Incumbent Gardner unseated by Willmar attorney in Ward 2 race

WILLMAR -- Tim Johnson soundly defeated incumbent Steve Gardner for the four-year Ward 2 seat on the Willmar City Council in Tuesday's general election.

WILLMAR -- Tim Johnson soundly defeated incumbent Steve Gardner for the four-year Ward 2 seat on the Willmar City Council in Tuesday's general election.

Unofficial returns gave Johnson 1,951 votes to 634 for Gardner with all three precincts in the ward reporting by 11 p.m.

The new council term begins in January.

Johnson rode a wave of constituent discontent over Gardner's support of the controversial Westwind affordable housing project being developed in the southwest corner of Ward 2.

Both advanced to the general election after Johnson was the top vote-getter with a nearly 4-to-1 margin to Gardner's second-place finish in a three-way Sept. 9 primary election race.


Johnson said he was humbled and pleased by the support shown from the Ward 2 residents and said he would "do my best to maintain the trust and confidence they have bestowed on me at the polls. I view it as a strong mandate from the people.''

Johnson, 61, chief public defender for the 8th Judicial District, had said land use decisions require better planning, long-term thinking and consideration of all possible consequences.

Johnson had said increased housing needs should be met by purchasing and rehabilitating neglected housing in the core city. He said the Westwind project was not needed and said the project left needed rehabilitation around the downtown unaddressed.

Also, he listed city finances as a campaign issue, saying the current economic climate could adversely affect the city's ability to generate sufficient revenue to meet budget projections, and he said a solution is needed to surface water runoff problems.

Gardner congratulated Johnson on his victory. Gardner said he still has work to do and intends to continue to finish that work.

"I'll look forward to finishing out my term and we'll just see where I go from here. I don't think I'm done with public service. But we'll take a look at it after the election and see where we want to go from here,'' he said.

Gardner, 49, a document imaging sales specialist with Bennett Office Technologies of Willmar, had said he believed land use was the only reason he faced opposition.

However, he had asked voters to look at his record of making "thoughtful and careful decisions'' in other areas, such as supporting increased library funding, supporting downtown rejuvenation, trying to solve storm water problems, leading opposition to a salvage yard near a residential neighborhood and supporting the Speak Your Peace Civility Project.


Gardner had said land use decisions must be based on objective criteria. He said he felt the only reason he faced opposition was due to constituent unhappiness with his vote of support for Westwind. He said the city, absent legal and factual basis, faced dire legal consequences if the council unlawfully denied the housing project.

He said the city needs to ensure that the job market continues to diversify. He fought for establishing a storm water task force to suggest solutions to storm water problems and he advocated for permanent funding for storm water solutions.

Unofficial returns in Ward 2 by precinct are as follows:

? Precinct 1: Johnson -- 484; Gardner -- 206.

? Precinct 2: Johnson -- 717; Gardner -- 175.

? Precinct 3: Johnson -- 750; Gardner -- 253.

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