Forum focuses on candidates for vacant Willmar City Council seat
WILLMAR -- Given the recent conflicts on the Willmar City Council, it wasn't surprising that the two candidates vying for a vacant seat on the council were asked to respond to questions about what's good, what's bad, what needs to be changed and ...
WILLMAR –– Given the recent conflicts on the Willmar City Council, it wasn’t surprising that the two candidates vying for a vacant seat on the council were asked to respond to questions about what’s good, what’s bad, what needs to be changed and what they would do to lead Willmar forward.
During a one-hour candidate forum Tuesday night hosted by the League of Women Voters, Tom Butterfield and Shawn Mueske presented their views about the city and how their experiences could be put to use if elected to the council to represent Ward 4.
A special election will be held Nov. 10 to fill the seat that was left vacant with the resignation of longtime Councilman Jim Dokken.
“I am concerned about our city,” Mueske said.
He said his experience serving on the city’s Charter Commission, the Mid-Minnesota Development Commission and as a former school board member gives him the skills to “hit the ground running” if elected.
“I am invested in this city. I’m very proud to call Willmar my home,” Mueske said. “My family lives here. My children go to school here. We work here. We shop here. We pray here. We play here.”
Butterfield, who said he is the fifth generation in his family to live in Willmar, touted his strong family roots in the community.
“I take great pride in calling Willmar my home,” he said, and promised to bring leadership, integrity, communication skills and a strong work ethic to the council.
When asked how they would address conflicts within the council, Mueske said the council needs to be a team that works together to achieve goals and meetings need a sense of “decorum” in which council members separate personal feelings from professional actions.
Mueske said he would rely on research, data and listening to the voice of residents to establish a position on issues and would then work to find common ground.
He said the ability to compromise is “sorely lacking” on the current City Council and the council “wastes time” on personality conflicts rather than focusing on the “people of Willmar.”
Butterfield said he would be a “unifying influence” on the City Council and would try to “pull the city back together.”
Because he has turned down campaign contributions and is running on “my own dime,” Butterfield said he will be “walking in with an open mind.”
When it comes to bricks and mortar issues, both Butterfield and Mueske said they oppose hiring private companies to do work that city staff is already doing - such as mowing lawn on public land.
They also both agreed that it’s best to keep the city administrator position and not change it to a city manager.
Regarding roads, parks and other city infrastructure, Butterfield said he’s “not afraid to spend money” to improve roads and parks, but when it comes to the city budget, he wants to make sure residents “see a positive return on their tax dollars.”
Mueske said the city has a good plan to improve streets and parks but the council needs to listen to city staff and experts hired to provide advice on how to maintain the city’s infrastructure and let them do their jobs.
The candidates were asked about their understanding of the state’s Open Meeting Law, which requires that meetings of government bodies generally be open to the public.
Mueske said he’s had training on the law and it needs to be carefully followed to make sure elected officials don’t “hide behind doors” and make decisions before meetings even begin. “They make the law for a reason,” he said.
Butterfield said he’s concerned about the law but acknowledged he will have to read and learn about.
When it comes to setting policies, Mueske said he is “one of those nerds that live and breathe policy” and that he was “made for this job” on the council.
Butterfield said he doesn’t have experience with setting policies, but he is willing to learn. “I am a true rookie politician,” he said.
In response to questions about the town’s diversity, Butterfield said the city benefits when people of all ages and ethnicities work together.
Mueske said he wants the city to restore its Human Rights Commission to provide a conduit for the voice of people in the community who have been “neglected and forgotten” to be heard.
Even if the council doesn’t like what they hear, Mueske said, “when you stop listening, you won’t be moving this city forward” and the council needs to listen to every citizen and every group.
Butterfield said he would work with any group in the city in an effort to improve the town so his son can have the same experiences that he had growing up in Willmar.