Local candidates offer views at forum
WILLMAR -- Two candidates for the office of mayor and six candidates for three seats on the Willmar City Council offered their views on questions posed during a two-hour forum sponsored Friday by the Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce Public ...
WILLMAR - Two candidates for the office of mayor and six candidates for three seats on the Willmar City Council offered their views on questions posed during a two-hour forum sponsored Friday by the Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce Public Policy Committee.
Voters in the Nov. 4 general election will fill the four-year office of mayor that is being vacated by Mayor Frank Yanish who did not file for re-election.
Also, voters in Wards 1, 2 and 3 will decide between an incumbent councilman and a challenger in each ward.
Ward 4 councilwoman Audrey Nelsen is unopposed for re-election. She attended the forum but did not participate in the questioning.
Mayoral candidates Marv Calvin and Zach Liebl were invited to speak.
Bob Skor is running as a write-in candidate for mayor. Skor was not invited to attend the forum because only the candidates who filed for office were invited, said Pat Solheid, chairwoman of the Chamber’s Public Policy Committee.
Council candidates who filed and were invited were Ward 1 incumbent Bruce DeBlieck and challenger Andrew Plowman; Ward 2 incumbent Ron Christianson and challenger Steve Gardner; and Ward 3 incumbent Rick Fagerlie and challenger Bob Enos.
In their introductions, Calvin said among other things that he has the proven vision, leadership and collaboration needed to move Willmar forward. He was Willmar’s first full-time fire chief and fire marshal and serves on many boards and committees at the local and state levels.
Calvin said it’s imperative to restore a sense of leadership, trust and respect among the mayor’s office, the City Council, administration and the community at large. He also cited the need for citizens’ engagement and achieving the goals of the Vision 2040 effort, and the need for economic development and head-of-household jobs.
“We need someone with proven leadership to get the job done,’’ Calvin said.
Liebl said he is running because one of the key issues that arose from the Vision 2040 effort was the need for new blood and for the next generation to step up and take leadership positions. He also said several people in different groups told him he should at least consider running for mayor.
Liebl said he would focus on economic development and continued growth, assimilating Ridgewater College students more into the community, affordable housing and working with private developers to bring housing to town and embracing the diverse population.
During questioning of council candidates, DeBlieck said he wants to continue to give back to the community and help lead the community set a shared vision. He said people rely on the essential services of police, fire, ambulance, streets, water, parks, transportation and library in their daily lives.
Top priorities, he said, are infrastructure needs, maintenance of city buildings, parks and roads, technology infrastructure and hearing what people want and listening to them.
Plowman said he’s running for City Council because he cares about the future of the city. He said he enjoys the political process and believes the best 25 years need to better than the last.
Christianson said he is seeking re-election because he has lived in Ward 2 for most of his life, has a passion for being where the decisions are made that affect the citizens and has high expectations for city government.
Gardner, who served on the council from Ward 2 from 2005 to 2009, said he is a candidate because the city “has been running in place’’ for the last four years. Gardner said he wants to make Willmar be the place where people will want to live, work and play.
Fagerlie said he’s running again for the council because he wants to continue to give back to Willmar and wants to do what is best for the city.
Enos said he became interested in city government when Yanish asked Enos two years ago to provide counsel to the mayor. Enos, who moved from the East Coast to Willmar six years ago, said he wants to help his chosen city “because I can.’’ He said advances in technology give leaders new opportunities to connect with the public.
Among questions posed to the council candidates was how the mayor, City Council and city administrator should interact and to describe their roles.
Gardner said good public policy should be in place and treating each other as individuals working as a team. In his business travels, Gardner said people ask him what’s wrong with Willmar.
“We have to move away from this idea that there’s an adversarial relationship along the way. We need to kick politics to the curb,’’ he said. “This needs to be about service and how best we can do the next right thing for our city and our citizens.’’
Christianson said the city has a charter that he said is not well-used by the city. He said everything is dictated in the charter that the council is supposed to follow, and he read portions dealing council powers and duties of the mayor.
“We function very well,’’ he said.
According to the flow chart, he said, the owners of the city are the voters, then come the council, administrator and department heads. He said government is an arena of ideas, not people. The policy, once it’s passed, is sent to the administrator who administers the policy.
Enos said the council and mayor serve as the executive authority-makers, and he said the administrator works as a chief operating officer and not as chief executive officer as many have suggested. He said executive authority and determination of the city’s agenda is the sole purview of the council.
Fagerlie said the city council sets policy and the administrator makes sure the policy is followed, “and I think it’s been working very well.’’
Plowman said his opinion and the opinion of others is that a level of mistrust and maybe even disrespect might exist between the citizenry, City Council and city staff. The one thing that needs to be done, he said, is to squash that and move forward.
“Let’s build a bridge between the citizenry, the City Council and the city staff and let each group let their leaders basically do the communication back and forth, and that should keep everyone honest, moving forward and should keep the whole process of communication and planning as simple and straightforward as it possibly can be.’’
DeBlieck said council members need to be accessible and good listeners to staff and the community. They also need to develop and honor and trust that council-staff-community partnership. He said there is a very clear division of the roles between the council and the staff “and you need to be accountable for what we do and accountable to the voters in the community.’’