WORTHINGTON — Last week, three Nobles County communities finally learned the winners of city council positions after voters had to write in the names of those they thought best suited for public office.
In Bigelow, a mere 10-minute drive from Worthington, no one in the community — population 235 — was willing to file for vacancies in city government. Up for election were the mayoral post and two seats on the city council.
Garnering 30 of the 47 write-in votes cast for mayor, Bryan Brandt was deemed the winner after election results were canvassed last Tuesday. Brandt had previously served one term in the city’s top spot, ending in 2012, followed by a stint on the city council due to a write-in win.
“I don’t know what the deal is,” Brandt said of the apparent unwillingness of people in the community to take on leadership roles. “It’s just hard to get young people to do it.”
Brandt, a lifelong resident of Bigelow at nearly 62, said he talked with his family and others in the community after no one sought the mayoral post during the filing period.
“I said, ‘If someone wants to write me in, I’ll take it on,’” he shared. “I’ve got quite a few relatives in town yet, and I talked to some other people. I told them I don’t want to lose our power.”
Without a council, the city would become unincorporated and lose its local control — something Brandt said he didn’t want to see happen.
“If we get turned over to the county, we don’t have any power,” he added.
Brandt realizes the commitment involved with being a city leader. In his first term as mayor, he was involved with the Minnesota 60 bypass project, upgrading the town’s sewer system and getting a new road through town.
“I was pretty busy,” said Brandt who, at the time, was working in Worthington. He now works full-time for Russell Tiling. He said the job of mayor — or city council member — can be very hard at times and gets involved.
It was especially difficult for him during his first term as mayor as his mom battled cancer. It was the reason he stepped away from the job.
“It was just too much for me to handle,” he said.
A couple of years after his stint as mayor ended, Brandt was written in to fill a city council seat. He served a four-year term before stepping down and convincing his son, Zach, to run for a seat. Now, there will be two Brandts on the council for at least the next two years.
Meanwhile, the city’s two vacancies on the city council will be filled by incumbent Terry Neugebauer and new councilmember Jamaica Martinez. Martinez garnered 19 write-in votes and Neugebauer received 16 write-in votes to win. In all, 72 write-in votes were cast.
Martinez had also spread word around town that she was willing to serve after no one filed for the open council seats. Brandt said it’s fantastic that another young person is willing to be a leader in the community.
While Brandt said the city recently fixed its water tower to bring it into compliance with OSHA regulations, and all of its water and sewer infrastructure has been replaced in recent years, the primary issue he sees in the coming years is housing.
“We just need to build some houses here in town,” he said, adding that the city already owns some land that could easily be developed.
About 20 miles northeast of Worthington, the hamlet of Kinbrae — population 12 according to 2010 U.S. census data — had half its population cast a ballot in the 2020 election earlier this month. Nicholas Carlson garnered all six votes to become the next mayor.
David Jass, already serving on the council, received four votes to fill a four-year term, and Troy Malcolm garnered five votes to fill a two-year term.
In Wilmont, write-ins had to be done by voters to fill two vacancies on the city council after no one filed for either seat. With 118 votes cast — and 33 different names written in — Steve Brake and Isaac Joens were determined the winners with 30 votes and 29 votes, respectively.