Two options in Shakopee council races

  • Article by: DAVID PETERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 1, 2011 - 3:01 PM

One group of aspirants is stressing low taxes, the other a fresh look at the city's needs.

Two clusters of candidates are emerging in the race for city council in Shakopee as Tuesday's election looms.

One group -- the smaller of the two, but it includes both incumbents -- is promising mainly to watch out for your wallet, with an occasional twist.

"We need to keep taxes as low as possible while still delivering services," challenger Mike Luce says.

The other group talks of fresh ideas, new visions, progress, adding and improving amenities. Its members don't always sound eager to spend, but at a minimum they think the city needs new passion and new direction.

"I think we need a fresh look at things," said challenger Jay Whiting. "I see things that need to be done."

Based on last week's candidate forum, here's a quick rundown of who seems to belong to each group, and what they're promising to do -- or keep from doing:

GROUP 1:

'FRESH IDEAS'

MARK REIMLER

A ex-helicopter pilot in the military and a Realtor who's lived in Shakopee for 10 years, Reimler says the city needs "restaurants, places to stay, and you don't get that by just asking people to come here or feeding them [subsidies] but by creating a city people want to move to."

Case in point, he said: the neglected centerpiece and amenity that is the Minnesota River, which is a real presence near downtown in a way that few if any cities nearby enjoy.

On the Shakopee tribe, a lightning-rod litmus test of progressivism versus old-school thinking, Reimer takes middle ground: "We're not going to be best of friends, but we don't need to be antagonists."

JAY WHITING

An 18-year resident fascinated by the city's history, Whiting dislikes the sour vibes he says the council can give off. "I turn on the cable station and see bickering and micromanagement."

He's a fan of community center improvement. "You go in there and there's this small gym. I wouldn't want to join, it's so packed. I know the hockey people want more ice. All these things can be developed so there's a revenue stream coming back."

Shakopee's development isn't keeping up with its size, he says. "I love the small-town atmosphere, but we're up to almost 37,000 people. We need to step up to the community we've become. I do shop a lot in town but end up going to Burnsville or Eden Prairie for major shopping. ... I'd love to have an Italian restaurant."

AMY ZELLMER

"I'm an advocate of change," the downtown business owner said. "There's a bit of a good ol' boys club in this community."

Unlike Luce, who says it would be government overreaching, she's all in favor of the city doing more to oversee rental property. "I do believe there should be licensing. It's important for the safety of people: Keep buildings up to code."

She also would do more to make the main entryway into town from the east, Hwy. 101, inviting. "I like the new lighting but I'd also like flower baskets, banners -- it needs to say to people, 'Look how cool we look and how beautiful we are.'"

She's very much an advocate of enlisting the tribe as an asset. "We need to communicate more. We can benefit each other."

SURESH NAIR

Nair, a seven-year resident, promises to "bring more people into the community, especially the newer generation."

He's eager to help revive downtown. "There have to be some attractions, basically. We need to get more population into that area. Start a museum downtown, or a place where people can garden. Or a four-season play area for kids."

He maintains that the existing community center is "not capable of meeting the needs of our population."

PREMM BADHWA

A six-year resident, Badhwa worries that the council is staring at its shoelaces when it needs to be looking ahead. "I don't know if they're looking at the big concept, the big picture, what we need to do."

He agrees that the Hwy. 101 upgrade is welcome, but says it didn't go far enough. "We need to plant more trees and flowers so that when people drive into town it's like, 'Wow!'" That doesn't need to be a big expense, he said. "Maybe we can get donations."

He's all for improving relations with the tribe. "We have to go over and talk and see what their needs are."

GROUP 2:

"LOW TAXES"

Pat Heitzman

Incumbent Heitzman, born and raised in town, has a toe or two in both camps. He's OK with either mayoral candidate, incumbent John Schmitt and challenger Brad Tabke, even though the two represent in Tabke's words "radically different" approaches.

He agrees with the fresh-ideas group that the town is lacking in options. "We need more diversity in restaurants. It gets a little old making the circuit around town. There's only one movie theater, one bowling alley, and we have 37,000 people. We need more entertainment."

He agrees with Tabke that the city's police force is too small, that it wasn't given the resources it needed to deal with explosive population growth. But he also stresses the need to "keep taxes down."

MATT LEHMAN

A lifelong resident and local business owner, incumbent Lehman worries that there are too many pricey ideas floating around at a time when folks are hurting and could lose their homes if taxes rise.

He's mixed on diversity. He likes what immigrants bring. "Some of these cultures are amazing gardeners and with outside vegetable stands, there's a cross-sharing that can go on, where both sides learn from each other."

But he's implacable on the tribe: "Our relations are pretty good. There's only one small glitch: They would like this town we're sitting on now. They would like to have it all back at some point, and we'd like to probably stay here."

(The tribe has bought a lot of land within the city's borders, and tribal officials have openly accused the city of trying to block its development.)

MIKE LUCE

Perhaps oddly, for a challenger, lifelong resident Luce praises both incumbents.

Like Lehman, he strongly emphasizes limits on government's reach. "There's no way we license property owners. If we take that license away, do we have an empty building? Do we manage that building? We have enough laws on the books. Let's use them properly."

He's the most vehement on the subject of city staff, saying top managers make too much money and a Gestapo-like police department is running roughshod without any accountability from the top.

(The other candidate in the race, Eric Brown, did not attend the forum and could not be reached for comment.)

David Peterson • 952-746-3285

  • TO WATCH THE FORUM

    • Visit the city's website: www.ci.shakopee.mn.us

    • Choose 'video on demand,' then scroll to the bottom

    OTHER OPTIONS

    Both mayoral candidates, and some council candidates, have websites. There also are Facebook pages and the like, any of which should jump into view in a Google search of their names and the words "Shakopee council."

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