County commissioner race will whittle field from four to just two
Redistricting of official political boundaries has dramatically changed some districts in both state and county races. Certainly District 2 for the Wright County Commissioners race is one that has some significant changes.
There are four candidates vying for two slots on the November ballot, thus prompting an Aug. 14 primary election. Two of the four candidates are sitting county commissioners: Rose Thelen and Pat Sawatzke. Thelen is currently a commissioner from District 1, which encompasses the northern sector of the county, including Annandale, Clearwater, Clearwater Township, Silver Creek Township, Maple Lake Township, Corinna Township, portions of Buffalo and Chatham Township.
Sawatzke currently serves District 2, which includes the northeast section of the county, including Monticello, Monticello Township, and portions of Otsego and Dayton.
The newly formed District 2 pits the two against each other, along with challengers Joseph Doyle and Barry Kukowski.
All four of the candidates participated in a recent question and answer series with Times staff. That Q & A can be found inside on page 2. Also included in this issue are the polling locations for the Aug. 14 Primary. We’ll provide a primer of the upcoming Aug. 14 election in next week’s Times.
Joseph Doyle, of Monticello Township, and his spouse, Glenda, have five children. Joe served eight years active duty in the Air Force then began work in the auto parts industry. He brings diverse leadership experience from the private and public sectors. In his township, he co-chaired a movement that stopped a bid for hostile annexation. He was elected to the Monticello Town Board in 2005 and elected board chair for the Wright County Officers Association (serving 18 townships) in 2006.
Goals if elected:
I have a passion to serve, and desire to be a voice that echoes for the people of our community and advocate their concerns.
When I look at government, I think we get it all wrong. When you run for public office, you are asking for a vote of confidence from the people you represent. Any candidate can speak about what he or she would do if elected to office. In my opinion it’s a lot of wasted words. We can build a list of what needs to be addressed within District 2; the landfill issue, to property taxes, to what the commissioners are doing about controlling expenses. The list can go on and on. Though these challenges are real, until I walk in those shoes, I cannot or will not just talk to be heard. We need to bring government back to the people and for the people. This is my commitment to the people of District 2.
Barry A. Kukowski, of Clearwater Township, and his spouse, Jean, have three grown children. Barry went through Army basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., then served three years active duty at Fort Lewis, Wash., and more time with the Washington Army National Guard through 1992. The couple moved to Wright County and sold real estate for 15 years. Barry has served on the Clearwater City Council, Planning board and Joint Annexation Board. He served with local Jaycees. He joined the Minnesota Army National Guard in September 2006 and was deployed to Iraq from April 2007 to May 2008.
Goals if elected:
I have chosen to run at this time for several reasons:
• I want to give back to the community.
• I like being involved in political affairs and civic activities, and making important decisions.
• I feel strongly that we pay too much in taxes and that the government needs to stop growing.
• I would like to serve as a county commissioner – where service to others is important, not the other way around.
• I believe I can make a difference by promoting both the freedoms and liberties that I fought for in a foreign country, and stand for in this country, by using my strong leadership skills and experience and training.
Most important, in these tough economic times I feel it is important to save our tax money, by doing more locally and using more in-house assets or just getting by without some things.
My main objectives or priorities are to reduce or freeze the county budget (since it has increased every year for last four years); reduce red tape and bureaucratic requirements, desires and wish lists; closely scrutinize and/or reject state and federal mandates (there is no free or grant money without strings attached) since they are cutting back also. It all comes from the same source – our pocket.
It’s time for a different direction.
Pat Sawatzke and his wife, Michelle, have three children, Morgan (18), Grace (16) and Henry (9). Pat is a lifetime local resident and a graduate of Monticello High School and St. Cloud State University with bachelor’s degrees in Political Science and Economics and also an MBA (master’s degree in Business Administration) from SCSU. He is a local small business owner with 19 years of business ownership experience, and he has served on the Wright County Board since 1991. Pat is a member and past president of the Monticello Rotary, and current president of the Monticello Center Court Club (youth basketball).
Goals if elected:
Due to the redistricting process and commissioner retirements there will be significant turnover on the county board effective next January. With this in mind, I hope to provide needed experience and financial leadership to the new board that will include a majority of first-time commissioners. The economic slowdown continues to create challenges for local governments and citizens. My priorities begin with providing Wright County with important public services in a cost-effective manner. Families and businesses have had to tighten their belts during these economic times and so too should government. Wright County government is leaner today than it has been in years. We have reduced our staffing levels by over 20 positions in the past few years.
Priorities for expenditures of public resources include those services that provide quality of life to our citizens. Public safety stands out atop the list. Law enforcement, including patrol deputies, investigators, dispatch and corrections, stand out as services our public expects to be there when needed on a daily basis. A solid transportation system should also be an ongoing priority. Safe and efficient movement from place to place is not only important for our families but for our businesses as well. I am proud to note Wright County is one of just a few counties in the state to have its entire county road system paved.
I would also like to see the acquisition of the Bertram Chain of Lakes Park completed over the next four years. This project, which is nearly half complete, will provide local residents and future generations with a regional park consisting of four lakes surrounded by 1,200 acres of undeveloped property. The substantial funding source for this project is dedicated funds from the state government including lottery proceeds and Environment and Natural Resources Legacy funds (constitutional amendment 3/8 % sales tax). The county has worked in partnership with the city of Monticello on this park acquisition.
A final priority for me is to continue to be accessible to county residents. I feel one of my greatest assets is my availability and willingness to listen to constituents as we discuss issues related to county government. I have always welcomed input from citizens. I am available to take calls at my office or home or speak with constituents at any location. Citizen input, whether through questions, ideas, concerns, encouragement or even criticism, is an important tool for government improvement.
Rose Thelen, of Clearwater Township, is age 63, with one adult child, and holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from St. Cloud State University. She has served as a Wright County commissioner from the former District 1 since January 2009 after two years of service on the Clearwater Town Board. She has held an adjunct faculty position at SCSU in the Human Relations and Social Work departments. She has been legislative coordinator for the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women and she founded the St. Cloud Intervention Project and Gender Violence Institute (GVI). She continues as a consultant for GVI.
Goals if elected
I have a number of related priorities for the next term. The most important of these is to build relationships with voters and constituent groups, particularly from areas newly appointed to my district. At the same time, I will work to strengthen partnerships I have already established during my first term, including those forged with other elected officials, civic and social organizations, business leaders, public workers, county department heads, neighboring counties, and state coalitions of local governments.
It is my goal to continue to listen to your concerns, connect with others to identify potential “fixes,” and then take action at the county board level to produce better outcomes for the citizens of District Two, and the county as a whole. I bring my strengths in leadership, planning, policymaking and systems change methods to address those priorities we currently share, as well as those that will emerge in our increasingly complex future.
I will work for you to:
Design county government to improve its management and planning capacity, flexibility to respond to emerging issues, and openness to new governance models;
Cut waste and spending, reduce redundancies, and improve efficiency in service delivery;
Address inequities in our property tax structure and how government is funded so people can keep their homes and businesses and improve their quality of life;
Identify a more significant county role in spurring sustainable economic development;
Assure that public dollars are spent wisely with an eye toward maintaining a safe, sustainable and healthy future for our citizens;
Protect our resources and assets for future generations;
Improve public access and participation in local government and increase trust in the county’s capacity to effectively consult citizens to define the challenges facing them and impact the decisions that affect us all.
I believe addressing these priorities is the best way to strengthen the social, civic, economic and technological viabilities of Wright County. In addressing these priorities I do not adhere to a particular ideology. Rather, I believe in the value of nonpartisanship to establish a direct relationship with my constituents, unfettered by political allegiance.
I will work with the new county board to provide the leadership necessary to adapt emerging practices and proven strategies that will move Wright County forward.
It will be an honor to be the commissioner for District 2 on the new Wright County Board.
Compiled by Paul Rignell