Two Stearns Co., Minn., natives face off in Kandiyohi Co. race
WILLMAR -- Two men who were born and raised in Stearns County are competing for a seat on the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners this year.
Roger Imdieke and Alan Welle have lived in Kandiyohi County for decades -- Imdieke for 23 years and Welle for 36 years -- but they both have roots in rural Stearns County. Their grandfathers owned adjoining land.
Imdieke, 57, was the middle child of 13 who lived on a Stearns County dairy farm.
"We learned how to work," said Imdieke, who was getting up at 5 a.m. to milk cows by the time he was 12 years old. "It was always busy."
Welle, 66, grew up playing saxophone and clarinet with his father in a band, yet maintains he's the least talented musician in his extended family, which brings nearly 600 people to family reunions that always includes sing-a-longs.
Despite growing up across the county line, both Welle, who lives on Eagle Lake, and Imdieke, who lives near New London, say their desire to keep Kandiyohi County strong led them to file for the open seat in District 4. The district includes the cities of New London, Spicer and Regal as well as Burbank, Irving, Roseville, Green Lake and New London townships.
The post is currently held by Dennis Peterson of Spicer who did not file for re-election.
"I'm interested in the public policy experience," said Imdieke, who credits his two-year educational experience with the Minnesota Agricultural and Rural Leadership program for helping to develop his leadership skills and confidence.
Past experience with his farming operation, being extensively involved with agricultural and community retail and economic development organizations, returning to college at the age of 31 to get a degree in communications and his current gig of running Three Sisters furnishings with his wife, Judy, and their three daughters has helped him finesse his organizational skills. "We tag team this business big time," said Imdieke with a laugh.
Welle said his stint teaching law and economics to high school students was one of the most valuable jobs that helped shape him as an individual, and his years as a member of the Minnesota House of Representatives give him a unique set of skills and "taught me that you can make a difference if you stay involved. ... Things don't happen unless people make them happen."
He's attracted to the nonpartisan nature of the county board and the group's culture of working together for the common good and getting along with each other even if they disagree on issues. "It's one place you can be a moderate and not get chastised for it," said Welle.
Imdieke on the issues
With low unemployment, a strong ag economy and zoning regulations that have been well-thought out, Imdieke said the county is doing a lot of things right.
When asked what could be improved, he said the county has "opportunities to have an even stronger economy" by strengthening its broadband Internet capacity and capitalizing on its "abundance of natural resources" that make the county a "very attractive" place to live.
He would like to see a cohesive economic development effort in the New London and Spicer communities that goes beyond the county's current efforts in order to better promote the area's art, tourism and boutique shopping.
Imdieke said it was a "darn shame" that a recent statewide publication called northern Kandiyohi County the "best kept secret" as a vacation spot. "It shouldn't be a secret," he said.
He said the county's lakes are the "golden egg that the goose laid" but that aquatic invasive species, especially zebra mussels, could threaten that economic engine. Imdieke said state and local entities need to develop a comprehensive plan that could include inspecting boats and monitoring lake accesses and closing some accesses. "Just throwing money at it isn't necessarily the answer."
He said he supports the county's current efforts to restructure its departments like combining family services and public health. When it comes to appointing, rather than electing the auditor, Imdieke said he thinks it "makes sense" but said he needs more information before applying that idea to the county recorder. Either way, he said approval is needed by the Legislature or voters to allow appointment of currently elected officials.
Regarding welfare, Imdieke said most of the services are mandated and must be provided "whether you believe in them or not" but believes county residents do want to help "people in need." He also said there is little abuse of the system.
While visiting with townships during the campaign, Imdieke said he's received the clear message that township officers feel ignored by county officials when it comes to seeking input about issues that locals know best. He said that has shown him how important it is to have good communication.
Imdieke acknowledged he can strike people as being "kind of intense" but said he has a strong work ethic, good sense of humor and eclectic interests that include going hunting and going to the Minnesota orchestra in the same weekend. "I have a curious nature that I like to find things out," he said.
Although he and Welle have a common background, Imdieke said he is actively involved in the community, runs a business and believes he has a better understanding of the district. "Mine's a burning interest," he said.
Welle on the issues
Welle said he thinks Kandiyohi County is "doing almost everything right, right now" and the board and staff are working hard to provide services to people and are good "stewards of the taxpayers' dollar."
When asked if there was anything that should be improved, he said every township feels "sort of left out of the process" and there has apparently been a lack of communication about what was going on in the county and how townships were affected.
Townships want a "feeling of ownership of the issue and not the feeling of being ignored," he said, adding that he would make a point to attend township meetings in his district.
Welle said aquatic invasive species are "threatening the whole economic value of our county," but he doesn't buy the belief that zebra mussels are inevitable. "I think you keep fighting it." He's critical of the Legislature's lack of action when it comes to aquatic invasive species. "It has to be a higher priority in St. Paul."
Welle said his experience as a legislator would be an asset to the county because he "has a thorough understanding" of how to work with the state, including encouraging legislators to return Local Government Aid -- state revenue provided to local governments -- that many rural governments rely on to provide basic government services.
After watching local governments deal with tight budgets, Welle said the "assault" by some legislators, portraying counties and small cities as "wild spenders," is untrue and "offensive."
In 2005, state revenues were equally split between income, sales and property taxes, he said, but now property taxes make up nearly 40 percent of the state revenue.
Welle wholeheartedly supports merging the family services and public health departments and appointing, rather than electing, the auditor and recorder -- upon retirement as long as restructuring is consumer-friendly, doesn't cost more money and results in more efficient operations.
Welle said tourism, arts and shopping are an important aspect of District 4 and it's well-supported by county entities. He likes the "we're all in it together" philosophy rather than regionalizing economic development, which he said, could pit one community against another.
That style of economic development is traced back to Welle's time in the Legislature where he got special legislation passed that allowed Kandiyohi County to create its unique county-wide economic development authority.
His work in St. Paul also led to funding for the first leg of the Glacial Lakes Recreational Trail and he wrote grants that helped get the Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center off the ground. He was a key organizer in launching the local Relay for Life event, serving as chairman in 1995 and 1996, and his wife, Laura, walked as a survivor.
All those experiences "make my qualifications rather unique for a county commissioner," said Welle, adding that he's running for the "right reason. I'm running for the greater good."