One of the first things Alexandria Mayor Sara Carlson did as president of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities was to urge the Republican-controlled legislature and Democratic governor to work together.

"It's more polarized down there than we'd like it to be," said Carlson, who received the coalition's President's Award on August 3, during its three-day summer conference in Fergus Falls. "We'd like people to work together."

Are politicians listening?

"It's hard to know," she said. "I hope they are."

Carlson just finished a one-year term as the coalition's president and will continue to sit on its board. As well, she will represent rural Minnesota cities on the board of the League of Minnesota Cities. Serving as president was an honor, she said, as was receiving the award. As president, Carlson led lobbying efforts in St. Paul and was frequently interviewed by reporters across the state. In her capacity, she was able to raise Alexandria's profile and learn about issues and solutions in other parts of the state, she said.

The coalition praised Carlson for her work pushing state lawmakers to boost Local Government Aid spending, and advocating for clean water programs, reform of environmental regulations, and initiatives for transportation and economic development.

Comprising 90 cities outside the Twin Cities metropolitan area, the nonprofit group educates lawmakers about issues important to Greater Minnesota.

The rural cities coalition "was incredibly lucky to have a strong and effective leader like Sara this year," executive director Bradley Peterson said in a news release. "While she is certainly kind and caring, don't let Sara's sweet demeanor fool you - she is a bulldog in disguise. The 2017 legislative session was particularly long and challenging, and Sara was there every step of the way fighting for Greater Minnesota communities."

This November, the rural cities coalition will hold its fall meeting in Alexandria. That's when it will vote on its priorities for the 2018 legislative session.

As a member of the League of Minnesota Cities, which includes metro cities, Carlson will help interview candidates for governor. She wants to ensure that the state's political leaders take action that benefits rural Minnesota, not just the Twin Cities.

"That divide is real," she said of the attention paid to urban versus rural areas. "We need to make sure that gap doesn't grow."