WILLMAR — Jay Lawton says his interest in serving on the Willmar City Council from Ward 4 is an outgrowth of his volunteer service with various boards, committees and activities.
“I have a desire to serve the community and I’m comfortable doing that on a volunteer board or in whatever matter. I feel like I have a lot to contribute to the City Council,’’ Lawton said.
“I have a wide base of associates in the community. I have groups of people that I interact with in all areas of the community. I get a lot of feedback from people as far as what they think the city needs and I have this desire to serve the community,’’ he said.
If elected, Lawton said he would like to work toward finalization of the industrial park at the old airport site and find new businesses and work on business development.
A few years ago, he said, a biotech company tried to develop a plant to create fuel out of renewable resources. The biggest issue was location. At that time, the industrial park was not available and people objected to the plant’s proposed location. As a result, the company did not build a plant here.
“We need to find ways to get new businesses, and we’ve done a pretty good job. We’ve got the MinnWest Technology Campus. We’ve got a few other businesses moved in. Another big business would be nice and we have the space. It’s just a matter of cleaning up a few last issues for that industrial park,’’ he said.
Lawton said the city needs to lobby the Legislature for money to complete development of state Highway 23 between Willmar and St. Cloud into a four-lane highway.
“We have four lanes most of the way. We need to get that finished up,’’ he said.
During Tuesday night’s candidate forum sponsored by the Willmar League of Women Voters, Lawton said one of the biggest issues being addressed by the council has been updating the City Charter.
He sees no other big issues facing Willmar other than similar issues facing other cities such as crime. “But those are things that we can work on,’’ he said.
When Lawton was a City Council candidate in the November general election, he walked the entire Fourth Ward last fall. He said the ward does not seem to receive a lot of crime reports.
He said safety is always an issue no matter where people live. He said the ward has some streets and houses that could use some repair.
“The road situation goes along with safety because if you have bad spots in roads, that creates safety issues as well,’’ he said.
Lawton was asked how the city can build community with newer Willmar immigrants and how the city can support immigrant businesses.
Lawton said he has opportunities to have associations with people of all the different communities in Willmar. He works with people from the Somalian and Hispanic communities, sees people at the YMCA and said a Hispanic congregation uses First Convenant Church where he attends.
He says the city can support ethnic businesses by offering the permits to start and any assistance that is available to other business people as well.
On the question of the growing homelessness problem in Willmar, Lawton said he served on the Mayor’s Housing Task Force. He said the issue is complex and people are homeless for many reasons.
“By having rules and regulations within the community and having a tax base that supports business, we can put more people to work and that gives more people the opportunity to afford to live. As a city, there are organizations that are helping out,’’ he said. “It’s getting jobs, and for young people it’s stable home situations.’’
He was asked how council members can recognize and avoid the temptation of slipping from leadership to micromanagement.
“You always have to remember you are there to serve the community and community needs should be the first things you think about in that position, and be aware of the parameters of your responsibilities and try not to extend outside of those,’’ he said. “It helps if other members of the body gently help you pull back in as well.’’
As for making the City Council more effective, Lawton said, “Anytime you get a body of eight individuals, you’re going to have conflicts. It’s not that difficult to get worked up about controversial issues. But we need to be careful. We need to watch our words.’’
Voters in Willmar’s Ward 4 will go to the polls Tuesday in a special election to fill the unexpired term of Doug Reese who was elected to the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners in November’s general election.
Ward 4 candidates are Jay Lawton and Audrey Nelsen.
Ward 4 is located in the southeast part of Willmar. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday. Polling locations are:
Precinct 1: First Baptist Church, 1000 Sixth St. S.E.
Precinct 2: Calvary Lutheran Church, 302 Olena Ave. S.E.
Precinct 3: Redeemer Lutheran Church, 1401 Sixth St. S.E.