Large pool of candidates square off for Dakota County City Council races
- Article by: GRAISON HENSLEY CHAPMAN
- Special to the Star Tribune
- June 7, 2014 - 9:03 PM
Half of Dakota County’s City Council races were competitive enough to trigger primaries in August, according to city election filings in the seven cities with early deadlines.
City Council races in Rosemount, Burnsville, Hastings, South St. Paul and Eagan all fielded more than twice as many candidates as there are seats. The Aug. 12 primary will narrow the field to double the number of positions.
No mayoral races will have primaries, and for all the five cities with early filing deadlines, just one is contested: West St. Paul. There, former Mayor David Meisinger is taking on current Mayor John Zanmiller.
Meisinger, a construction contractor, said the city has let costs for the reconstruction of Robert Street spiral out of control with “amenities” and consulting fees.
“Our city budget is $10 million,” he said, “and right now we have a $7 million gap on one project. It just doesn’t make sense for the economics of our city.”
Zanmiller, first elected in 2004, said the project is big and expensive because it has to be. Within two decades, 35,000 cars will travel the road daily. “We can’t fix this road with just a mill and an overlay,” he said. “[It’s] the largest public works undertaking ever done in this city.”
On the cost, Zanmiller said grants from the federal and state governments, as well as Xcel Energy and the St. Paul Regional Water Utility, are also paying for the project.
West St. Paul is also electing one council member from each ward. Incumbents are running uncontested in the First and Second Wards; John Bellows and John Ramsay are running to replace Third Ward Council Member Dave Wright.
Only a $5 fee is required to file for municipal elections in most cities. Candidates for the early period had two days to withdraw their filing.
Here’s what’s happening in other Dakota County cities:
In 2012, just two candidates filed for two seats in Eagan’s City Council election. This year’s incumbents for City Council won’t have the luxury of an unopposed candidacy. Three challengers have filed this year against Paul Bakken and Gary Hansen.
“I think they need a voice on the City Council that isn’t afraid to say no to things,” said Eric Goodrich, one of those challengers. Goodrich opposes the city’s involvement in the financing of the Twin Cities Premium Outlets, the high-end mall opening in August, saying property rights were abused in the course of that project.
Goodrich also said the city shouldn’t be spending so much on its parks budget, including the public financing of a water park and community center.
Incumbent Hansen said Eagan taxpayers get their money’s worth. He cited a report by the state auditor that said Eagan has the third-lowest spending per capita for cities of more than 50,000. Hansen said he’s proud of his work on establishing the Red Line Bus Rapid Transit route as well as helping to improve Dakota County’s emergency dispatch center.
“We try to be very fair with the taxpayer’s money,” Bakken said. He said the city’s financing of a parking structure for the outlet mall is a priority people can disagree on. But he said the entire mall project would not have been possible without the city’s support.
New athletic facilities were the first priority for three of the four challengers in Rosemount’s race for two at-large City Council seats.
Alba Nowlin said she first thought of running this winter, when she was taking her kids to indoor parks across the metro area. Shaun P. Nelson, who has led fundraising for the local hockey association, said that it needs more ice space as well as more fields for other sports.
Jamal Abdulahi said that while residents of Rosemount can take their kids to swimming lessons at a nearby YMCA or Life Time Fitness, it isn’t the same as having a place for families to go together, like a public swimming pool.
Echoing Mowlin, who said that Rosemount needs to develop its retail sector, candidate Kerry S. Hibben said, “I like to say, it would be nice to be able to buy socks in my own city.” Incumbent Mark DeBettignies also filed for re-election, but incumbent Kim Shoe-Corrigan won’t run.
South St. Paul
Just one candidate will be dropped after the Aug. 12 primary narrows the seven-candidate field to six in the South St. Paul City Council race, where all three incumbents have refiled to run against four challengers.
Two of the challengers contacted said their No. 1 priority is bringing in businesses to expand the tax base.
Luke Ayala has lived in South St. Paul for a decade. “Since the time I’ve been here, I’ve watched it decay steadily,” he said. “Main Street is a ghost town,” and “there’s really no tax base to support the infrastructure.”
Economic development has been on Shawn Meck’s mind for awhile. He ran for City Council in 2012 as well.
“Widening our tax base is one of the major concerns of the city right now,” he said.
Meck also said that the city should use its state aid money to lower taxes instead of spending it on city services.
Ayala is keeping his specific plans for enticing businesses “under my hat.” But he did mention one thing that needs to change: South St. Paul’s “small town, family-oriented” feel, he said, can be cliquish and unwelcoming to newcomers.
“If you know somebody,” Ayala said, “things get done. If you don’t know somebody, things don’t get done.”
On the side of the incumbents, Marilyn Rothecker isn’t taking anything for granted.
“It’s always a run for me,” she said, “because I’m always the third vote-getter.” That said, Rothecker is pleased with her and her colleagues’ work. The council instituted a policy of five-year planning for departmental budgets, where before there was no plan.
Burnsville: Five challengers are joining incumbents Dan Kealey and Bill Coughlin to run for two at-large seats. Candidates include Ben Taheri, Wes Dunser, Ron Oster, Cara Schulz and Jake Nelson.
Hastings: Six people are running for two at-large seats with retiring incumbents: Joanna Bayers, Lori Braucks, Ian T. Martin, Mark Vaughan, Blaine Hornbuckle and Tom Wright.
Inver Grove Heights: Five people are running for two seats: Incumbent Rosemary Piekarski Krech is joined by Michael Casello, Paul Hark, Bill Klein and Paul Tuschy.
Other cities: The filing period for mayoral and City Council races in Apple Valley, Lakeville, Farmington, Mendota Heights and smaller cities and townships is July 29-Aug. 12. Apple Valley, Lakeville and Mendota Heights will each be electing a mayor and two council members, and Farmington will be electing two council members.
Graison Hensley Chapman is a Northfield freelance writer.
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