Ham Lake Mayor Paul Meunier is not up for reelection and Joey Erikson has opted not to seek reelection to the City Council. Yet both will be pivotal figures when citizens of this northern Anoka County community vote on Tuesday.
The candidates for the council's two open seats are incumbent Council Member Gary Kirkeide, Tom Johnson, Tom Paulson and Farrell Tuohy. But it's the influence of political rivals Meunier and Erikson that could decide the election's outcome and the path the council ultimately follows.
"They have made it a referendum on me," said Meunier, who has often disagreed with fellow council members Kirkeide, Erikson and Julie Braastad on the way Ham Lake positions itself for the future.
"You should always be governing and planning for 20 years from now," Meunier said this week. "I think it's about communication with the residents and, frankly, we [the City Council] have never had a serious dialogue about how we are operating and what we are doing."
Meunier is backing Paulson and Tuohy. Erikson, who plans to run for Anoka County Commissioner Dick Lang's seat in two years, is backing Kirkeide and Johnson.
"The diverse council is great," she said, never speaking specifically about butting heads with Meunier. "Politics is a job. There are two sides to every issue, and they need to be heard.
"No matter who wins this election, Ham Lake will continue to be a great place to live and work."
Clearly, the best-known figure running is Kirkeide. He spent 10 years as the city's mayor, but lost his bid for reelection to Meunier two years ago. But when Meunier won, he vacated his City Council seat. By special vote of the council, Kirkeide was selected to fill Meunier's final two years as council member. Meunier cast the dissenting vote.
Kirkeide said he's not running against the other candidates, or against Meunier's political beliefs. In fact, he seems to be running with Johnson as a tandem, though neither say that.
While it's not unusual to see lawn signs for Tuohy and Paulson together, Johnson and Kirkeide have taken their unannounced partnership to another level. Kirkeide listed Johnson's home address and phone number on the Secretary of State's election form -- and Johnson said that's no mistake. Johnson said he is the treasurer of Kirkeide's campaign and filled out Kirkeide's campaign financial forms. He was Kirkeide's treasurer the last time Kirkeide ran for mayor, he said.
"We agree on many issues," Johnson said.
The issues don't necessarily vary from one candidate to the next, Meunier noted. They're all concerned about maintaining Ham Lake's rural character, the best way to grow.
"We all have the same desires for our city," said Meunier. "We have different ways we want to accomplish it. We've had civilized conversations and debate."
Erikson may soon become an outsider looking in, at least as a council member. But her plans to run for County Board suggest that her community involvement is not likely to wane.
"I've learned so much on this council and I've learned to welcome tough questions," she said.
"I've encouraged Dick Lang to run [for reelection to the County Board in two years]. We've become good friends. He's in my office once a week, sharing his feelings. We're not negative towards each other."
Regardless of which two candidates are elected, the council can also take a positive approach, she said. Meunier admits he gets discouraged when "some people are proactive" while others "stick their heads in the sand."
"As a council, we've really opened things up," she said.
"We take things head on," said Meunier.
Paul Levy • 612-673-4419
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