With six commissioners' seats being contested, the upcoming Anoka County Board election takes on added meaning.
An unprecedented six of the seven Anoka County commissioners' seats are up for grabs in the Nov. 6 elections thanks to redistricting.
The board added three new faces in 2010. And this election? Only one thing is certain: Jim Kordiak, the only incumbent not affected by redistricting, will be back.
The Star Tribune asked candidates about their qualifcations and agendas. Their answers are the basis for the following campaign capsules for the races in Districts 1, 6 and 7. Next week, we will preview Districts 2, 3 and 5.District 1: Matt Look vs. Allison Lister
When Allison Lister announced her candidacy for the County Board, many citizens had never heard of her. But veterans knew Lister. And so did the county board.
Weeks before resigning as director of the county's veteran services, Lister sent each of the commissioners an e-mail, challenging their leadership. Now, this 21-year Air Force veteran hopes to lead by example.
"I have always been a strong advocate for individuals who need help and assistance," she said. "I am persistent and determined to do what's right, even when it's not popular."
Lister is new to politics, but says she has 25 years of experience working in federal, state and county government.
"During that time, I have responsibly managed multi-million-dollar budgets and successfully supervised and provided leadership for up to 250 people at a time," she said.
Lister wants the county to remain fiscally conservative "with far more care and consideration to where/how budget cuts affect people and programs." She says it is vital to "build better relationships and trust with employees, residents, city officials, businesses, surrounding counties and state entities."
Look, a former Ramsey City Council member, was elected to the County Board in 2010 and was part of a team that he says drove the county's first tax cut in more than 30 years. He is the owner of a small sign-making business, and that has allowed him to work with state legislators.
"When it comes to representing the needs of my district, I already have the relationships in place to get results," he said.
Those working relationships, along with those Look has forged in Ramsey and on the Anoka County Board "offer me a unique perspective to managing effectively and efficiently at the county level," Look said.
"With this economy, with this many families struggling, with this many needs out there, there is no time for regrets. I spend my time talking, thinking and developing solutions for my family, my business and the families and businesses in Anoka County."
In explaining why he is running for reelection, Look said he wants to "continue to right-size government, which thereby gives tax relief to the people of Anoka County while still providing core services at their current levels."District 7: Dan Erhart vs. Scott Schulte
Among the most politically charged races is one pitting longtime commissioner and former board Chairman Dan Erhart against Scott Schulte, a Coon Rapids council member the past 12 years.
Erhart was lauded by former Gov. Tim Pawlenty as the engine that drove Northstar and helped make Minnesota's first commuter-rail line a reality. But Erhart also lists the county's financial health, keeping the technical college in Anoka open, investments in the county's 911 emergency-response system and welfare-reform initiatives among his greatest accomplishments.
He says there's more to accomplish. He'd like to revive the county's participation in the proposed Northern Lights Express passenger-rail line from Minneapolis to Duluth.
"My fear is someday the train may travel through Anoka County without stopping, which would be an economic blow," Erhart said. "Experience and persistence will be needed to get the job done. I have both.
"I have a proven track record of valuing the job and representing [voters], with nearly 100 percent meeting attendance during my years of public service. I have a proven track record of maintaining low taxes -- one of the lowest in all 87 counties -- while balancing investments in our infrastructure that will ensure future generations are successful."
Schulte says he knows "what it takes to make the tough decisions to manage budgets and cooperate with people." He runs a 54-year-old, second-generation business -- the Hi-Ten Service Center in Coon Rapids -- and serves as mayor pro-tem and councilman-at-large.
Schulte considers himself "a voice that is not afraid of change." He would like to see the county "focus on infrastructure needs, while expanding economic development opportunities for job growth."
"I also believe it is the charge of the county Board of Commissioners to foster a strong economic development and redevelopment environment beyond providing transportation infrastructure. Incubators, tax abatements and tax increment financing are just a few of the tools that should be implemented to facilitate that environment."
He said that his experience on the Coon Rapids council "has uniquely positioned me to hit the ground running with fresh and new ideas to manage county government better."District 6: Rhonda Sivarajah vs. Kevin Ryan
Rhonda Sivarajah, chairwoman of the County Board, has defeated challenger Kevin Ryan before -- and quite handily -- four years ago. Ryan, who has not returned the Star Tribune's calls, could not be reached for comment. Although Ryan has not appeared to be an active campaigner, Sivarajah, who was first elected to the county board 10 years ago, has campaigned in earnest.
Sivarajah led the effort to reduce the county's levy by 7.43 percent -- the largest reduction by any Minnesota county. She says she is proud of the policy decision to redesign the Children and Family Services Unit, which moved to a safety model that now places more emphasis on parent responsibility and keeping the family together, when appropriate.
Fiscal responsibility, economic development and keeping government spending accountable and transparent top Sivarajah's list for the county's future.
"I have kept my promises to the taxpayer," said Sivarajah. In addition to the levy reduction, she cites initiating efficiencies through the use of technology and "lean" business processes, saving time and money.
She plans to continue to focus on infrastructure needs and making the county more accessible through on-line services and holding County Board meetings throughout the community.
Paul Levy • 612-673-4419