Voters in northern Ramsey County will be asked Tuesday to winnow down a field of nine candidates for county commissioner.
The top two finishers in Tuesday’s special election primary will compete in November’s general election. In June, Commissioner Blake Huffman resigned amid allegations that his now-defunct charity misused county-allocated affordable housing funds.
Pivotal issues in the District 1 race include proposed tax increases, how the county is managing recent flooding of roads and parks, and public access to the County Board, which holds its meetings at 9 a.m. Tuesdays.
Perhaps the most contentious issue is the county’s decision to sue the city of Arden Hills over future development of the former Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant (TCAAP) site. The county, which owns the land, wants a denser development of up to 2,500 homes on the 427-acre site with more affordable housing, while city leaders want it capped at 1,460 housing units.
Nicole Joy Frethem, a state Department of Human Services supervisor from Shoreview who won the DFL endorsement, said she’d advocate for long-range environmental and sustainability projects, including one to address flooding. She said she’s concerned that a proposal to raise the property tax levy will hurt families. “I see families as the core unit of communities,” she said.
She said Arden Hills’ concerns about TCAAP should be heard, but she believes that through compromise, the county’s goals of increasing density and creating more affordable housing can be achieved.
Randy Jessup, a former GOP state representative from Shoreview, said he’s concerned about property tax increases. “The property tax levies are going up pretty significantly,” he said.”It’s a lot for people who are getting by with 2 to 3 percent raises annually.”
Jessup, who owns UPS stores, is critical of the county’s decision to sue Arden Hills. He said he would like to see more transparency from the county and would press to hold some board meetings in the evening so more residents can attend.
He also said he’s alarmed by the racial disparities in homeownership and would explore ways the county could help more families achieve that milestone.
Martin Long, owner of Minnesota Mulch & Soil and longtime North Oaks City Council member, said he’d bring a business acumen to the board. Long said he would strongly advocate for the suburbs that make up District 1.
He faults the county for breaking off talks with Arden Hills around TCAAP and resorting to litigation.
“I am a business owner. I know how to bring people back to the table and get things done,” Long said.
Steve Scott, a retired U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs manager and Arden Hills City Council member, said he stands in solidarity with the Arden Hills mayor and City Council in the TCAAP dispute.
“It’s unfortunate for taxpayers that one government entity is suing the other,” Scott said. “The county is the one who walked away from the table. They own all the blame.”
He also believes the County Board should hold evening meetings.
Nick Tamble, former Arden Hills City Council member and president of Lawn and Landscape Gardens, said he supports the county’s efforts to improve health and human services.
Tamble said leaders have not done an adequate job of explaining the TCAAP situation to residents, including its argument for increased density.
“The public is just confused,” he said. “Ramsey County needs to communicate that better to a larger group.”
Mark Voss, a union sheet- metal worker from White Bear Township, said he would prioritize road and infrastructure improvements.
“We need some infrastructure upgrades. People are not too happy with Rice Street being underwater for a good period of time this summer,” he said.
He said the county has done “really good with their budget,” calling it fiscally responsible. But he’d like to see it expand its tax base through development and redevelopment.
Voss said he’s unhappy that the county is suing Arden Hills over TCAAP, adding, “The answer sits in a compromise.”
William Bergeron, a member of the Mounds View City Council, said he is no longer actively campaigning. Douglas Blomberg, a retiree from Shoreview, and Jodi L. Hultgren, a retired 3M certified public accountant from Shoreview, did not respond to requests for comment.
Ramsey County commissioners are considered full-time officials and make more than $90,000 a year.
District 1 includes Arden Hills, Gem Lake, North Oaks, Shoreview, Vadnais Heights and White Bear Township, and parts of Blaine, Mounds View, Spring Lake Park and White Bear Lake.