County Commissioner - District 1 Candidate: Bonnie Huettl
Q: Please list your background and specific qualifications for this position.
A: Since 2005, I have attended a majority of the county commissioners' board meetings as well as Board of Adjustment and Planning Advisory Board meetings. As a member of the board of directors for a nonprofit, this added to my experience in management.
My professional experience includes: City of St. Paul's Planning Economic Development, interacting with city officials regarding census data; office/store operations manager for a chain of retail stores, managing the store's inventory, implementing a computerized inventory system for owners to track store inventory, hiring and managing staff in the office and warehouse, maintaining the business financial records and working with the CPA.
As a small business owner for 22 years in real estate, I managed every aspect of my business, which covers advertising, crisis management, marketing and unbelievable communication responsibilities. In a large company, I trained new agents, and I participated in the management program. The communication component is the most important skill when working with title companies, appraisers, loan officers, buyers, sellers, other realtors, advertisers and inspectors, which results in a successful home purchase. Interacting with people in every aspect comes naturally to me and will serve our county well.
Q: What do you view as the biggest challenge facing the county right now and how would you deal with it?
A: That is a multifaceted question, as all departments the county manages have challenges facing them around budgeting. The county needs to be looking at how to be able to deliver services when the local government aid is lowered or eliminated in 2015. This should not be ignored, and we should plan now for that possibility.
The biggest challenge is broad in that, as the need increases for social services with the baby boom generation entering retirement, dollars will need to be very wisely spent, and efficiencies will need to be found to stretch those dollars and not cut services
The Public Health Department is in the process of considering merging several counties into forming one entity. This needs much scrutiny, as the impact may be positive to some but not others. How might it affect the delivery of services to those in need? Close attention and involvement of the board is needed to have an informed voice.
Future expansion of courts will be a topic that will need revisiting, as there was no expansion done when the jail and LEC were constructed. The need is there.
Q: Would you say the current board has shown commitment and follow through on current projects, for example the law enforcement and services center and courtroom remodel? What would your strategy be to further progress?
A: Much time, energy and dollars were put into trying to fit a square peg in a round hole, keeping the jail downtown. More than $200,000 was spent on consultant's time redesigning and having studies done repeatedly and then rejecting them over and over during four years of debate. This time could have been more effective working with the Sheriff, consultants and other board members communicating concerns and managing costs.
It appeared as though some board members decided not to accept a green site, even though that was the recommendation of the justice committee. The board also was advised many times against building on the downtown site by paid consultants, yet it was pursued. The energy, time and money spent trying to defeat the green site was wasted as the dollars spent now exceed the original project cost.
Also, the county did not leverage their opportunity to cost share with the city on a joint law enforcement center. This was not a business-based decision, a waste of time and money. Now we are stuck with a disjointed system having the jail, LEC and the courts in separate locations. Plus, we have a beautiful new public works building we didn't need.
Q: Is there anything more the county can do to combat aquatic invasive species, such as zebra mussels? Share other thoughts about protecting water quality.
A: Douglas County has been a leader in the state around this issue and needs to remain there. The county made a first step in fighting these aquatic invaders by acquiring a decontamination station at the recommendation of the board-appointed Douglas County Citizens Committee.
My involvement in this arena has included going to the Legislature pleading for more funding for the DNR. Through this, I have gained invaluable information that can be used to further the education that is so desperately needed that the county can participate in at minimal cost.
This growing issue has been on the forefront in D.C. since I brought it forward to the Douglas County Lakes Association in 2008. I was on the cutting edge gathering information and trying to gain support from area lakes that we needed to do something. While we cannot completely stop the spread of these invasives because either people remain ignorant of the facts or don't care, the spread needs to be slowed. It is ignorant to believe doing nothing has no consequences. Slowing the spread allows more time for scientists to find a viable way to eradicate these invaders. My experience can be used effectively here.
Q: County commissioners have recently opened communication with the Alexandria City Council. What would you contribute to this partnership?
A: It is unfortunate that this is news. Dialogue between the cities and the county should be expected, not "recently opened." By being engaged, attending each other's meetings, you can gain a spirit of cooperation that continues in time least expected. Good communication should be a trait that all commissioners possess.
A skill I possess is to gain respect from others through being engaged and knowledgeable in whatever I do. Collaboration saves everyone involved time and money by being able to share experiences with what works and does not in any given area.
Being a commissioner should be a career and, as such, would include being involved with all agencies and communicating with them. My expectations are high in the area of knowing who the players are in any given arena, which is a big part of communication. The only way to do that is to be engaged at the local and state level. I enjoy being engaged and will continue to be.