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Ahmann's tour of duty as an elected official comes to an end

Outgoing Kandiyohi County Commissioner Steve Ahmann looks back on 20 years of local government service, including two stints on the Willmar City Council and a term on the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners. Ahmann said he is proud of the work he has done, even though it was challenging at times.

111820.N.WCT.KandiCoDistrict2RecountAhmann
Steve Ahmann

WILLMAR — Steve Ahmann, outgoing Kandiyohi County Commissioner for District 2 and a former Willmar City Council member, grew up with a sense of duty thanks to a family history of military service and a lifelong connection with the Boy Scouts of America. When he was unable to serve his country and community during the Vietnam War, he wanted to find another way to serve.

In the 1980s, after he moved to Willmar and started his career in the building trade, Ahmann found that way to serve. It started when he was appointed to the variance board by the mayor of Willmar at the time, Ole Reynolds.

"I was walking downtown one day and Ole rolled down his window and he said you are going to be on the variance board," Ahmann recalled.

By 1985, Ahmann decided he wanted to take a step up in local service and he ran for the Willmar City Council in Ward 3.

"I thought maybe I could do this," Ahmann said.

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He was elected and ended up serving two terms on the council, until 1994, when he stepped down for personal reasons. In 2008, Ahmann ran again and served for another eight years in Ward 3.

"I was encouraged by fellow council people to come back," Ahmann said. "They encouraged me. I wasn't sure I wanted to; I had done my tour of duty."

When his fourth term on the council was coming to an end in 2015, Ahmann felt ready for a bigger challenge and decided to run for the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners.

"At a certain point of time, you just have to say there is another adventure out there," Ahmann said. "I felt very comfortable taking on more responsibility."

He was elected to the County Board and is at the end of his first term. He ran for re-election, but Ahmann was defeated by challenger Steve Gardner. The margin of victory was only 18 votes.

All totaled, Ahmann served Willmar for more than 20 years, either on city boards, as a council member and as a county commissioner.

"Elected office is probably one of the most rewarding things I have done with my life," Ahmann said.

Ahmann looks back on his time on the City Council and County Board with a sense of accomplishment. He is proud of the policies and issues he helped tackle that had a significant impact on the community as a whole.

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Those accomplishments include the rental property inspection program in Willmar, improvements to the street assessment policy in Willmar, the city's first local option sales tax which resulted in the construction of the Willmar Public Library, the Grass Lake stormwater improvement project and the new Kandiyohi County single-sort recycling program.

"You are working for the betterment of the community as a whole and that encompasses all people," Ahmann said

There have been challenges. Ahmann said he was never a rubber stamper and was always willing to take on controversial issues and cast unpopular votes if he felt it the right thing to do. That has led to some uncomfortable phone calls.

"I sometimes had to hold my phone at arm's length," Ahmann said.

He has also had run-ins with people who don't agree with his politics or religious beliefs. He was served with a temporary restraining order following an incident between Ahmann and Ben Larson at a Willmar City Council meeting in December 2019.

Larson alleged Ahmann harassed and frightened him after Larson had spoken against Ahmann's wife serving on the Willmar Human Rights Commission due to a religious group of which Ahmanns are part. A judge later threw the restraining order out.

People also spoke out publicly against Ahmann signing on to a document from the Truth in Love Ministries against interfaith dialogues between Muslims and Christians. Truth in Love believes there is a Christian duty to convert non-believers to Christianity and that interfaith dialogue goes against that duty.

Ahmann said those attacks on his wife went over the line, as did those against his religion.

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"Everybody has certain rights in this country. You can have an opinion as long as you don't force that opinion or force people to believe the same thing you believe," Ahmann said. "Freedom of thought, freedom of speech is the most important thing. Freedom of religion is important also."

Ahmann added, "They don't realize what they've done, what was done, was an attack on my civil liberties and my freedom of religion."

Ahmann said he has seen intolerance grow during his time as an elected official, on both sides of the political spectrum. He wants people to be more open to speaking and meeting with people who have different beliefs and ideas, instead of just attacking them without really getting to know them.

"It is time for people to wake up and get involved," Ahmann said.

While his campaign for re-election did not go as planned, Ahmann is now looking forward to the next chapter in his life. He plans to travel extensively and spend more time with family. Ahmann also wants to find a new way to help his community, perhaps by using his skills as a builder.

"I am getting comfortable with the idea of being fully retired," Ahmann said.

Ahmann said he has been honored by the trust voters put in him during his time in elected office and is humbled by it.

"It has been an honor and a blessing to represent all people of this community through all the years. Their trust in me to be a good steward for the taxpayers' dollars, I thank them for their vote of confidence and encouragement. It is very humbling," Ahmann said. "At the end of each day, we are not defined by our human titles, but by our God and creator."

Shelby Lindrud is a reporter with the West Central Tribune of Willmar. Her focus areas are arts and entertainment, agriculture, features writing and the Kandiyohi County Board.

She can be reached via email slindrud@wctrib.com or direct 320-214-4373.


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