Editorial: If board stays: Wheeler, Martens

  • Updated: October 29, 2009 - 10:53 AM

Wheeler, Martens best for Board of Estimate and Taxation.

For Minneapolis voters, who for the first time will be using the new instant-runoff voting system, perhaps an even more perplexing puzzle on the ballot is voting on the obscure Board of Estimate and Taxation (BET). Should the city keep it? And, without knowing those results, which two candidates should they choose as the elected members of the six-person board, assuming it stays?

If voters decide to keep the unique governing structure, the two strongest candidates in the field are David Wheeler and Michael Martens. Wheeler, who is making his first bid for elected office in Minneapolis, isn't new to politics. He served on the Duluth City Council and the Duluth Economic Development Authority and was an unsuccessful candidate for Duluth mayor. He also has experience as development director for a nonprofit. But the communication skills he developed as a clergy member for local United Methodist churches might serve him best if the board continues to be a bridge between the Park Board, City Council and mayor.

Wheeler is well aware of the unsustainable strain of ever-rising property taxes and would be a sensible voice on two of the board's main functions -- setting the maximum levy possible for the city and dealing with borrowing money. The third task, overseeing auditing, was a weakness identified by all five candidates.

Martens is also a novice candidate. But with an MBA in finance from the University of Minnesota and with decades of professional experience in finance and accounting, his green eyeshade expertise would be welcome. He also was the most outspoken about the hard budget choices that must be made as the city and state stare down huge budget problems. And in a city known for demographic diversity but political uniformity, he would be a relative rarity as an elected official who lists the Republican and Independence parties as his political affiliation.

The other candidates who participated in endorsement interviews (James Elliot Swartwood did not reply to the invitation) were well aware of the challenges facing the city and the board's role in addressing them.

Carol Becker, the only incumbent running for reelection, has a Ph.D. in public administration. She's served as a planning analyst for the Metropolitan Council, a policy analyst for the mayor's office and a DFL and union activist. But her passion extends to support for expanding the role of the BET, which already plays too large a role in the city. And as the only incumbent, she shares some of the responsibility for not bringing more transparency to the board.

Candidate DeWayne Townsend, who has a record of community involvement, and Phil Willkie, a publisher and labor organizer, do not offer the expertise that Wheeler and Martens would bring to the board.

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