Commissioner candidates answer questionsStanding before Kiwanis members during their noon meeting Monday, Harvey Tewes assured them they had nothing to worry about.
By: Celeste Beam, Alexandria Echo Press
Standing before Kiwanis members during their noon meeting Monday, Harvey Tewes assured them they had nothing to worry about.
“I’m not running for commissioner and I am not Paul [Anderson], but he approves this message,” Tewes joked.
Tewes was at the meeting on behalf of Anderson, who was supposed to take part in the “Meet the Douglas County Commissioner Candidates” forum.
Anderson was injured in a fall at his home October 3 and was taken to Hennepin County Medical Center. Tewes spoke with Anderson this past Sunday and was told that he’s expected to return to Alexandria this week.
Five other commissioner candidates were at the meeting to answer questions from moderator, Echo Press Editor Al Edenloff.
Candidates included Norm Salto (incumbent) and Elroy Frank (challenger), District 2; Arlan Kakac (challenger), District 4; Dan Olson (incumbent) and Bill Dropik (write-in candidate), District 5.
The candidates were asked to summarize their personal background and qualifications to serve as county commissioner.
Frank has been a resident of the area for 24 years and is involved in the community including at his church and in government as a current member of the Alexandria City Council, which has served on for the past 14 years. He is used to working with large budgets, such as with the airport, recreation, police department and others.
“I want to continue serving the community and to move forward. I want to see it grow and prosper,” Frank said.
Kakac noted that he served as county commissioner from 1996 to 2003 and would like to get back into it. His background includes working with mentally disabled people and working in social services.
Kakac serves as a treasurer for a local cemetery board and has served on United Way committees. A strong supporter of the environment, Kakac said he is looking forward to serving the people of District 4 if he is elected.
Dropik lives on a dairy farm by Nelson and is a lifelong resident of the county. He has a strong interest in serving the public and has served as president of civic clubs and on the First District Cheese Board. “My goal is to represent the people; to make life better for families,” said Dropik, who noted he’s a little on the conservative side and has a common sense approach to finding the right solution when a problem arises.
Currently the commissioner in District 5, Olson was born and raised in Douglas County and is a graduate of Jefferson High School (JHS). So far, he has served two terms as a county commissioner. Olson serves on many boards, including PrimeWest Health, Pope Douglas Solid Waste Management, West Central Community Action and others.
He told the crowd that he wants to work with the growth of Douglas County, not against it. “I have a common sense approach and I try to do the best I can,” he said. “Hopefully I can continue serving.”
Salto, who was also born and raised in Douglas County and is a graduate of JHS, is currently the commissioner for District 2. He has a long history with the county as he worked for the sheriff’s office and also served as sheriff.
He loves serving the public and is currently a member of several boards and committees, including the Douglas County Jail Committee/
The candidates were asked how they would describe the county commissioners’ relationship with the community; if they would support holding meetings at night and if they had ideas for how to get the community more engaged.
Kakac said he’s an advocate of active citizenship and he’d like to see the county host regular forums or open hours where the public could come and talk with the commissioners. While talking with citizens in the community, Kakac has heard concerns that they don’t have contact with commissioners and feel they don’t have representation. “I would like to see the county set up public forums,” he reiterated.
Dropik feels it’s important for residents to be able to contact a commissioner if they need to vent or communicate about an issue and that his phone is always on. “Never hesitate to make a call,” he said, noting that if he doesn’t answer, to leave a message and he will always call back. He added communication is key.
Olson said he was an advocate of night meetings in the past, and that if residents of the community want night meetings, he would advocate for them again. “I’d try it again. I enjoyed night meetings,” Olson said, although he added that when the meetings were held in the evenings, “We didn’t have folks coming.”
Olson said that everyone deserves a chance to be heard and that if any of his constituents need to get a hold of him, they can give him a call.
Salto also said he would give night meetings a try – if that’s what the people want.
And, Frank was also a supporter of night meetings. He said commissioners have to have an open mind and be able to listen to their constituents.
CUTS TO THE BUDGET
Because of the state budget deficit, the county may have to deal with additional cuts. The candidates were asked what budget items they would consider cutting and which ones they’d fight to preserve.
Dropik listed housing, healthcare and environment as ones he would avoid cutting. “These are areas we should protect,” he said.
He also talked about social services and said there could be some misuse of funds in that department with families who are receiving help when they maybe don’t need to.
Olson talked about the current board and how it recently asked department heads to take a hard look at their budgets because the commissioners made the decision to not increase the budget. “Each one of them had to share in the pain,” he said. “It’s not always easy or fun. But we are trying to keep the budget where it’s at now. We have to hold the line.”
Olson added that department heads are experts in their fields and the commissioners have to rely on them.
Salto said there are three areas that have to be protected – roads, law enforcement and social services. He believes the county board has done a good job thus far when it comes to the budget, but said, “Everything is going to have to be on the table, including personnel eventually. You can’t have one shovel and four people to look at it.”
Frank feels the priority areas are law enforcement, roads and public health. He said if it comes down to personnel cuts, it will have to be an option. “It’s time for all to be on the table. To look at all avenues,” he said.
Kakac believes that cuts to services are difficult and that consolidation of services could be looked at. He said the number one priority is public safety, as in roads, and that service is important if the county is growing.
Candidates were asked to rate the performance of the current board, as excellent, good, fair or poor, and why they chose that rating.
Olson rated the current board in the “good range.” He said the board has had to make some hard decisions and that at times, the outcomes were good and other times, the board could have done better. “For the most part, we work well together as a board,” he said, acknowledging that the members have had their differences, but they still manage to get some projects completed – the jail, the hospital and the new incinerator at Pope Douglas Solid Waste Management.
“We’ve done a pretty good job. We’ve tried hard,” Olson said.
Salto rated the performance of the current board as “pretty good.” He also acknowledged that the commissioners have had their differences, but that in the end they all work together. “I have no problem working with the board and I will continue doing that [if elected],” he said.
Frank felt differently than the incumbents and rated the performance of the current board as fair. He feels there has been some duplication of projects, and that with the proposed joint law enforcement center, the county walked away from the table, which forced the city to go on its own.
Kakac didn’t necessarily give the board a rating, but feels the current commissioners have a difficult time working with other entities.
Dropik, who also didn’t really give a rating, believes the commissioners shouldn’t have dug their heels in and walked away from the joint law enforcement center. “I won’t point fingers, but it never should have been allowed to happen,” he said. “It will cost taxpayers.”
Candidates were asked if the county was doing enough to protect lakes from invasive species such as zebra mussels and if they supported closing channels between infested and non-infested lakes.
Olson answered first, explaining that he was the swing vote for the channel closings. “I will stand by that,” he said. “I still do. I don’t want invasion into other lakes.”
Frank believes that the lakes need to be protected, but that the channel closing shouldn’t have been a county issue; it should have been a decision made by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
Kakac said he agreed with Frank and that he doesn’t know if closing the channel was the answer.
Dropik said he didn’t believe the county should have made the decision to close the channel. The DNR should have made that choice, he said.
Olson explained that when the vote to close the channel came before the board, he first voted to keep the channels open. He couldn’t see the reasoning behind closing the channels but surmised that the board was going to “agree to disagree.”
All of the candidates thanked Kiwanis members for inviting them to speak.
Frank said if elected, he would bring new ideas to the county board.
Kakac said he would bring change to the board.
Dropik believes the taxpayers deserve a choice.
Olson, who said he’s enjoyed the last eight years, hopes he can continue to serve the public for the next four years and to finish projects he’s been a part of.
Salto wanted to clarify a couple of issues, noting that the county “didn’t walk away” from the joint law enforcement center. He said the county indicated it couldn’t be a part of it at this time because of funding and the city made the decision to go on its own. He also explained that the county holds zoning rights for channel closings and that the DNR was involved from the beginning.