Voters in Forest Lake, Hugo, Oakdale, Woodbury and smaller cities will decide who leads the county in the next era of growth.
Washington County's two longest-serving commissioners face challengers in the Nov. 6 election, as does a third commissioner who represents Woodbury, the county's most populous city.
The election has implications for nearly a quarter-million county residents who depend on services such as roads, social welfare programs, libraries and the Sheriff's Office.
County commissioners in 2013 will manage a proposed $173.4 million budget paid for with an $86.5 million property tax levy, county fees, and federal and state grants. They are paid $52,713 a year.
In the First District, incumbent Dennis Hegberg of Forest Lake faces Hugo Mayor Fran Miron. Hegberg, the county's longest-serving commissioner, joined the board in 1989 and has been re-elected six times. Miron has led Hugo through a deadly tornado and years of rapid housing growth.
In the Second District, incumbent Bill Pulkrabek is opposed by Ted Bearth, both of Oakdale. Pulkrabek joined the County Board in 1998 and has been re-elected three times. Bearth is a longtime community leader who, like Pulkrabek, is a former mayor of Oakdale.
In the Fifth District, the candidates are incumbent Lisa Weik and challenger Nancy Remakel. Weik took office in a special election in 2008 and was re-elected in 2010. Remakel, chair of the Woodbury Planning Commission and a former City Council member, was a longtime high school science teacher.
Gary Kriesel of Stillwater, the fourth commissioner running for reelection, is unopposed.
For a closer look at the three contested races, turn to page 3 Ø
This race features well-known personalities in two busy and expanding cities just eight miles apart.
Forest Lake, the largest city at the county's north end, now faces growing political influence from Hugo, its neighbor to the south. Hugo for years has had the fastest rate of population growth in the metro area and is now approaching Forest Lake in size. Scandia and Grant also are in the First District.
Hegberg said his long tenure on the County Board, coupled with 40 years of experience in banking and management, make him a solid prospect for re-election. He said he has a track record of making wise decisions with limited property tax dollars.
He has helped manage projects such as Hardwood Creek Trail, Big Marine Park, County Road 8 in Hugo, the county's reconstruction of Broadway Avenue in Forest Lake, senior housing in Hugo and Forest Lake, and the county's north service center and library in Forest Lake.
"I will work hard to provide county services in a cost-effective manner, balancing the core government services with the precious taxpayers dollars available, and work to maintain our excellent triple A credit rating," Hegberg said.
Miron said it's time for a change in leadership. He said he offers a fresh perspective to manage the county's significant growth projected by 2030. He also wants the County Board to become more engaged with cities, their leaders and citizens.
He has 20 years of experience in Hugo's government as mayor and on the City Council. During his tenure as mayor, Miron said, he helped manage Hugo's growth from about 3,000 residents to nearly 14,000 and build a stronger medical, retail and industrial tax base despite $1.3 million in cuts from federal and state aid.
Miron, a farmer, is a lifelong resident of the city. "I recognize the importance of expanding and retaining businesses, conserving open spaces, and planning for growth, particularly at a time of declining market values," he said.
Redistricting has helped shape this race as a battle between two former mayors of Oakdale, a city of about 28,000. The district includes northwest Woodbury, small parts of Mahtomedi and White Bear Lake, and the cities of Landfall, Pine Springs, Willernie and Birchwood Village.
The Pulkrabek-Bearth duel is a clash of styles and philosophies over the role of county commissioner.
Pulkrabek has said that the job should be part-time, in line with his belief that local government should be smaller. Bearth said it's a job that requires full-time work on behalf of constituents.
Pulkrabek describes himself as "a leader in the effort to keep our property taxes low" and has been confrontational at times over taxes and budgeting matters. Bearth said he favors "keeping the tax rate stable" and would "promote harmony on the board."
Pulkrabek said his priority would be to ensure Washington County continues to have the lowest property tax rate in the seven-county metro area. He cites his experience as a real estate agent and small business owner and past president of the Oakdale Chamber of Commerce.
Bearth wants to establish priorities in the county expense budget. He also favors more planning for the county's anticipated population increase and related transportation needs for cities and townships.
Bearth is a Marine veteran who chaired the drive for a new Oakdale veteran's memorial. He's been chair of Oakdale Summerfest and has managed the Landfall Housing and Redevelopment Authority for seven years.
Bearth has declined to campaign on Pulkrabek's legal troubles involving a fight with a woman in Woodbury last year. In January, Pulkrabek entered an Alford plea to a charge of misdemeanor disorderly conduct, in which he maintained his innocence but recognized that enough evidence might exist for a jury to find him guilty.
After the judge scolded him for violating the public trust, Pulkrabek apologized for "my lapse in judgment" and said he looked forward to "renewed focus" on the county board.
The district contains most of Woodbury, which produces the lion's share of the county's tax revenue and figures into transit planning because of its strategic location along Interstate 94. The race features two aggressive campaigners in a city that will carry even more clout as its population climbs.
Weik has been one of the feistier members of the County Board. She is seen as a policy wonk, prone to long explanations of committee work, but she's also recognized by most fellow board members as having done her homework.
"I pledge an open-door policy to bring Woodbury's collective voice to the table about priority topics, including plans to dynamically grow our tax base and provide strategic initiatives online for improved transparency," she said.
If Weik is re-elected, she's next in the rotation to chair the County Board in 2013. Before replacing Commissioner Dick Stafford in 2008, she worked for Medtronic in regulatory compliance and as a professional in clinical laboratories.
Weik cites her experience on behalf of the Gateway Corridor, the I-94 stretch slated to become a major transit path, and said she's worked with state lawmakers to give counties more flexibility in implementing state-imposed spending mandates.
Remakel said the county needs a strategic plan for economic development. She would achieve that by placing more emphasis on Washington County's amenities, encouraging industry clusters, creating partnerships with local governments and business, and supporting job training and placement programs.
"I can disagree with people without being disagreeable and bring them to consensus," she said. Remakel was a high school science teacher in South Washington County Schools for 37 years. She served on the Woodbury City Council, the city parks commission and the county library board.
Remakel said that, as a 34-year resident of Woodbury, she would bring an understanding of the city's history.
Kevin Giles • 651-925-5037, Twitter: @stribgiles