Willmar, Minn., Ward 4 city council candidates lay out goals
By David Little
WILLMAR — Jay Lawton says a strong point that he would bring to the Willmar City Council is being a bit tenacious and not backing down from controversy.
Audrey Nelsen says a strong point that she would bring to the City Council is a financial background and working with different budgets.
Both Lawton and Nelsen are candidates in the Ward 4 special election Feb. 12 to fill the two-year unexpired term of Doug Reese, who was elected to the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners in the November general election.
Lawton and Nelsen were responding to telephoned and emailed questions submitted during the Tuesday night candidate forum sponsored by the Willmar League of Women Voters at the Municipal Utilities assembly room.
The 50-minute forum was televised live over WRAC 18. Questions were asked by Jan Dahl, the League’s voter services chairperson.
Lawton has worked as inventory logistics coordinator for Jennie-O Turkey Store for the past 23 years. He was an unsuccessful council candidate in 2000, 2004 and 2012. He has served on several boards and committees, including the Willmar Planning Commission.
Nelsen worked in banking for over 25 years and is currently employed by Peterson Brothers Funeral Home as a certified preplanning consultant/insurance agent.
She has served on a number of boards and committees including the Planning Commission and is secretary of the Willmar Charter Commission.
“I understand that when you enter the public arena there’s going to be issues that come up that people aren’t going to agree with you on. I’ve learned over the years from being in different organizations that having a thick skin, so to speak, is a good thing,’’ Lawton said.
“You have to know where you stand on the issues and you have to be willing to stick up for that. I’m able to listen to other people. But yet if I believe that my belief is the one that should pass, I’ll stick by it,’’ he said.
Nelsen said she has common sense and asks tough questions on the boards that she has served on. Nelsen said she has a diverse background, likes working with people and says her exposure to a variety of diversity is a strength.
“I’ve held leadership roles in the boards I have been involved in and I think I have a good sense of humor also,’’ she said.
When Dahl asked about Willmar’s greatest strength, Nelsen said it was the people who live here with a diverse background, strong heritage and commitment to be a community. She said concerns for the past “give us hope and the strength to move forward to work together to create a good place to live and work.’’
Lawton agreed with Nelsen and said the people are a valuable asset. As the city has diversified ethnically, he said, good solid businesses have been started downtown by the Somali and Hispanic communities.
Lawton also said the city staff is a big asset. “We have a tremendous city staff. They work hard and are dedicated to the city.’’
On the question of raising taxes, Lawton said either expenses can be cut or revenue increased.
“The only way for a city is through tax base. The city has to adjust the taxes periodically. I think we have to be responsible about that and be responsible for expenses. If we can balance those, we can keep tax increases to a minimum. But it would be foolish for anyone to say we’re never going to raise taxes because I just don’t think that’s reasonable,’’ Lawton said.
Nelsen said some of the tax formula is out of the city’s control, “so we have to be aware of where the tax money comes from and how we fit into a scale with other cities our size to make sure we are in the right market with that.’’
Nelsen said there is a responsibility to be fiscally prudent with making sure the city stays up to date. With the economic situation facing the country, Nelsen said, “we do have to look at either what are we willing to give up or what are we willing to pay for with increases.’’
Nelsen said she likes Willmar and looks forward to working with Ward 4 residents and the city. Nelsen said she is willing to listen, ask questions and take time to learn about the city and issues facing the city.
Nelsen said she is committed to helping Willmar embrace the future and believes her past experience and community involvement will help her participate in council leadership.
“I believe that while we face challenges in our future, we need to work together to turn them into opportunities, Willmar is a growing diverse community; the people that live here are our strength,’’ she said.
Lawton said he has lived in cities from small to large in different states, but said he and his wife settled in Willmar because it was a wonderful, friendly community and job opportunities were available.
“I just would like the opportunity to continue from my volunteer service to the community to serve on the City Council and continue to do work for the community,’’ he said.
The entire forum is available on demand at the City of Willmar’s website: willmarmn.gov.