By Ivan Raconteur
Herald Journal Editor
DELANO, MN About three dozen residents turned out to listen to the candidates for Wright County District 5 commissioner in Delano last Monday evening.
The newly-created fifth district encompasses the southern part of Wright County, stretching from Delano west to Cokato, including those communities along with Montrose, Waverly, Howard Lake, and Franklin, Woodland, Marysville, Victor, Middleville, Stockholm, Cokato, and French Lake townships.
Eight candidates will be on the ballot Tuesday. Those present at the meeting were Larry Bartels, Charlie Borrell, Tom LaPlant, Vickie Nibbe, Dan Vick, and Leonard Wozniak. Incumbent Dick Mattson was not present due to medical issues, and Paul Schoborg has withdrawn from the race.
The forum, sponsored by the Delano Area Chamber of Commerce, in conjunction with the Best of 12 group, Cokato Area Chamber of Commerce, Howard Lake Business Association, and Montrose-Waverly Chamber of Commerce, was organized to help voters get a closer look at the candidates prior to Tuesday’s primary election.
Delano Area Chamber of Commerce President Ryan Gueningsman opened the forum and read statements from the Mattson and Schoborg.
Former chamber president Josh Hecksel served as moderator for the forum. He asked the candidates prepared questions, and each candidate had two minutes to respond. Harlan Lewis served as time keeper.
In response to a question about their number one priority if elected, Borrell said picking the right people for planning and zoning was a priority, noting that he believes in property owners’ rights.
LaPlant said spending tax dollars wisely is a top priority.
Nibbe said the role of government is to protect citizens and provide infrastructure to allow business to prosper.
Vick said reviewing expenses to see where the county can cut costs is a priority.
Wozniak said county government should live within its means as township government does. He said the county should listen to ideas for improvements.
Bartels said meeting with county employees to discuss needs would be a priority.
Planning and zoning issues were mentioned on multiple occasions during the forum.
In response to a question about the role of county land use planning in relation to planning at city and township levels, Borrell said things should be handled at the lowest level possible, and the county should have a plan to help townships take over their own planning and zoning.
LaPlant said in his 16 years selling real estate, he never had a good relationship with planning and zoning, and there needs to be much more give-and-take.
Nibbe said planning should be done at the lowest level, and Vick said the county should let people decide what they want in their township or city.
Wozniak (who was involved in establishing Stockholm Township’s planning and zoning department) said it is a monumental task for a township to do its own planning and zoning. He noted the county system could work if it was more localized.
After Hecksel finished reading prepared questions, he opened the forum to questions from the audience.
Planning and zoning came up again, and there was a question about the candidates’ positions regarding the one building eligibility per 40 acres rule.
The candidates offered various opinions on the subject.
After the candidates had responded, Wright County Commissioner Jack Russek, who is not seeking re-election, asked if he could respond to some of the comments.
“You guys don’t have a clue,” Russek said, addressing the candidates, to the delight of many of his hometown supporters in the audience.
Russek said the county just went through the process of developing a four-year land use plan, and it took input from all of the townships during the process. He said some areas in the county have rules other than one per 40, if that is what the township requested.
Russek also said some of the things the candidates had mentioned in their responses to earlier questions were state issues, not county issues, and the county does not have authority to change them due to state mandates.
Another issue that was discussed was special taxing districts, such as lake improvement districts (LIDs).
Russek said more than 50 percent of the property owners in a LID must want it in order for the LID to be established, but once approved, a LID has taxing authority.
Waverly Mayor Connie Holmes asked the candidates how they plan to involve cities and townships in policy making, if elected, and how they would keep cities informed of what is going on.
Nibbe said county government should be accessible, and she would plan to attend community functions to keep in touch with residents.
Vick said he would be very accessible if elected.
Wozniak said he would like to see meetings that include all District 5 cities and townships.
Bartels said he would work with mayors on issues that affect their city, and would attend meetings when possible.
Borrell said he would be accessible, and would facilitate district-wide meetings.
LaPlant said cities and townships should be treated the same.
After the questions, the candidates had a chance to share their final thoughts.
Bartels said if elected, he will never tell anyone, without a good reason, that something has to be done a certain way “because that is how we’ve always done it.”
Borrell said his philosophy is local government, local control, and private property rights. He said every county employee from the board down should have the attitude, “I’m here to serve you. My job exists because of you.”
LaPlant said he would use his business experience, which includes how to buy and how to spend.
Nibbe said she has a sincere desire to help, and would work to shift the focus of government back to serving people.
Vick (responding to an earlier comment from the audience) said he would defend his voting record, and he voted based on information he had at the time.
Wozniak said he is in favor of reviewing zoning policy more often. He added that he would like to get more people involved.