Candidates for the city of Brainerd were the last to take seats at the debate table during the League of Women Voters candidate forum.
Candidates for Brainerd’s Ward 1 and Ward 3 were seated together for a debate that occasionally brought chuckles from the small crowd and had candidates answering how they would deal with a contentious city council.
Candidates for Ward 1, Amanda Monnier, Sue Hilgart, Joseph Morgan, Dave Pritschet, Rob Garberich, attended the debate. Candidate Daniel Egan was unable to attend because of a work conflict.
Candidates for Ward 3 are Howard Brewer, Jeff Czeczok, Gary Scheeler and John Magnuson. Brewer was not in attendance.
First-time candidate John Magnuson lightened the mood and had those gathered laughing when he said he wasn’t used to debate situations.
“For those who can’t see, my knees they are shaking,” Magnuson said.
Magnuson said his motivation for running for city council came from a desire to give back to a community that has given much to him. He said he knows how to work together for results, has an ability to set goals and work hard. Magnuson said everyone is due respect and people don’t need to thump their chest to get the point across. He said leaving egos at the door is better for all. Among priorities, Magnuson listed attracting business, perhaps with incentives like tax-increment financing. He also said Lum Park could be developed to be more of an attraction on the city’s east side. Magnuson said he thinks residents are ready for new faces and the goal is to make Brainerd a desirable place for business and residents.
Scheeler, who previously served on the council for six years, said he brings experience and would focus on business and jobs. Scheeler said he served on a council that could be contentious but the group worked as a team. Scheeler said priorities include promoting business growth and jobs, downtown Brainerd and keeping or increasing property values. Scheeler said he’d encourage people to buy local instead of losing tax dollars by online shopping that could help the city’s infrastructure like the wastewater treatment plant.
Czeczok said he’s been following government for a quarter of his life and serving on city committees. He said he hoped all the candidates would participate in city committees win or lose. Czeczok said he would work to maintain services. As for contention, Czeczok said he works with other airport commission members and they may disagree one day and joke the next. If the vote doesn’t go your way, you move on, he said. Czeczok said he was persistent and it was important to elect someone who has been involved and willing to stick their necks out for the community.
David Pritschet said Brainerd is at a crossroads and needs people with vision to build a better city. His goals included increasing communications, developing and maintaining trails, turning Brainerd into a hub, bolstering fire and police departments, do more grant writing and put in a signal light at Willow Street. As a debate coach, Pritschet said he’d bring the skill of arguing without attacking the person and focus on what the council could do instead of things it can’t. Compromise isn’t a dirty word, he said. Among his priorities, Pritschet said business needs to feel welcome and more secure.
Morgan, a Brainerd native, said he left the area after college but a love of the area brought him back. When there is conflict between members, Morgan said it’s important to lay out all the issues involved. With facts and information on the table it’s easier to come to an understanding, Morgan said. Priorities for Morgan included job growth. He said the economic situation isn’t unique to Brainerd, but the city and area is and the city can promote business and get people to establish here.
Monnier said she enjoys helping individuals. She said the best way to avoid contention is for everyone to look at all aspects of the situation. For Monnier, priorities included livable wages, young people and housing. Monnier said she was definitely for the youth, a huge part of Brainerd’s future and positive change was needed for existing business and those coming here.
Hilgart said she was running because she believes Brainerd is a city with so much potential and wants to bring that potential to reality. Hilgart said the council lacks a focus for the future to grow Brainerd and the city needs economic development with jobs that provide a benefits and a living wage. Hilgart said in her experience in employee relations and dispute resolution, mutual respect is key. She said the council needs new voices. For priorities, Hilgart listed jobs, economic development, safe housing and succession planning. Hilgart said she believes she can make a difference and feels it’s civic duty to be involved. She said she wanted to be an advocate for innovation.
Garberich said he wants to work for a connection between government and community. As for conflict, Garberich said change may be the answer. The council doesn’t need to preach to people but needs to listen and understand where the passion is coming from, he said. Priorities include downtown Brainerd and business. Garberich said he was would listen to people and was encouraged by more people getting involved.
■ Brainerd at large
Brainerd at large candidates are, Chip Borkenhagen, Mary Koep, Bob Olson, Denny Schmidt, Laura Bisted, David Colvin and Michael Bollinger. Voters will be able to pick two candidates from the seven who are running.
Schmidt, Bisted and Colvin did not attend the League of Women Voters candidate forum.
Incumbents Mary Koep and Robert Olson were joined by challengers Michael Bollinger and Chip Borkenhagen at the debate. Bollinger and Borkenhagen are seeking public office for the first time.
All four candidates agreed on the only simply yes or no question. They all supported a primary election for city candidates.
Questions included what candidates see as priorities for the city, how they would handle a contentious council and what they thought of the College Drive project. It also allowed them to say what they could bring to the elected position.
Koep said she believes in community building, adding the city has weathered the last few years of economic downturn because of choice not chance.
She pointed to programs such as permit rebates for home improvement and reaching out to the business community to showcase Brainerd during council sessions.
“I am an advocate for the people, a cheerleader for our city,” she said. “I work hard. I do my homework .. and I am passionate about Brainerd.”
Priorities included people, business growth and job creation, public safety and services the city provides that people depend upon. Government must be the people’s servant and not the master, Koep said.
As for contention on the council, Koep said: “You don’t want a bunch of rubber stamps sitting there and making decisions about your city,” Koep said, adding when people get heated they sometimes get carried away. Debate is good when the issue is addressed and not the person, Koep said, adding grudges don’t belong at the council.
Bollinger, a life-long Brainerd resident and veteran has been with the Crow Wing County Highway Department for 13 years. In recent years, Bollinger said he’s seen the growth in Baxter and low-growth in Brainerd. Bollinger said he wants to brings jobs and manufacturing to the city.
“I really believe we need a common sense approach on spending,” Bollinger said. The city needs to concentrate on jobs and cut spending, while maintaining roads and infrastructure, he said.
As priorities, Bollinger listed jobs. He pointed to Sioux Falls, S.D., as an example of a city that advertises and said tax incentives could work to bring business here. Bollinger said his passion is limited spending and limited government.
“I’m not here to spend your money,” Bollinger said. “I’m not here to implement new ordinances. ... I’m a no-nonsense type of guy.”
Borkenhagen referred people to his website, Facebook and blog, saying it was impossible to say in a minute why he was the best candidate. He said his career has been about communication and community building. Borkenhagen said he’ll bring the same energy to the council he put into creating the Lake Country Journal magazine. As a first priority, Borkenhagen said he’d work on communication.
“I think that’s what it’s all about,” he said. “... Revitalizing, re-energizing, rebuilding a positive attitude, from there comes vision and from vision comes new business. If Brainerd is in fact the heart of lake country, ... then the heart of Brainerd is downtown. That to me is really crucial in polishing up our image again.” Brainerd shouldn’t try to be Baxter, the city has its own identity to build on, Borkenhagen said.
As for the issue of contention, Borkenhagen said he’s always believed in treating others as you would want to be treated and that allows for healthy debate and working through issues.
Olson said he will work to represent and work with residents and keep tax levy as low as possible. Olson said he would work to keep services people need and will use his God-given ability — his common sense.
Olson has served on the council since 2001. He said he’s served with good people and all would do what they could to bring jobs to the city. Olson said Brainerd has a lot to offer in its industrial park, airport, schools, churches and environment, but it is also in competition with other communities and getting jobs isn’t that easy.
Olson said when strong personalities discuss issues he calls it good, strong debate.
“I think strong debate is good and healthy,” Olson said. “... I have and I will continue to represent and serve all the citizens of Brainerd to the best of my God-given ability.”
As for College Drive, Bollinger said repair was needed and a roundabout was good by the high school but the rest of the road could have remained two lanes instead of spending $9 million. Olson and Koep said they favored the plan to spend $1 million on the project, which would have added turn lanes and that would have been adequate. Borkenhagen said he couldn’t answer accurately because he didn’t know all the details but he would have scrutinized the plan to make sure money was well spent.