A dozen candidates have jumped into a special election to fill a vacancy on the Ramsey County Board, with several saying that the county’s high-profile development dispute with Arden Hills was what compelled them to run.
The candidates are vying for the First District seat in the county’s northern reaches vacated by Blake Huffman, who resigned in June amid an investigation into whether his defunct charity had misspent county-allocated dollars.
The candidate pool includes a construction worker, human services supervisor, business owner and certified public accountant. City Council members from Arden Hills, North Oaks and Mounds View and a former legislator also are running.
A primary election will be held Aug. 13 to narrow the field to two candidates who will move on to the general election on Nov. 5. The winner will hold office through 2020, when the regular election will be held in November.
Some candidates already have launched their campaigns, claiming they can repair the schism between Ramsey County and Arden Hills over the contentious redevelopment of the 427-acre former Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant (TCAAP) site.
Ramsey County filed a lawsuit this spring against Arden Hills seeking to end its seven-year power-sharing agreement with the city, which had guided TCAAP redevelopment. Ramsey County purchased the massive property from the federal government in 2013, and the county and city had been working together to develop it under the name Rice Creek Commons.
County officials, who want to build as many as 2,500 apartments and homes on the site, allege that Arden Hills has failed to work in good faith to resolve disputes over financing, density and affordable housing.
Arden Hills leaders have said that it’s county officials who have not been forthcoming with information and plans. The city wants to stick with a preliminary development proposal that called for a mix of offices, businesses and 1,460 housing units, with 10% of them affordable.
Some candidates, including former state Rep. Randy Jessup and Arden Hills City Council Member Steve Scott, are campaigning as pro-Arden Hills on the TCAAP dispute.
“It’s not right for the county to bully the city on this issue,” Jessup said this week.
Other candidates, including Nicole Joy Frethem, a state Department of Human Services supervisor, and Nick Tamble, an Arden Hills business owner, say they will bring a measured voice to the conversation to help bridge the divide.
“It is profoundly disappointing that the working relationship between city and county has resulted in litigation. This lowest point also represents an opportunity for fresh judgment and an emphasis on cooperation,” Frethem said on her campaign website.
“This is a big decision. It’s not going to be made by one person,” Tamble said Tuesday. “There needs be compromise by both parties.”
Ramsey County commissioners are considered full-time officials and make more than $90,000 a year.
The First District includes Arden Hills, Gem Lake, North Oaks, Shoreview, Vadnais Heights and White Bear Township, along with parts of Blaine, Mounds View, Spring Lake Park and White Bear Lake.