As the dust of the 2008 election settles, the city of St. Francis, in far-northern Anoka County, has found itself with a new mayor, Jerry Tveit, a 37-year-old welder who has lived in the city for three years.
Tveit, who upset two-term Mayor Randy Dressen, ran on a no-new-taxes platform, but volunteered that he has yet to study the city's budget. Tveit also received campaigning help from controversial City Council Member LeRoy Schaffer, who faces a recall vote next month.
Dressen said he'd had no indication that voters were dissatisfied with his work.
"I don't have the answer," he said. "In four years as mayor, we balanced the budget, and contrary to some literature that floated around, we held taxes to minimal increases. ... I don't know what you do beyond that."
For his part, Tveit said he was surprised to win.
"It was a tough year for incumbents," he said in an interview at his home last week. "People wanted somebody else. It didn't matter who."
Only a few folks out of a couple dozen entering and exiting the County Market on St. Francis Drive on a cold and windy night last week said they lived in town and had voted in the election.
Heidi Blanchette said she voted for Tveit because she was angry about a rezoning issue that involved her property.
"I didn't get any support out of the old mayor," she said.
Vern Gardinier said he connected with Tveit, who also is a single father. And he also resounded with Tveit's questions about city spending.
"I thought he just might be the one to help us out on the property taxes that are getting so outrageous out here," he said.
The property tax issue first propelled Tveit into the mayor's race, sparked by a now-discredited missive circulated by Schaffer, which since has become part of the recall case against him. Still, Tveit was struck by the City Council discussion.
"It was evident after that, the City Council didn't want to respect the wishes of the people," he said, "and they did vote for the [12 percent] increase" last year.
Tveit admits he has a lot to learn.
"Honestly, I'm really green," he said. "But as an outsider, I bring a fresh perspective. I feel I'm pretty good at thinking outside the box, be it job sharing or nontraditional types of ways to solve problems."
He said he wants to look at the city's contracts, and think about sharing resources, such as police and fire, with neighboring communities. And he said he hopes to draw on training from his first career, as an accountant for Hoffman Enclosures, in Anoka, where he still works.
"It's the financial grasp I have, and that's what is needed," he said. "I don't think we need to know how the clock works. We just need to know how to read it.
"I'm not opposed to raising taxes as a last resort. Government's job is to provide services. However, I think that's just one side of the equation. ... Are we paying for a Cadillac when a Chevy may do?"
He may share those views with Schaffer, who delivered Tveit's campaign information to many voters.
"I want to make it very clear that I am my own man," Tveit said. "Good help is hard to come by, and free help is even harder to come by. I appreciate his help. By the same token, that's exactly what it is, free help, and I hope people will see it that way."
He didn't take a position on the Dec. 16 recall election, saying only that Schaffer's political future is in voters' hands.
For his part, Dressen said he'll continue to promote the city -- after taking a break to fish and do woodworking.
"Listen to your staff," he advised Tveit. "They're very professional people that have excellent skills. Take advantage of those."
Maria Elena Baca 612-673-4409