Linda Higgins doesn't need to wait until next year to take office as a Hennepin County commissioner. Elected last week to fill a vacant position, she'll be sworn in next Tuesday morning.

Except for her, the board's membership remains the same. Chairman Mike Opat and Commissioners Randy Johnson and Jan Callison defeated challengers to get re-elected last week, and Commissioner Jeff Johnson ran unopposed.

Higgins is a former state senator from Minneapolis, and she defeated attorney Blong Vang to represent the county's Second District, which stretches from Plymouth through parts of Golden Valley and northeast Minneapolis to St. Anthony.

"I expect to be very busy very quickly," said Higgins, interviewed while she was driving around to pick up lawn signs the day after the election.

In her 16 years at the Legislature, Higgins served on the Health and Human Services Committee and other panels, and she expects that experience will be helpful in overseeing the county's programs.

The commissioner position has been vacant since May, when longtime Commissioner Mark Stenglein resigned to become president and CEO of the Minneapolis Downtown Council.

Higgins will be the only newcomer on the seven-member board, but she's acquainted with its members.

"Most of them have worked with me in my role as a senator," she said. "It's not like I have to meet a whole lot of new people."

There was even less change in neighboring Carver County's board, where all five commissioners were re-elected last week.

New slate at Three Rivers

The opposite was true for the Three Rivers Park District, where four new commissioners out of five elected districts will be sworn in on Jan. 17.

The seven-member board also includes two commissioner positions appointed by the Hennepin County Board, one of which is vacant and will be filled next year.

Two of the incoming park commissioners have held high-profile public jobs.

John Gunyou, longtime Minnetonka city manager and former state finance commissioner, will represent the Fourth District, and said he's excited to oversee what he called a beloved and important park system. It includes 21 parks, park reserves and special areas, and 15 trails, mostly in suburban Hennepin County.

Gunyou said one of the main challenges will be continuing to provide the high quality of recreation that people have come to expect during a time of tight budgets. "We'll need to be smarter about how we do things," he said, such as building more partnerships with other units of government to share costs.

Former Hennepin Commissioner Penny Steele will also join the Three Rivers Board, elected to represent the First District, which includes Plymouth, Wayzata and much of the western half of the county. The park system needs to grow to meet increasing demands for recreation, Steele said, but that must be balanced with holding the line on budgets. The various parks must be sustainable into the future, she said, so the district needs to guard against overextending itself.

Also joining the board will be Jennifer DeJournett in the Second District and Daniel Freeman in the Third District.

New mayors will take charge in Robbinsdale, Excelsior and Victoria after incumbents decided not to run again.

Chaska Mayor Mark Windschitl and Mound Mayor Mark Hanus were re-elected for another two years, and Edina Mayor Jim Hovland will serve another four-year term. "I'm thrilled to be able to continue working for our town," Hovland said.

The work ahead includes gradually modernizing some of the city's older residential and commercial areas, he said, "but at the same time not losing what's so special about Edina in the process."

Tom Meersman • 612-673-7388