Candidates face off in county forum
WORTHINGTON -- More than 100 people attended a forum in Worthington Tuesday night to hear Nobles County Commissioner candidates speak on a variety of questions ranging from economic development to retirement perks and plans for a new library.
Due to redistricting, all five commissioner seats are up for election this year. In Districts 2, 3 and 5, where more than two candidates have filed, a Primary on Aug. 14 will reduce the field of commissioner candidates to two in each district. Then, in the November general election, voters will decide which candidate will represent their district. Districts 2 and 5 will elect a commissioner for a two-year term, while Districts 1, 3 and 4 will elect a commissioner for a four-year term. Three incumbents are seeking to retain their seats.
Just one of the 14 candidates was unable to be present for the forum. Vicky Ross, seeking election in District 2, wrote a statement reiterating her qualifications for the position (the information was included in her candidate profile published July 10 in the Daily Globe).
The evening began with a question posed to candidates regarding how they would work to rebuild damaged relationships not only with county employees, but with cities, townships and neighboring counties as well. Several of the candidates responded that there needs to be some give and take between the county and other entities.
"In the business I was in, I dealt with some difficult people," said Don Linssen, District 5 candidate. "I think I'm able to reach out -- extend the olive branch and communicate with people in the county and cities."
Marlyn Mammen, also seeking the District 5 seat, said the county needs to first decide on a county coordinator or county administrator position before it can move forward.
"If employees are not working together and don't have harmony, any organization is going to fail," he said.
Jacob Holck said the recent issue with the former county administrator "made us, I hate to say it, an undesirable partner.
"We're going to need to select an administrator/coordinator and until we get that problem sorted out, no one is going to want to work with us," Holck said. "We really are a laughing stock."
Les Madison, a District 2 candidate, said, "Time heals wounds and that's probably one of the things it's going to take to move through these issues. We need to be the big brother, take our licks and move on."
Bob Demuth Jr., the District 4 incumbent, said rebuilding relationships is more than just perception, it's an image problem.
"We need to address some internal issues first," he said. "We have some healing that has to go on."
Having already begun the process of addressing past mistakes in the county, Demuth said there needs to be careful selection of a new administrator or coordinator, and that it starts with strong leadership.
Demuth, along with fellow incumbents Marv Zylstra and David Benson, all pointed out partnerships that have been done in the past, including those that haven't worked.
Benson spoke of the five-county effort to establish joint dispatch for law enforcement, and how Nobles County failed to get that accomplished.
"We were working toward sharing a vital service in the area and when each county was asked to sign a resolution, our county, sadly, was the only resolution that included we would be a part of this joint dispatch if it was located in Nobles County," Benson said. "I voted against that."
Benson also spoke of the erosion of the long-term partnership in public health, and said the county "really needs to rebuild trust."
Shifting to a question about the potential for a new Nobles County Library, most candidates said they would support either building a new facility or adding on to the existing building in downtown Worthington. The biggest concern, however, is how to pay for it.
"I would look at expanding or building only if it's in partnership with all the users," said Gene Metz, a District 2 candidate who acknowledged his district is the only one that does not have constituents residing in the Worthington city limits.
"If it is built, I think operational costs should be covered by user fees," he said, adding that if a new library is built, he wants to know what would be done for residents of outlying towns so they can benefit as well.
"I certainly embrace the concept of moving the project forward," said Matt Widboom, District 3 candidate, about the prospect for a new library. "We are three years removed from the needs assessment and not a lot of progress has been made."
Widboom said there are "tremendous people" who work in the county, including librarian Julie Wellnitz, and she has momentum going. He said he didn't want to get in the way of that, and would do what he could to encourage the project.
Keith Stubbe, a District 1 candidate, said he was against building a new library.
"I think our money could be spent better on infrastructure. There are lots of roads and lots of bridges that need money," Stubbe said. "This library was built in 1962. It does need a facelift. This was built with the intention that it could be expanded on at some time."
District 1 incumbent Marv Zylstra had opposing views.
"We need a new library," he said. "I'm a strong supporter of it. We need to get some discussion with the community college for the arts center, and we can keep (the historical society) in the current building."
A question from the audience sought to learn more about the candidates' stances on economic development, and again, a variety of answers were given in response.
Mike Kuhle, a District 4 candidate and current city alderman, said economic development has been a passion of his.
"I'd like to see something on a county-wide (scale)," he said. "We need to work hard on economic development. The wins are not easy and they don't come very often, but when they do, they can spread the tax burden across more people."
Robert Paplow, a District 3 candidate, said too many times potential business developers are told "No" when they want to come to town.
"I think we need to change that," he said. "Let's try to help out the businesses that we do have already."
District 1 candidates spoke of the need to work on economic development in Round Lake, where Farley's & Sathers recently announced it will close its headquarters and warehouses, while others spoke of the progress taking place in the agricultural sector.
"I think a lot of us drive our money from the ag (industry)," said Bruce Loosbrock, a District 2 candidate. "We need to keep the young people here. I think this county has been very fair to the ag people building their buildings. Expansions make our county a better county."
All of the candidates were timed in their responses to questions during the forum, which wrapped up at 9 p.m. The event was sponsored by the Worthington Area Chamber of Commerce Governmental Affairs Committee and the Daily Globe.
Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.