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Three vie for mayoral post

The three mayoral candidates for the city of Worthington face off before a large crowd in a public forum Monday night at Worthington Senior High. Candidates include Chris Dybevick (left), Mike Kuhle and incumbent Alan Oberloh. Julie Buntjer/Daily Globe

WORTHINGTON — With the exception of a dig at alleged micro-management by Worthington’s current mayor, and a newcomer to the local political scene saying he’s the positive choice for the city’s top post, the three candidates vying for the public’s vote agreed on several issues during a Monday night forum in the high school cafeteria.

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Alan Oberloh was first elected the city’s mayor 12 years ago. In that time he said he’s lobbied on behalf of local residents on many issues, from economic development to transportation and Lewis & Clark’s slow expansion into southwest Minnesota. He’s a private business owner and said he has the time required to serve the community as its mayor.

Mike Kuhle has been a member of the Worthington City Council for eight years. He spoke of the interest he has in economic development and said he would work hard on collaboration with the county, the school district and the community college to increase efficiencies in services delivered to the community’s residents.

Chris Dybevick has been a resident of Worthington for 47 years and logged 27 years with the Worthington Police Department before recently accepting the chief deputy post with the Nobles County Sheriff’s Office. He brings experience in administering the city’s public safety budget, and said he was campaigning as a positive choice for the city of Worthington.

The three candidates sounded off on 13 different questions, ranging from housing and economic development to the fate of the Northland Mall and Prairie View Golf Links, city participation in construction of a new library, opinions on another outdoor swimming pool, interest in collaboration and the health of Lake Okabena.

Leading off was a question about what the city can do to bring new business to town.

Kuhle said addressing the city’s housing needs must be done before the city can bring in more jobs.

“If we don’t have the housing to take care of the workers, we’re in not such a good situation,” he said.

In addition, Kuhle said the city needs to look at ways to help local businesses grow, as well as look to the Worthington Regional Economic Development Corp. and other partners to bring new businesses to Worthington.

“When it comes to economic development, I think the city of Worthington is using the tools at hand,” Oberloh said. “We just can’t throw a boatload of cash at a business because we want them to be here.”

Oberloh spoke of an initiative he said he sought to get local business owners to help establish a private sector fund to assist new businesses, but got a “lukewarm response.”

Dybevick said the WREDC needs to take the lead on the issue of economic development, but also suggested, “The city needs to ask, ‘What can we do for you?’ instead of ‘What can you do for us?’”

He said the city should build more infrastructure — curbs and gutter — to create places for businesses to come here. That led to a comment by Kuhle that the city hasn’t made any movement on the industrial park west of U.S. 59, just north of Interstate 90. He suggested that streets and sewer work be completed so the city is ready if a developer wants to come in.

Oberloh said he would not be in favor of developing streets in the west industrial park until the city knows what type of business may want the space.

The Northland Mall issue, raised during the City Council Candidates Forum earlier in the evening, also brought about varying responses from the mayoral candidates.

Dybevick said the city needs to hold the present mall owner’s “feet to the fire” to either fix the place up or sell it, although he acknowledged the building was unfixable.

Kuhle said the fact that the property was allowed to deteriorate to its present state is a sad situation for the city.

“We’ve lost a lot of retail trade,” he said. “We could have been more aggressive. What the city needs to do is press the health and safety issues now.”

Said Oberloh, “We’re doing what we can with the laws that are in place.”

On the subject of recreational possibilities and the potential for a sports complex in the community, Dybevick said what makes the city good is its amenities. However, to move forward with a sports complex, he said, was a little premature.

Kuhle said a sports complex would be an expensive operation, and if the city decides to participate, the project should be done in phases.

Oberloh said a sports complex could be a possibility in Worthington, but he said there is a “very large employer in this city that needs to step up and assist with building a sports complex.” He added that the city needs a partner that “doesn’t send all of its money to Brazil,” and instead spends some of it here.

Prairie View Golf Links is one of the city’s existing recreational facilities that continues to be an economic burden on the city’s budget. One question Monday night asked for the candidates’ opinions on the future of the 18-hole golf course.

Oberloh said a committee has until next year to come up with recommendations on alternative uses for the course — uses that will continue to serve as a buffer for Okabena Creek and the watershed north of Lake Okabena.

“One year from now we’ll have an answer and we’ll move forward from there,” he added.

Dybevick said he didn’t think the city needed to do any more studies on something that “can’t support itself.”

“If we can’t find ways to make it pay for itself … then we have to make a serious decision about it,” Dybevick said. “We can’t continue to have it lose as much money as it is.”

Kuhle said the golf course budget comes up every year, and he said he’s glad the committee is working on a long-range plan for the amenity. He also said it was important to keep the land as a buffer for the water that flows toward Lake Okabena.

Another question was directed at the health of Lake Okabena, and the three candidates had similar responses — they want to see the lake improved.

“The lake is one of the gems of Worthington,” Dybevick said. “We should do everything we can to improve it.”

Kuhle said the city will need to work with the watershed district and look at grant opportunities to improve water quality in the lake, while Oberloh said the city needs to take a serious look at getting some land — probably south of town — and look at dredging the lake once again.

“Lake Okabena is filling in,” Oberloh said. “We have to do whatever we can to improve the quality of the water in this lake.”

On the subject of collaboration, Oberloh said the city, county and school all work together now — something that wasn’t happening when he campaigned for mayor the first time. Still, both Kuhle and Dybevick said the city can be doing more to team with those entities and others, including some of the city’s major businesses.

Collaboration on a new library for Worthington, however, brought mixed responses from the candidates.

Kuhle said the city’s role should be to support the county. He referred back to history, when the city owned the hospital and the county owned the library.

“While there are a lot of residents of the city, it’s a county responsibility,” Kuhle said. “I think they should look at reuse of their current facility.”

Oberloh said the library is, in many ways, the lifeblood of a community.

“I think we need to be very conscious — maybe the county isn’t the only player in a new library,” he said, while adding that the proposed 24,000-square-foot facility was too large.

Dybevick said the city needs to wait for the county to make a decision.

“The county needs to plan it out and ask for our help once they get a plan in place,” he added.

In response to a question about constructing a new outdoor pool, Dybevick was opposed to spending money on one when the city already partnered with the YMCA on the aquatic center. Oberloh and Kuhle said if citizens want an outdoor pool and are willing to pay increased tax dollars to fund a facility that, at most, would be open 77 days out of the year, they would consider it.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at The Farm Bleat

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