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Kandiyohi County Board candidates exchange views at Willmar, Minn., forum

Alan Welle, center, and Roger Imdieke, right, participate Tuesday in a candidate forum at the Municipal Utilities Building in Willmar. JP Cola, left, moderated the forum, which was hosted by the Willmar Area League of Women Voters. Imdieke and Welle are competing to fill the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners seat currently held by Dennis Peterson, of Spicer, who is not running for re-election. Tribune photo by Gary Miller

WILLMAR -- During a candidate forum Tuesday in Willmar, the two men vying for the Kandiyohi County Commissioner seat from District 4 responded to questions about zebra mussels, economic development and combining county offices.

Roger Imdieke and Alan Welle also talked about why they were qualified to serve on the county board and replace Commissioner Dennis Peterson, of Spicer, who is not running for re-election this year.

Imdieke said his experience as a businessman, farmer and active participant in community groups and national farm organizations -- combined with a "passion" for sustaining the "livability" of the county -- makes him a good choice.

Welle said his years as a legislator in the state House of Representatives -- including a stint as majority leader and being named Legislator of the Year by the Association of Minnesota Counties -- and his involvement in local projects like the Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center, Highway 12 Task Force and regional arts groups gives him a "unique" set of experiences and "ready to serve as county commissioner."

Welle said the non-partisan Kandiyohi County board is "an entity that works together and respects each other" and is a place to work on local issues that "don't get lost in the shuffle."

Imdieke said he and his wife raised their three daughters in the northern part of the county and he wants to make sure his grandchildren have the same opportunities for jobs and quality of life.

He said his experiences as a businessman, including running the Three Sisters furniture store with his wife and daughters, combined with a strong work ethic and "willingness to roll up my sleeves" will help him in the job as county commissioner.

With many of the county's lakes located in District 4, the thorny issue of Aquatic Invasive Species -- especially zebra mussels -- generated the most discussion.

Welle said a single county cannot battle zebra mussels alone, but that a comprehensive statewide plan with adequate federal and state funding is necessary. He said so far the Legislature has not given the problem enough time or money and counties have little money available for massive prevention projects.

But Welle said if the state won't step up to make laws more stringent or increase fines for violating laws, then Kandiyohi County may need to consider an AIS ordinance and "drastic action" like requiring boat inspections or reducing boat accesses.

While most people do cooperate with efforts to keep AIS out of lakes, Welle said stricter state laws are needed to stop those who are not willing to voluntarily do what's right.

Imdieke said he prefers a "hybrid" of strict new laws and voluntary compliance that would include education. He said it would be difficult to enforce a county-wide program of mandated boat inspections and decontamination units.

Imdieke said he's confident that a local task force made up of local stakeholders, including representatives from lake associations and Department of Natural Resources, will create a plan that the Kandiyohi County Commissioners can support. "We may not get the perfect plan," he said, but said he trusts that people with experience in the field will develop a comprehensive plan.

Because the lakes help make District 4 an economic engine for the county both Imdieke and Welle agreed that all efforts should be made to keep zebra mussels out of the county and not to believe people who say AIS can't be stopped.

They also addressed the need to build on tourism, arts and boutique shopping that's becoming a hallmark of New London and Spicer, both located in District 4.

Welle said the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission, which he was involved in creating through special legislation when he was in the House, fosters economic growth that's good for the entire county rather than pitting one town against another in competition for jobs.

"This is a county that tries to work together and tries to make all our strengths stronger," said Welle, adding that he would be an "advocate" for District 4 but would also "look at the big picture" of the needs of the entire county.

Imdieke said if elected his first duty would be to the county as a whole. But he said voters from District 4 elect the commissioner from that district and he would support his constituents and balance their needs with what's good for the entire county.

On the issue of combining county departments, Welle said he supports that action if it provides service more efficiently, is consumer friendly and doesn't cost more. He also supports appointing rather than electing officials like the auditor and recorder when those elected officials retire.

Imdieke said with continued pressure on property taxes the county has to find new ways to operate more efficiently.

The forum was sponsored by the Willmar Area League of Women Voters and Heartland Community Action Agency.

A video recording of the forum will be available on the WRAC-8 website and city of Willmar website.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750