Four of five candidates to represent Farmington, Hastings and rural Dakota County had little use for eminent domain.
Dakota County commissioner candidates fielded a series of pointed questions last week about when it's permissible for government to take private land for the greater good.
They shared their views on eminent domain and the Dakota County Greenway Collaborative, which envisions a linked network of parks, trails and outdoor spaces. They also each explained their top priorities if elected and their thoughts on the commissioners' $72,000 salaries and car allowance packages.
Four of the five contenders for the District 1 seat appeared at a candidate forum sponsored by the Dakota County Regional Chamber of Commerce and Sun ThisWeek newspapers. District 1 includes Hastings, Farmington and the southern rural townships. The two candidates who receive the most votes in the Aug. 14 primary will face off in the general election. District 1 Commissioner Joe Harris is not running for re-election after 32 years in office.
Chamber President Ruthe Batulis moderated the hour-long televised forum at Farmington City Hall. The four candidates, three of whom currently hold township or city offices, gave similar answers to many of the questions but tried to stress their differences and highlight their individual experience in the public and private sector.
Here's a look at where the four contenders stand:
Brian Jaye Budenski
Quoting fiery conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Budenski said the County Board should never use eminent domain. Budenski, a real estate investor and developer, said he fell victim to eminent domain in the late 1990s when the school district took part of his land to build a new middle school in Farmington.
Budenski, chairman of the Eureka Township Board, emphasized his fiscal restraint. Under his leadership, the Eureka board has reduced its tax levy three of the last six years. He said Eureka will pay off the debt for its new town hall in 2014.
"Other than that, the township has no debt," Budenski said.
Budenski said he's opposed to the Greenway Collaborative because making those park and trail connections could encroach on private land rights.
"It would involve all kind of taking of land. No, I don't support the plan at all," Budenski said.
Budenski said the county commissioner should spend more time in the townships and rural parts of District 1.
"It would be advantageous for a commissioner to be out and about more often," Budenski said.
If elected, Budenski said he would pursue grants and resources for small business development and job creation.
Mark A. Henry
Henry spent his professional career building roads, and he said that would be his emphasis if elected.
The road contractor from Castle Rock Township said a well-maintained and efficient transportation system is critical. Henry said he already has strong relationships with county engineers and public works professionals. He said he could forge strong partnerships among the county, cities and townships if elected.
Henry said he opposes the use of eminent domain except in cases of road realignments because of safety concerns.
"If it comes down to lives, I think there are a few cases where you may need to use that power," Henry said.
Henry said he supports conservation but believes the Greenway Collaborative needs to be scaled back. He said the proposed trail system may be overreaching and have negative effects on conservation efforts.
Henry said he'd advocate economic growth and job development. He pointed to the development of the University of Minnesota's UMore site in Rosemount into a gravel extraction site and eventually a planned community as a project that would create good jobs.
Slavik's roots in Dakota County run deep. His great-great-great-grandfather opened a general store in New Trier and his great-grandparents were forced off their Dakota County farm during World War II for the construction of a proposed munitions factory. His kin eventually settled in Hastings.
Slavik, a Hastings City Council member, emphasized his roots and his blend of public- and private-sector experience. He is a real estate agent and owns Hometown Laundry in Hastings.
Slavik said he opposes the use of eminent domain, pointing out that the city of Hastings waited more than two decades to buy a prime piece of riverfront rather than forcibly take it.
"I am not a believer of taking," Slavik said. "The government has to look for other options."
Slavik said public safety has always been his top priority.
He also stressed improving and maintaining the county's transportation and technology infrastructure.
"The county must take a very active role in transportation," Slavik said. "Transportation is a driver of economic growth."
Slavik said projects like the Greenway Collaborative improve quality of life and attract residents, but said land must be acquired ethically.
"I do not support taking property from unwilling owners," Slavik said.
Christy Jo Fogarty
Fogarty said she knows how to grapple with growth. She emphasized her decade-long tenure on the Farmington City Council, during which time the city experienced a population boom.
She said she could "hit the ground running" if elected county commissioner, highlighting her experience on the council as well as a variety of other boards.
"Sometimes the answer is to have the government stop doing it," Fogarty said.
Fogarty works as a dental therapist, which she described as the dental equivalent of a nurse practitioner.
She said she's a strong advocate of property rights, saying that eminent domain should only be used if there's an "immediate public health threat."
Fogarty said it's unfortunate that eminent domain power has been abused by some governments, but "there is a purpose for it to exist in government."
She said public safety and transportation would be her highest priorities.
Fogarty was the only candidate to balk at the commissioners' salary and car allowance, saying she would work to lower them if elected.
Birnstengel, of Hastings, the fifth candidate for the seat, did not attend the forum. He ran against Harris in 2008 and finished last among four candidates in the primary.
Shannon Prather is a Twin Cities freelance writer.