In January, residents of Hennepin County’s District 5 will have a new commissioner for the first time in nearly 40 years. After serving 10 consecutive terms, including two stints as board chair, Randy Johnson is retiring from the seat representing about 160,000 residents in Bloomington, Richfield and southern Eden Prairie.
Competing to replace Johnson are two candidates who both describe themselves as moderates — Richfield Mayor Debbie Goettel and Bloomington Chamber of Commerce President Maureen Scallen Failor. Both are solid candidates, but we give the nod to Goettel because of her breadth of experience, accomplishments as an elected official and strong record of working on regional issues.
County commissioners provide oversight for areas including the medical center, road maintenance, a network of libraries, the sheriff’s and public works departments, and an array of social services. They are also major players in the region’s crucial transit decisions. Full-time commissioners earn just over $108,000 annually to make decisions that affect 8,000 employees and a budget of nearly $2 billion.
The position calls for proven management, budgeting, social-service and government-operations expertise. By that definition, Goettel, 58, would be the best fit. She was first elected mayor in 2005 and is currently serving her third four-year term. Before becoming mayor, the longtime Richfield resident was an active community volunteer and businessperson.
As a mayor, she secured state and county funding for the 77th Street underpass, led the “Do Town” campaign to improve wellness, and was instrumental in the redevelopment of Richfield’s downtown. If elected, her priorities would include responsible budgeting, more resources for child-protection and mental-health services, economic development, supporting environmental sustainability and developing transit options.
Scallen Failor, 56, has been a top executive in a family business and also has worked with community-based nonprofits. She serves on boards for the nonprofit VEAP (Volunteers Enlisted to Assist People) and Cornerstone Advocacy Service, which works with victims of domestic violence. As a commissioner, she says she would focus on responsible oversight, property-tax stability, public safety and improving transportation infrastructure.
Although Hennepin County Board positions are nonpartisan, Goettel has DFL endorsement and Scallen Failor has GOP support.