incumbent Bruce DeBlieck -- Ward 1 (unopposed); incumbent Ron Christianson and challenger Andrew Bjur -- Ward 2; incumbent Rick Fagerlie --Ward 3 (unopposed); and incumbent Doug Reese -- Ward 4 (unopposed).

The Tribune asked the incumbents and challengers why they are running for office.

Les Heitke

Mayor Les Heitke is completing his fourth term as mayor and previously served on the council. He is a licensed psychologist with Greater Minnesota Family Services. Heitke believes he can offer the leadership and vision for Willmar as a strong regional city.

"It has taken many years for Willmar to be respected as a city with strong, conservative fiscal management, a growing city with a diverse economy, and a city that is intent on building inclusiveness for all its citizens. I believe that I have the experience and leadership ability to continue to lead Willmar into a future with fiscal stability, strong economic development and a provision of public services that demonstrate the quality of life that our citizens want and deserve.''

He said Willmar must carefully manage its financial resources to maintain its stability as a regional city. He said the city absorbed Local Government Aid cutbacks and state-imposed unallotments because of strong and conservative fiscal management policies and adequate reserves.

He said maintaining the process of open government is important and he supports continued use of the open forum at council meetings, WRAC-8 for televising council meetings, and posting city agendas and important information and a newsletter on the city website to provide information to citizens.

He supports adequate staffing and equipment for the police and fire departments, and supports the police department's close working relationship with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement federal agency.

As several senior staff approach retirement in the next few years, Heitke said his role as mayor will be to lead the process for proposed budgeting, evaluation and recruitment to fill the positions.

Heitke also said he has a direct leadership role in lobbying for funds, contributing to the planning and budgeting process and educating and informing citizens about the new wastewater treatment plant, redevelopment of the old airport into an industrial park and possible relocation of City Hall into a larger facility.

"I feel very proud of Willmar and the growth and direction of this city over the time that I have served as mayor of Willmar,'' said Heitke. "I want to continue to provide this leadership.''

Frank Yanish

Frank Yanish served six years on the Willmar Planning Commission and was chairman for three years. He owns and operates Central Tire and Auto of Willmar.

Yanish said he is running because the time is right.

"I have wanted to serve in some capacity for many years and I decided the time is now. It is time for government to 'get out of the way of the private sector' and let them create the jobs we need,'' Yanish said.

"It is time for new council leadership and it is pretty evident that team spirit is presently missing,'' he said.

"It is time to review all city ordinances and change what is necessary and get rid of what is not necessary.''

Bruce DeBlieck

Bruce DeBlieck, a radio maintenance supervisor for the Minnesota Department of Transportation, is seeking a sixth term. He's proud of the city, enjoys council involvement and the processes required to keep the city moving forward.

"This community prides itself on the many parks and open areas for recreation. ... With the cleanup efforts on Foot Lake, this has become one of the better fishing lakes within the area. We have many multi-generational recreation opportunities available through our park and recreational department,'' he said.

"Willmar is a great place to work and raise our families. We are building community by encouraging tolerance and bridging cultural gaps. With our rich cultural diversity population, this is a great place to live. We need to encourage citizen participation in all phases of community affairs.''

DeBlieck supports using new approaches and new thinking in evaluating services as the city enters the second decade of this century.

"In today's financial environment, reducing our cost of operations is not the only answer. We need to balance all forms of revenue generation. We will need to look at our entire approach to city services, and funding needs to be rethought,'' he said.

"We need to be continually evaluating our priorities for infrastructure and street construction and reconstruction. The need for good roads and sidewalks (is) a must. Buildings need to be maintained and we must evaluate costs and benefits associated before investments are made in new buildings,'' he said.

"Building economic development/sustainability through jobs, livable wages, affordable housing and small business expansion need to be a high priority. With the expansion of the industrial park, the city needs to create a business-friendly environment for business to grow and expand. The MinnWest Technology Campus continues to expand and grow. This complex has established Willmar as a bio-tech hub in the upper Midwest and nationally, and has garnered much positive attention.''

Ron Christianson

Ron Christianson has served since 1994. He said he is running to make sure that the citizens of Ward 2 will continue to be represented at committee meetings and council meetings.

"A council person's No. 1 priority is to make sure that government listens to and hears the concerns of the people and then adopts public policy accordingly,'' he said. "The city of Willmar needs more council member input on how we are governed and on who gets appointed to the many boards and commissions that make the important decisions about the issues our city faces and what direction we are headed.''

"I want to be a part of that,'' he said. "We, as a city, need to get back to doing what is good for the community as a whole and I want to help that process along.''

Andrew Bjur

Andrew Bjur is project architect for Engan Associates. He served on Vision 2020 and the Willmar Design Center. These groups helped secure a grant from the Blandin Foundation to help build the aquatics center for the YMCA and a grant for rebuilding the trail from First Street Bridge to Robbins Island.

"I also served two terms each on the Willmar Planning Commission and the Willmar Community Education and Recreation Advisory Board. Items I have championed during my terms include installing a disc golf course at Robbins Island and developing the city policy regarding wind turbine usage in the city limits.''

Bjur said his reason for running comes from his history of success in championing ideas that have come from community organizations.

"It is my generation's turn to step up to serve in public office and to become leaders in the community. I thank the many people that support this decision and I want in general to support policies that benefit the citizens of Willmar,'' he said.

He's interested in encouraging development of new businesses in the expanded industrial park, supporting the revitalization of the central business district, and promoting expansion of recreational opportunities.

"As an architect, my experience and education have developed into an understanding of the civic capital planning process as well as an understanding of urban design planning goals. My direct experience includes working with cities, counties and school boards to develop offices, health care facilities and equipment storage facilities. I am trained to work with city officials and have a good relationship with current city staff.''

Rick Fagerlie

Rick Fagerlie is completing 18 years on the council and is owner of Fagerlie Appraisal. Fagerlie said many of his current constituents asked him to run.

"They believe I am a neutral part of the council with most knowing who are on the right and left sides of issues. They also know that I am out and about in the community most every day and I am very approachable and caring about the 3rd Ward and the city of Willmar where I was born and raised,'' he said.

"I want to see the completion of the new wastewater treatment plant and the dismantling of the old wastewater plant. I want to continue to develop policy and try to solve some of the old and new storm water issues that have been and will be in the near future with new development in the community,'' he said.

"With the city receiving less Local Government Aid from the state, we cannot spend tax dollars foolishly. We must continue to try and hold taxes down (by having staff work more efficient and contracting some services out) but yet try to maintain the public services that we are accustomed to.''

Doug Reese

Doug Reese is completing his 24th year on the council. He worked as a civil technologist (engineering department) for the Minnesota Highway Department (now Minnesota Department of Transportation), the city of Hutchinson and the city of Willmar before working for the Christian Labor Association of the United States of America.

Reese said experience gained as a civil technologist "gave me a very good understanding of public projects, construction and public works. The work experience as a national representative, national board member, national vice president and then later on (1994) elected as national president with the CLA-USA gave me a very broad perspective of the budgetary process, administrative processes and labor relations. I felt that all of these experiences would be an asset to the city of Willmar.''

Reese said he originally ran in 1986 because he was proud of the city and wanted to preserve everything that his family enjoyed about living here.

"I also wanted to work to continually improve the quality of family life in Willmar. Today I have children who have moved back to Willmar, and I now have grandchildren who live here. Therefore, I once again want to preserve the quality of life for them,'' he said.

His final reason for running was the "totally obnoxious'' and frequent odor from the wastewater treatment plant that invaded the business community and neighborhood.

"I wanted to move the (plant) out of the city. After my being elected, the city did a couple of projects to tackle the odor problem. Some of those projects worked and some did not. The biofilter project was the least expensive and the most effective in eliminating the odor problems. It took 24 years, but now in 2010 the new (wastewater treatment plant) that is located outside of Willmar city limits will be functional.''

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David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150
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