By Dan Linehan
Free Press Staff Writer
MANKATO — Voters in Blue Earth County’s 3rd District don’t have much in the way of public policy issues to differentiate incumbent Mark Piepho from challenger Caroline Wood.
Wood doesn’t have much criticism of the County Board. Indeed, she has a list of things she thinks they’ve done well.
The closest thing to a difference is that Piepho’s list of the board’s accolades is mostly different, reflecting his budget-oriented priorities.
“What I feel passionate about is markedly different,” Wood said.
To summarize: Piepho sees County Board service in economic terms — money saved, and used efficiently — while Wood is most interested in public health, diversity, veterans issues, domestic violence and poverty’s effect on women.
The 3rd District is comprised largely of the semi-rural area surrounding Mankato. Because the district grew quickly over the past decade, it shrunk after redistricting. It ceded part of west Mankato to Will Purvis’ 4th District.
Wood said she decided to run, in part, because the all-male County Board was something of a challenge. During her 12 years in the Air Force, Wood said she didn’t see much female leadership.
Wood believes she is the first woman in the elected membership of Mankato’s Morson-Ario VFW Post 9713.
As a victim of domestic abuse as a teenager, Wood said that issue would also be important to her as a commissioner. She said one in four women are sexually assaulted during college and one in three are victims of domestic violence over their lifetimes.
While the County Board doesn’t typically address issues like domestic violence as a five-member body, commissioners serve on a variety of boards, some of which would be relevant for an expert in domestic violence.
As for Wood’s praise of the County Board, she has four specific areas:
n The transfer of the Nichols Office Center to VINE
n The collaboration on governing the detox center in New Ulm. Commissioner Will Purvis sits on the group’s board.
n The environmentally friendly emphasis of the Justice Center
n The county’s response to the H1N1 virus, also called swine flu, outbreak in 2009.
Wood is pursuing a master’s degree in aging studies from Minnesota State University and is interested in how the county can help ease the transition to an older population.
Wood also has something of a checkered past.
In 2010, she shot and wounded her neighbor’s dog during an ongoing property dispute. She was not convicted of a crime, but a civil case she declined to discuss continues to work its way through the courts.
When Wood is knocking on doors and the issue comes up, she said she tries to talk about what led to her decision.
At the time, she was running for election on the Mankato Township Board, which she lost about 70 percent to 30 percent.
Piepho, a state representative from 1979 to 1986 seeking his second County Board term, mostly talks about dollars and cents.
For example, he praises the Nichols project not for its collaboration with VINE but for the demolition money it saved — a rough estimate of $600,000.
The other highlights of his term include:
n A budget reduction of 10 percent over the past three years. Some of this was due to the one-time spending on the Justice Center.
n Relaxing zoning rules for rural businesses.
n Saving money by avoiding removal of the Rapidan Dam.
n Adding onto the Ponderosa Landfill.
He said voters don’t have many big county issues on their minds lately.
“When it’s working, most people don’t have questions,” he said of county government.
One visible change has been the county’s embrace of roundabouts.
“We were skeptical at first, particularly the ones on Highway 22,” he said, referring to the larger two-lane roundabouts planned to be built at Highway 22 at Madison Avenue and Adams Street, both in 2014.
The most important issue of the last four years, aside from the budget, may have been the hiring of County Administrator Bob Meyer. Here, again, the candidates don’t diverge much.
From virtually the beginning, Piepho favored the hire of Meyer without further search.
Wood didn’t comment on that specific choice, but said internal promotion is “good for staff” because it gives them an incentive to do well.