By Linda Scherer
WINSTED, MN If anyone attending the Winsted political forum in the city council chambers Tuesday evening expected to hear a heated debate between rival candidates, they left the forum disappointed.
Everyone was respectful of one another and there were no interruptions while candidates responded to questions, giving their personal views on specific issues during their allotted time.
The political hopefuls participating in the forum were best described by District 18 Senate Candidate Scott Newman: “The truth of the matter is that everybody up here, every one of these candidates, is running for office because they feel they can do some public good. Their heart is in the right place. We all maybe have a different way of going about it, but, in reality, we all want to get to the same place,” Newman said.
The forum was sponsored by the Winsted Area Chamber of Commerce. Its moderator, Lenora Kubasch directed 12 questions to specific candidates regarding state, county, and city issues.
The timekeeper was Aaron Kubasch.
Two council candidates unable to attend
Running for city council is current council member Tom Wiemiller, who has lived in Winsted his entire life and served on the council for almost 20 years. He was not able to attend because he was out of town on a family trip.
City Council Member Dave Mochinski, who has lived in Winsted for more than 50 years and has served on the council for four years, was unable to attend because of a neighbor’s wake.
City questions were directed to Mayor Steve Stotko and city council candidate George Shulenberg.
Shulenberg commented during his two-minute opening statement that he is interested in finding a way to bring new business into Winsted.
“We have a gorgeous lake, we have a gorgeous community, and some awesome people that live here, and we should use every single resource we have,” Shulenberg said.
He was asked what his ideas were on bringing more jobs and businesses to town, and keeping the businesses in downtown.
The example he gave was the Winsted Hardware Store. His suggestion was having the city encourage someone to step in and take the business over, “Maybe by allowing them a lesser amount of property taxes on the building from what he might be paying now,” he said.
Another suggestion Shulenberg made was to encourage Winsted residents to do business in town.
Both Stotko and Shulenberg were asked why city employees continue to get pay raises when local businesses have to cut pay or jobs.
“We (city council) just really don’t want to lose our staff,” Stotko said. “That would be the absolute last thing we would want. We feel we have the best employees of any community around.”
Shulenberg was asked for his comments about a recent newspaper article that named a city employee who received a salary step increase of 60 cents an hour.
He responded, “If we can’t afford to pay a guy 60 cents more an hour, there is something wrong with our city.”
During Stotko’s opening, he said he is running for mayor again “because there are a lot of challenges that lie ahead.” He named the city infrastructure needing major improvements, and working with the council to come up with creative ways to finance the improvements.
“Infrastructure improvements are not going away and they are going to cost us money,” Stotko said.
He added that he doesn’t believe that the city should count on local government aid (LGA), and said he is pushing hard for the council to “wean ourselves off of that.”
“It was great that we had the opportunity to have it over the years, but we can’t count on the state for help, and if we are going to be self-sufficient, we need to find a way to get off of it,” Stotko said. “The bad news for us is that it’s about 40 percent of our budget, so it is a substantial amount.”
Enforcing the law, but differently
McLeod County Sheriff Scott Rehmann and sheriff candidate Wes Olson were asked, “what difference does it make who is sheriff, shouldn’t enforcing the law be the same?”
Olson agreed that enforcing the law should be the same across the board, no matter what. But he added, “It is all about how you enforce the law. There is a need for common-sense law enforcement.”
Respect needs to be shown to each citizen, according to Olson, who said “5 percent of the population causes 90 percent of law enforcement’s headaches, but that doesn’t mean that we should treat the other 95 percent like the 5 percent,” Olson said. “There are a lot of good, honest, hard-working people who can make mistakes.”
Rehmann said as sheriff, “you are the chief law enforcement officer of the county. Not just in charge of enforcing the law, but also in charge of protecting the citizens’ rights.”
Besides looking at the law enforcement aspect, Rehmann said he also looks at the community aspect in addressing the issues.
“That is one of my greatest strengths, I believe, working with our communities, working with our schools and with our young people addressing the issues,” Rehmann said.
An example Rehmann gave was his working with the individual cities in McLeod County, setting up a county-wide curfew which has reduced juvenile crime.
Senate candidates square off on LGA
“I don’t think it is any secret that I have never been a strong advocate of local government aid (LGA),” Scott Newman said. “The reason is, we pay taxes to the State of Minnesota and the money goes to St. Paul. Someone in St. Paul determines who needs that money. One of those criteria is need, and so we have someone in St. Paul determining that someone needs the tax dollars more than we do.
“It has always struck me as a redistribution of wealth program,” Newman said.
Newman said he would look at allowing the local government to implement a local option sales tax if the voters of that local government decided that they wanted it.
“Then, I would simply encourage local government to balance their budget, just like the state has to balance their budget, and just like you and I have to budget ours,” he said.
Taking the opposite stand on local government aid (LGA) is senate candidate Hal Kimball, who wants to fight to maintain LGA if he is elected.
He sees the LGA dollars important to help provide for police, fire, sewer and water, but also for things like parks and libraries.
“When I look at the issues of local government aid, I have a hard time supporting something like a local option sales tax because there are great disparities between what people can raise in different cities,” Kimball said.
He pointed out that a 1 percent increase in property taxes in a city like Wayzata or Minnetonka generates a lot more dollars than in a city the size of Winsted.
Kimball promised to support and fight to maintain LGA when he is in St. Paul.
State representative gets visit from feds
State Representative Ron Shimanski is a small business owner who empathized with the first question regarding small businesses being swamped with more regulations with state inspectors. “What can you do to help us?” he was asked.
Shimanski related a story about a federal inspection that took place in his own apple orchard in Silver Lake this summer. It started with a visit from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.
“I thought they were coming out to see me because I am licensed as a private pesticide applicator for my apples, and I thought they just wanted to check my records,” Shimanski said.
When the inspector arrived, he happened to tell Shimanski that he was working on behalf of the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and had been contracted by the department to do inspections. He wanted to check Shimanski’s orchards out for worker protection standards.
“So here, we had a state inspector who probably drove 75 miles, and who made two trips, come out and see me to tell me that the federal EPA wanted to know if I was protecting my workers,” Shimanski said.
The entire process took three hours of Shimanski’s time, and then he was required to order a video to show to his two workers who help out about five hours a week.
He called the entire process ridiculous.
“We don’t need the nanny state government coming in and telling us how to take care of our workers and how to take care of our neighbors and so forth. It was just really frustrating to me that here we have a state agency, a state budget in deficit, federal government deeply in debt, and yet they have the audacity to send people out to check out a small farmer making sure he is treating people right,” Shimanski said.
To view the video of the forum, follow the link on the HJ News Blog.
In Shimanski’s opening statement he said, “I think our primary job as legislator is to get the economy moving, creating the jobs that we need to keep everybody employed and earning a substantial living here in Minnesota.”