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Steve Peppin, Doug Reese make their case to be Willmar's next mayor

Mayoral candidates Steve Peppin and Doug Reese participated in a candidate forum Thursday, Oct. 14, 2022, hosted by the League of Women Voters of the Willmar Area.

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City of Willmar mayoral candidates Steve Peppin, left, and Doug Reese express their views at a forum hosted by the League of Women Voters of Willmar Area at the Willmar Municipal Utilities auditorium on Thursday, Oct. 14, 2022.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune
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WILLMAR — Both candidates running to be the next mayor of Willmar share more similarities than differences in why they are running to be Willmar’s next leader, their beliefs on the top issues facing the city and their leadership style.

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Mayoral candidates Steve Peppin and Doug Reese, both of whom moved to Willmar as young men and fell in love with the city, made their case during a forum Thursday hosted by the League of Women Voters of the Willmar Area on why they will be the best person to lead the city of Willmar for the next four years. Current Mayor Marv Calvin decided not to run for another term.

Peppin has lived in Willmar since 2003 when he came to play football at Ridgewater College. “I had a coach that believed in me out there and told me I could come there and it was a dream come true for me,” he said.

He stayed in Willmar, raised a family, and opened a couple of businesses while building relationships and friendships with people in the community, he said. Peppin is the owner of Pep’s Barbershop and Studio 38, an audio, video and event production company.

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City of Willmar mayoral candidate Steve Peppin introduces himself at the start of a candidate forum hosted by the League of Women Voters of Willmar Area at the Willmar Municipal Utilities auditorium on Thursday, Oct.r 14, 2022.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune

“This town has given me so much, I am grateful for this community,” he added, noting he found a sense of belonging in Willmar and found his passion for people, which gave him a purpose. “I’m extremely grateful for what Willmar has done for me, therefore I want to serve my city as your mayor.”

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Reese moved to Willmar in 1972 to raise his family in the city that he fell in love with as a youth fishing and swimming in the area. “It’s a testament to this community that two of my children, who worked and lived elsewhere, have moved back to the Willmar area with their families because they wanted their children to have a similar childhood experience as they enjoyed in their childhood years,” Reese said.

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City of Willmar mayoral candidate Doug Reese answers a question during a forum hosted by the League of Women Voters of Willmar Area at the Willmar Municipal Utilities auditorium on Thursday, Oct. 14, 2022.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune

Reese first worked for the city’s engineering department and then for the Christian Labor Association, from which he retired after 37 years. He also served on the Willmar City Council for 26 years and served four years as a Kandiyohi County Commissioner.

Leadership and community engagement

Both men shared similarities when it comes to describing their leadership style, which is being a team leader.

“I like to look at it from a basketball point of view. I am a guy that likes to get the ball and my team depends on me to make a shot, but I also know that if I am double-teamed or triple-teamed, I can dump the ball out and somebody else can make the shot,” Peppin said. “Both my businesses in town are ran as a team, and my team has become my family. So my focus would be to run the city as a team with absolutely no ‘I’ involved.”

“Leadership is a critical skill for a mayor, and a mayor who is a strong leader is capable of getting full commitment out of the staff, which in turn leads to higher success in addressing community issues,” Reese said. “I would be a mayor that would work with staff to come up with actions that ought to deal with issues that face the city — very active working with staff, those that are dealing with the issues all the time, and then have critical input.”

Community engagement and inclusion is important to both candidates. “We need to have acceptance in our community of all the different diverse populations that we have and step up and make friends with them,” Reese said. “Include them in all community events and help them to be part of our community.”

“That’s something that I’ve been doing for the last 18 years, something that I am passionate about — to get people to engage, because when people engage, joy can happen, harmony can happen, people can get inspired,” Peppin said, noting the COVID-19 pandemic has a lot of people in the community in “darkness.”

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Infrastructure, housing and economic development

Both candidates believe a top issue facing the city of Willmar is its deteriorating infrastructure, but their ideas or plans about how to address it showed the stark difference between the two candidates’ public service experience.

In that capacity, Reese had more ideas or knowledge of the history of the problem and things that could be done. This was also true when it came to meeting the city’s needs for housing and economic growth.

Reese stated that deferred maintenance due to a lack of a stable funding source has caused city infrastructure to further deteriorate, and the costs to repair it to continue to rise.

“The city needs to consider potential funding sources that could offer more consistent funding to address growing pavement needs. The city council should consider developing a street underground infrastructure reconstruction plan with a dedicated long-term funding source,” Reese said.

He noted the League of Minnesota Cities is currently working on legislation to allow cities to use a sales tax to fund street reconstruction — similar to what counties are currently able to do — and another dedicated source of funding could be from property taxes.

Peppin stated he would address the city’s infrastructure issues, “By getting together with all those departments, talking to them, focusing on the good and building on it. Really asking them what's going on and hearing them and working as a team.”

When asked about developing affordable housing in the city, Peppin admitted, “I don’t have the answers to that question. However, with that said, I can always go back to the team thing. That’s the beauty of a team. … That’s an answer that I would ask my team, because I don’t know anything about that and I have the humility to speak up and say when I don’t know something.”

Reese stated there have been a number of multi-family housing developments in the city the past few years, but he would like to work with local contractors to see more single-family housing development. He also mentioned the mayor’s housing task force, noting it would have some recommendations on what the city could do.

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When asked what role taxpayer money should play in economic development, Reese was able to list off a number of projects the city has accomplished, both past and present, that spurred economic growth through a combination of public and private funding. Some of those things included moving the Willmar Airport to expand the industrial park, the Willmar Wye railroad bypass project that is now completed and bringing FedEx and 200 jobs into the new industrial park.

He noted that many of the projects came about due to the city’s partnership with the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission, which is funded with taxpayer money.

Peppin stated that the role of taxpayer money in spurring economic development should be left up to the people and what they want to do with their money.

“With that said, there’s people that are working on that stuff, and what I would do as mayor is get to know more about that,” he added. “There’s a lot that I’m not aware of and don’t know about.”

Jennifer Kotila is a reporter for West Central Tribune of Willmar, Minnesota. She focuses on local government, specifically the City of Willmar, and business.

She can be reached via email at: jkotila@wctrib.com or phone at 320-214-4339.
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