City leadership in Washington County will undergo substantial change this Election Day, with nine cities having mayoral races and six of them involving an incumbent stepping down. Stillwater, Oakdale and Forest Lake are among the cities certain to have new mayors.
The mayor’s race in Stillwater might be the most pivotal because of a transformation that will occur when the new St. Croix River bridge opens.
Much of the interstate commuter traffic that has clogged the city will shift overnight to the new bridge in late 2016. Emphasis will change from vehicles to bicycles when a new pedestrian loop trail is built over the Lift Bridge and linked to the new Browns Creek State Trail, now under construction.
Ted Kozlowski and John Rheinberger seek to replace Mayor Ken Harycki, who decided not to run for re-election.
Kozlowski, who owns a marketing institute, is a current first-term City Council member. Rheinberger, who served a four-year term on the City Council until 2005, is an attorney and currently a soil and water conservation board supervisor.
Both candidates see priorities for business development, particularly downtown when the new bridge opens.
“The principal benefit to Stillwater is the decrease in commuter traffic through town causing traffic issues,” Kozlowski said. “While this is great for residents and visitors navigating around town, we do need to ensure that this new decrease in traffic doesn’t negatively affect our local merchants.”
Kozlowski said Stillwater could generate more money to fund civic improvements by bringing new businesses and jobs to the city. Several underused properties elsewhere in the city could be put to better commercial use, he said. Kozlowski said his 17 years of business experience, and national recognition as a speaker on marketing and entrepreneurship, would be invaluable to Stillwater.
“With a small staff and small budget [in city government], long-term planning is of paramount importance,” he said.
Rheinberger said the City Council “should not be running the downtown by handcuffing our business owners with unnecessary and overly restrictive rules and regulations.” He also said that elected officials, business owners and residents must work together to retain Stillwater’s identity “as a destination for tourists and as an enticing place for residents to call home.”
Passing added taxes and fees to home and business owners will lead to the “St. Paul effect,” he said, forcing some of them to stop investing in their property and as it begins to deteriorate, depressing property values overall, he said.
“Over many years, I have seen firsthand how things can go terribly wrong with poor, shortsighted City Council decisions that have led to unnecessary costs passed onto Stillwater taxpayers,” Rheinberger said.
Oakdale: City Council Members Paul Reinke and Stan Karwoski are two of the candidates seeking to succeed Mayor Carmen Sarrack, who is retiring. The third candidate, Marty Jurgensen, is vice chairman of the Oakdale Planning Commission.
Issues in this city of about 28,000 residents include business redevelopment, neighborhood attractiveness and traffic safety. The election of a new mayor comes soon after the city initiated Tartan Crossing, a new business district on land once occupied by a dilapidated shopping mall.
If elected, Reinke said, his priorities will include maintaining and enhancing neighborhoods, both residential and commercial. He also wants well-equipped and well-trained police and fire departments — “the safety and security of our residents and taxpayers will always be high on my priority list” — and pledges to keep property taxes as low as possible while still funding core services.
Reinke has led business project teams, co-chaired the school district’s levy renewal effort, and has served on the City Council for 10 years.
“Success always seems to revolve around being able to work well with other people and to be able to create successful partnerships and relationships,” he said.
Karwoski said his immediate priority, if elected, would be “getting the process of hiring a new city administrator right.” The city’s longtime administrator, Craig Waldron, left the job in August to teach at Hamline University. Karwoski said it’s critical that a new mayor and city administrator get off to a “cohesive and productive start,” and he said his four terms on the City Council and his extensive community leadership experience make him the best candidate to make sure that happens.
Karwoski’s other priorities include keeping city budgets and property taxes level, strengthening neighborhoods and business areas, improving programming and employment opportunities for teenagers and seniors, improving the city’s image and economic development marketing, and improving the city’s parks.
Jurgensen, a 22-year Oakdale resident, is a paid on-call firefighter and EMT in Oakdale and an employee and coach at Skyview Middle School.
His priorities, if elected, include redevelopment of the long-vacant Tanners Lake site as a “signature destination” near Interstate 94 on the city’s south end, and reconstruction of the Hadley Avenue/Hwy. 36 intersection on the city’s north end for safety.
Jurgensen worked for more than 20 years in community development and planning in St. Paul, Shoreview and Woodbury, giving him experience “working with other governmental agencies, neighborhood groups, planning commissions, mayors and city councils,” he said.
Forest Lake: With the completion of the Broadway Avenue interchange at Interstate 35, construction on the City Center project putting a new City Hall/Public Safety building in the former Northland Mall, and approval by the city of a $9 million bond sale to help develop a new YMCA, the city is facing big changes — some of them controversial.
Mayor Chris Johnson is stepping down. Two candidates, Stev Stegner and Brian Hile, hope to replace him. Stegner served two terms as mayor, from 2006 to 2010 (Forest Lake has two-year terms).
Stegner said he is passionate about bringing economic development to the city, which has much to offer prospective employers, including a well-educated population and easy access to the freeway while still being close to the Twin Cities. “I think we can improve the way we attract well-paying jobs to Forest Lake without having people commute,” he said. He also is focused on creating safer routes to school for children, and developing connecting links to the city’s trail system.
Hile opted to run when Johnson stepped down. He is worried about taxes and runaway spending, and the YMCA project is a prime example. “I am against it,” he said. Residents of Forest Lake work very hard for the money for their family, their home, their vacation — City Hall cannot take it away from them.” He also supports stronger development efforts by the city, including looking into city-owned apartments that would provide needed housing and provide profits.
Scandia: In this rural city accustomed to activism, two City Council members will challenge Mayor Randall Simonson. Those members, Dan Lee and Sally Swanson, voted in favor of a controversial reopening of a sand and gravel operation near the St. Croix River, as did Simonson. Conservationists opposed the decision but the five-member council said the mining company, Tiller Corp., had met all legal requirements.
Scandia currently is debating the future of Log House Landing, the city’s only boat ramp on the St. Croix River. Dozens of residents said they would support an effort to curtail erosion into the river but opposed expansion of the site.