Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, November 2, 1998

Winsted city council candidates

Opening statement

Tom Wiemiller: I've lived in Winsted all my life. I'm 55 years old, married to Mary for 33 years, have two children. I'm a master electrician for a large company in Chaska. Previously, I owned my electrical contracting business in Winsted. I retired from the fire department after 25 years, and was an EMT with the ambulance service for 16 years.

I filed because I love Winsted. I'm proud of our city, its growth, and I want to be a part of its future.

I'm a member of the American Legion, was in the Air Force four years, and served eight years on the city council.

Gary Lenz: I graduated from Trinity in '70, and am married to Jody. We have a new baby girl . . .

I've been on the city council 12 years, for three terms, and this would be the fourth. I was on the personnel committee; was involved the last time we did a city hall study; was liaison to the planning commission; was a founding member of the lake association and was its president; and was president of the C&C. I'm an electronic technician.

I'm running again because I enjoy the job and working with people. Several issues are city hall, industrial development, and the new school. I hope my experience will bring success.

Jeff Albers: To this point, like a majority of city residents, I've sat on the sidelines and second-guessed what the council could do for us. Winsted is a growing community and there are big issues on the horizon. It's time to get off the sideline and get into the game.

 

A series of yes/no questions were asked:

Are you in favor of a municipal swimming pool?

All said yes.

Would you favor a junior/senior rec center funded by public funds?

Albers - no; Lenz and Wiemiller - yes.

Should the city have its own police department or share services with the county?

All said have its own.

Would you favor changing the speed limit so all city streets are 30 mph?

All said keep it the same.

 

Recently, the council granted itself a pay raise and hired a city administrator. Would you rescind the raise since the administrator will handle some of the work the council did?

Lenz: No, I voted for it in the first place. It does take a lot of time, and there are expenses. We do deal with the public, and there is a risk included. Some of us were in a lawsuit, and the $1,000 a year doesn't come close to what the liability is. Also, there hadn't been an adjustment for eight or nine years.

Wiemiller: I would definitely keep the pay level as it was adjusted for the same reasons Gary said.

Albers: I don't think it's a big issue, not a lot of dollars. I have thought of donating the whole salary to charity and leaving it at that. I probably wouldn't be able to convince the whole council of a change.

 

Talk about economic development needs and industrial park development.

Lenz: We have a de facto policy that if we attract industrial development to Winsted, if the city provides incentives, we want to recoup that amount in five years. We are looking for that payback in five years. It's tough to quantify by jobs and social impact.

Albers: Industrial growth would be nice. Hopefully, the new administrator will be able to aggressively go after bringing companies into the city.

Wiemiller: The industrial park is definitely a gold mine in the future. If we can get industry in this town and turn it to our favor in five years, that's the thing to do. The administrator needs to aggressively work on that.

 

For tomorrow, what is the most important industry Winsted needs?

Albers: No specific industry. It would be nice to see something bring a lot of jobs and be environmentally friendly.

Lenz: I don't know what segment it would be. I would hope it would have a wide spectrum of jobs ­ manufacturing, management, and professional ­ to make a nice mix in our community.

Wiemiller: I wouldn't want to pick one out. Tomorrow, I would choose the ones we have and be thankful we have them. Some are moving out, and it's important we keep industry attracted here.

 

How would you make sure to respect the opinions of the people who elect you?

Albers: Open access, an open door policy. Anybody who wants to can talk to me in person, by phone, or write me a letter. I will respect their opinions, though I might not always agree with them.

Wiemiller: I'm here to listen. Call or write to me.

Lenz: The same. But I don't like anonymous calls or letters. If someone has an opinion, I want to know who it is. Then let's talk.

 

How important is attendance and informed decision-making at council meetings?

Lenz: At a lot of meetings, outside of the reporter and the elected people, there's nobody there. We need feedback, and it's nice to know people are interested. If there's a hot issue, they come out of the woodwork. When more people attend, we can tell how people are reacting in the audience. If every citizen came to two meetings a year, that's not too much to ask.

Wiemiller: Having a packed house makes it interesting. At least you get a general idea how people feel and react. It's a good way to make decisions, with input. At a lot of meetings, we try to do our best, think we made a good decision, and then out on the street it's "Why did you do that?"

Albers: I've been on the sidelines, and I'm ashamed to say I've never been to a council meeting. It's a good idea to participate. Whether I'm elected or not, I plan to make more effort to attend. It's very important for the council to be educated on each vote.

 

Several options have been brought up regarding city hall, both the old building and the city offices. What do you think best serves the city?

Lenz: I said several years ago when we worked on this I feel city hall belongs downtown. Whether we renovate it, I'm about 50-50 with a slight edge, that if possible, we should try to preserve it. Not everybody likes the architecture, but it does have a character to it.

If it works out, if the numbers come back - $1.3 million is high, maybe we won't be able to do all the bells and whistles. If not, I'd rather see it demolished and still have the property in city hands.

There are so many wild cards in this. My second preference would be if the public school closes, and I don't want that, but it would be an option to look at.

The Niro building is my personal last choice. I hope it stays on the tax rolls and we can find a business to fill it up.

I would want to keep city offices and the library downtown, to keep people coming downtown.

Wiemiller: I lived here all my life and to imagine Winsted without city hall . . . Wait for the report to come back and see if we can get some re-use out of the old building. If not city offices, then maybe a community center or library. I definitely want to keep the city offices downtown, too.

Albers: It would be nice to preserve the building. It's so much a part of the community. But I have to ask myself "At what cost?" $1.3 million is an awful lot of money for city offices. Maybe we need to have the private sector investigate it, see if we can get a private investor to take it over and restore it to what it once was.

 

Are you in favor of printing the council minutes and bills in the newspaper or just posting them?

Lenz: It's public knowledge, I have no problem with that. People are entitled to that, and I'm glad they're interested.

Wiemiller: Many of the bills are repetitious and there is a per line cost. We post all the vouchers, it's available at the clerk's office, and each council member has a copy. It's not meant to hide anything, just a cost saving.

Albers: I like the idea of minutes in the paper, and wouldn't be opposed to printing the bills either.

 

Would you do business locally for all expenditures that are available?

Albers: Within reason. On a major expenditure, if we can get it for $10,000 less outside, that doesn't justify getting it in town.

Lenz: For small items, we allow employees to get it locally and use good judgment. And if it's over $25,000, we have to get bids anyway.

Wiemiller: As much as possible locally, unless it costs more or we can't get it in town.

 

Closing statement

Albers: Winsted is a great place to live. I'd like to be a bigger part of it.

Lenz: This could be my fourth term. I'll stand by my record and what I said tonight.

Wiemiller: When I made the decision to file, I thought about all the monthly meetings. Sometimes it's not easy to make a decision. I've been in service 25 years to Winsted. In '87 when we had the centennial, I really felt good in the community choir. I really feel good about what Winsted is today. We live in a great town, and I enjoy being part of the town.

We make decisions - some are popular, some aren't. I always kept in mind who elected me and I will do that again. A good point tonight is to shop locally and support Winsted businesses.

 

Also running for council seats are Bonnie Quast and Lyndon Rubel. Rubel did not attend the forum or send a response.

A statement from Quast was read:

I am sorry I will not be able to attend the political forum Oct. 27.

Because of a medical assistance request from a friend, I will be out of state from Oct. 27 to Nov. 3 mid-morning. My reservations for this trip were made prior to my knowledge of the forum and therefore I wasn't able to change anything.

I do invite anyone with questions to call me. I appreciate your consideration regarding my absence.


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