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Ward 4 candidates offer their pitch in Willmar, Minn.

Jay Lawton and Jim Dokken

WILLMAR -- Jim Dokken says he's running for re-election to the Willmar City Council to be a voice for the citizens of Ward 4, to provide efficient city services for all citizens and to be a good steward of their tax dollars.

Challenger Jay Lawton says he will bring a fresh perspective to the council and will work to make the city a better and stronger community.

Their names will appear on the ballot in the Nov. 6 general election.

During the Oct. 16 candidates' forum sponsored by the Willmar League of Women Voters, Dokken said he does not think he has missed 10 meetings during the past 14 years on the council.

"I am your voice. I believe the citizens should run this city. I think I have the experience and the proven leadership to continue to work on your behalf,'' he said.

In an interview, Dokken said he favors the "documented due diligence'' management approach, which documents responses to the questions of what are we doing, why are we doing it, is it affordable today and more importantly will those dollars be sustainable in the future.

"When we deal with taxpayers' dollars, we have to make sure it first meets a public purpose and that we get that public purpose accomplished as efficiently and responsibly as we can,'' he said.

Since attending a League of Minnesota Cities' meeting earlier this year, Dokken makes frequent reference to a June 2010 League study on the projected future of city budgets through 2025.

Among the findings, the study said cities of every size, in every region, will be broke by 2015 if no policy changes are made. The study says that fundamental changes are needed in city services and funding to avoid these projections.

"All it means is alter and change the way we do business,'' said Dokken. "We know that (Local Government Aid) has been reduced quite considerably over the past four to five years and held down property taxes.''

Under this 'new normal' situation, Dokken said, cities, counties and school districts must look for ways to do things differently, look at either cutting services a little bit or try to be more efficient.

Lawton, who also ran for the council in 2000 and 2004, said he has a desire to serve the community. He said he was encouraged by many to run again and said many have expressed discouragement with some recent council actions.

Lawton said some city staff members are not always content with the way they are treated by some council members. Lawton said he was privileged to work with city staff during two terms on the Planning Commission and he came to appreciate what they do and the continuity they bring to the city.

"If the council is going to put these people in these positions, they obviously have confidence in them, and if they come back with recommendations and council people don't appreciate their recommendations, I kind of question that,'' he said.

Dokken says council members are charged with responsibility for citizens' tax money by asking what the city is doing with that money.

"That's not micromanaging. That's asking questions that the League (of Cities) says we should be asking,'' said Dokken.

"I think it's important that we understand that we are not micromanagers, that every council member I've talked to understands that we are a council as a whole. We are still a 4-4 council,'' he said.

"Mayor Frank Yanish was elected overwhelmingly two years ago,'' Dokken continued. "That meant that citizens made a conscious decision to make a change. When that happens, that says that the citizens have thought about what's going on in our city.''

Lawton says he will bring a fresh perspective to the City Council.

"I want to see Willmar move forward and become a better and stronger community than where we are now. I will support city staff that has been selected by the council as well as the commissions that they have appointed,'' said Lawton.

"I will support development of the industrial park, recreational opportunities and bringing the different ethnic groups of our community together. There are many issues that need to be addressed and I believe I have the energy and the open mind to work on them,'' he said.

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150