The Free Press, Mankato, MN

November 1, 2012

Six candidates vying for two seats on North Mankato council

By Brian Ojanpa
Free Press Staff Writer

NORTH MANKATO — Six people are vying for two at-large North Mankato City Council seats at a time when the city will soon be under new administrative leadership.

Candidates include one incumbent, one repeat candidate, a former councilor trying to regain the position, and three newcomers to city elections. Both seats carry a four-year term. (The mayor, Mark Dehen, is running unopposed.)

The council will work with the staff leadership of a new city administrator. Longtime City Administrator  Wendell Sande retired during the summer.  A search is being conducted for Sande’s replacement.

The six council candidates:

Billy Steiner

Steiner, who has served on the City Council since 1996, said his tenure on the panel will be an asset as the city continues to transition.

“In the past few months we’ve seen the retirements of several key city officials. My re-election would ensure some valuable continuity in our city government.

“I think I have a pretty good grasp of what’s going on and how to accomplish what needs to be done.”

In addition to the omnipresent fiscal challenges facing local governments, Steiner said another civic challenge continues to be ongoing efforts to complete a four-lane stretch of Highway 14 between North Mankato and New Ulm — and beyond.

“We can’t be satisfied until it is complete, from New Ulm to Rochester.”

Steiner said he wants to continue to be a responsive, responsible councilor — “something I take very seriously” — and to look at ways to continue making North Mankato a great place to live.

Kenny DeWitte

After losing his council seat to Bob Freyberg in the 2010 election, DeWitte is vying for a return to the panel he was first elected to in 2006.

“I was not ready to give up the council position. I was well-liked by city staff and most of the council members,” he said of his 2010 defeat.

DeWitte said his previous council tenure instilled knowledge of what it takes to run the city and keep it independent.

“I consider myself a common-sense individual,” said DeWitte, whose list of key challenges and issues facing North Mankato includes accommodating an aging population by keeping costs under control for retirees, dealing with “nonexistent” state-aid funding and receiving “more bang for our dollar” from Greater Mankato Growth.

Also: “I’m firmly against a merger with Mankato.”

If elected, he said he would help turn North Mankato into a leaner community while helping to maintain its independence.

He suggested that councilors past and present may have deserved to be called “bobbleheads” for being in agreement on all council-agenda items.

“We need to think long and hard about pet projects — for instance, the Benson Park project.” 

Thomas Rieff

 Rieff, owner of a Mankato lawn maintenance service, is a first-time candidate for elective office who sees North Mankato as being at a pivotal point in its history.

He said hiring a new city administrator is an immediate city priority, and development of a long-term financial plan is a necessary goal.

“Things may have been easier in the past. That is, the 2000s provided exceptional growth in housing and industry. This resulted in an increasing tax base and increased revenues to do the projects in the city without adverse effect on constituents.”

But now, he said, the tax base has shrunk, state aid to cities has been reduced and growth has stagnated.

“The net effect is now the constituents are going to pay for some past decisions, whether good or bad.”

Rieff said North Mankato needs to continue to collaborate with other government entities and to explore further means of doing so.

He said the assumption in the past was that North Mankato provided excellent value and quality of service to its citizens.

“I do not think this is true today. Have we lost that edge, and if so, how do we get it back?”

Kim Spears

Spears, who ran unsuccessfully for North Mankato City Council two years ago, said he’s running again because he’s concerned that present leadership isn’t taking current and future conditions into account in their decision-making process.

The business-computer programmer said his understanding of accounting principles and his work performing cost/benefit analyses are skills that would benefit city governance.

The key challenges/issues facing North Mankato: “The need to do more with  less, unfunded mandates from the state and federal governments, and lack of a clear vision of what North Mankato is supposed to be.”

He said if elected, he looks forward to delving into the workings of the intergovernmental committee, Port Authority and park management.

On current and past City Council workings:

“I feel most of the current council is out of touch with the citizens that are living on Social Security and savings income.”

Pete Wachtel

 Wachtel, a general contractor who has lived in North Mankato 36 years, is commander of the Sons of the American Legion in North Mankato.

“I have great leadership skills and work well with others, and that is very important,” he said. “I don’t believe that sitting on your hands and waiting for someone else to do it gets anything done.”

Wachtel said although North Mankato’s annual curbside pickups of residents’ unwanted items can be expensive for the city he thinks it’s a great community benefit.

“I believe we can figure out a way to resume this for our citizens.”

He also thinks the continuation of improvements to the 200 block of Belgrade Avenue is crucial for the city.

“I believe we need to continue to create space for new businesses and relocating businesses and try to make it appealing for them to come to North Mankato.”

He said the creation of the city’s industrial park is “wonderful” as an enticement for businesses.

Kurt Richardson

First-time office-seeker Richardson said if elected, he would be an impassioned advocate for expanding to four lanes Highway 14 between North Mankato and New Ulm.

“Losing a son to a car accident on Highway 14 has made it important to me to have no other family experience the death of a loved one.”

Richardson, a recent Corporate Graphics North retiree, said he’s running for City Council because he wants to play an active part in North Mankato’s continuous growth — “to be part of a team that has the best interest of the city at heart.”

He said one of his duties during his work career — supply-purchasing based on research to determine best quality at the most affordable price for the company — provided him with a transferable skill that would be an asset to City Council decision-making.

He said key challenges to North Mankato include bringing in more tourism, balancing the budget and continuance of the effort to bring in new businesses while ensuring that current businesses continue to thrive.