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Willmar Council winners thank voters for support

WILLMAR -- The four winning Willmar City Council candidates thanked voters for their support at the ballot box in Tuesday's general election.

Voters returned two incumbents and elected one newcomer and a former council member to the four four-year terms that begin in January.

In Ward 1, council member Denis Anderson was re-elected without opposition to the seat he's held since 1998. Unofficial returns gave Anderson 1,517 votes. Anderson, 62, is chairman of the council's Finance Committee.

"Anytime you're elected it's a very humbling experience that the people are putting their confidence in you to do the right thing. I'm very appreciative of the confidence that the people of Ward 1 have in me,'' Anderson said.

During the next four years, he wants the city to have continued and smart growth.

"We need to provide the infrastructure and tax rates that make our community viable and where people would want to expand or bring in new businesses,'' he said. "For me it's a lot about continued economic expansion of our All-America City.''

In Ward 2, Tim Johnson, 61, chief public defender for the 8th Judicial District, defeated incumbent Steve Gardner, with unofficial returns of 1,951 to 634.

Johnson said he was humbled and pleased by the support shown from Ward 2 residents and said he would do his best to maintain the trust and confidence voters have bestowed on him.

Gardner offered his congratulations to Johnson on Tuesday night and said he would probably consider public service again when his term ends on the City Council. He added on Wednesday that "I accept the results and wish Johnson well."

In Ward 3, council member Cindy Swenson did not file for re-election to a second term. Taking her place will be Steve Ahmann, 56, owner of Ahmann Construction of Willmar. Ahmann was elected without opposition and received 1,517 votes, according to unofficial returns. He served on the council from 1986 to 1994.

He said his election was very humbling but also a little disappointing because no one else filed. Ahmann said he is concerned about apathy toward city government and running for public office.

"You don't have to be a rocket scientist to make good, commonsense, sound decisions for the long-term benefit of the community,'' he said. "You just have to be able to ask questions and understand things and be able to talk to people, be open.''

Ahmann said he expects the transition to be smooth. He said he's been keeping in touch with local issues and said he looks forward to meeting and working with new people and new personalities.

The division among the mayor and council members over the Westwind affordable housing project shows that people have to be a little more civil in how they communicate and work with other people, he said.

"I just hope we can bring the espirt de corps back to City Council that we had years ago,'' he said.

Ward 4 voters returned incumbent Jim Dokken for a third term. Dokken has served since 1998. He defeated challenger Susana Hunnicutt 1,345 to 549 in unofficial returns.

"It's always a good feeling when the public trusts you and has confidence in you again,'' he said. "I thank the public for renewing their trust and their confidence in me.''

Dokken said the city budget is his top issue in 2009 and said he's concerned about the effect of the nation's financial problems on city spending. He said the council must be careful how quickly it uses emergency funds. He suggests looking first at making some cuts.

"That's going to be hard to do, but the public is forced to having to make cuts,'' he said.

Dokken wants all committee meetings, which are open to the public, to be held at the Utilities Building chambers where the discussion can be videotaped.

"All those agendas are on the (city) Web site. If a person wants to listen to what their council person is saying in a committee meeting, they can,'' he said.

He wants staff discussions on major issues summarized for council information. If it requires a solution, the public should be involved in helping the council make a decision.

Also, he favors cooperation, coordination and communication among the Municipal Utilities, Willmar Public Schools and Kandiyohi County to improve awareness and avoid duplication, especially if something affects the city; and supports flooding solutions.

Hunnicutt said she was pleased to receive 29 percent of the vote.

"I met a lot of good people that really care about Willmar and the way things are and the way things are going,'' she said. "It stirred up an interest for the most part. I wanted to encourage people to get out and vote, if nothing else.''

The City Council will hold a special meeting at 4:45 p.m. today in conference room 1 at the City Office Building to canvass the ballots cast in the council election.