New county board commissioners introduce themselves
In November, the residents of Wright County voted in four new county commissioners. On Jan. 8, they officially began their duties as members of the new-look county board. To many residents, these new commissioners are an unknown quantity. Who are they? What do they stand for?
Here are thumbnail personality profiles of the new members of the Wright County Board and what they see as the vision of the county’s future and their roles in that process.
Christine Husom (District 1)
A small business owner from Buffalo, Husom returns to the county courthouse, where she used to be employed in a different capacity. Her decision to run for county commissioner was a long time in the making.
“It was something I was thinking about for the last 20 years or so,” Husom said. “I worked in the sheriff’s department for several years. From that experience, I saw how we could impact change in people’s lives. I wanted to get involved as a commissioner because I found it to be rewarding.”
Husom brings with her expertise in the law enforcement arena, including dealing with mental health issues.
She worked in St. Paul dealing with people who were homeless, mentally ill and chemically dependent, so the mental health aspect of county government is of personal interest to her. Through her other experiences with the sheriff’s department and in business, she also has an interest in emergency management and economic development.
She feels her strength as a commissioner will be to bring people together to discuss issues and get opposing views to the table before the board makes decisions.
“I feel I’m a good communicator and have good interpersonal communication skills,” Husom said. “There is a lot of frustration for people who have seen their property taxes go up and their home values go down. There is a feeling out when it comes to politics that it’s an ‘us vs. them’ situation. I feel I can try to bridge that gap and try to get us working together more.”
She knows that being part of the “them” portion of the equation as a commissioner will be a hurdle in trying to making the citizens of the county more in touch with county government, facing such hurdles is nothing new to Husom.
“It’s a challenge I’m looking forward to,” Husom said. “I’ve had a lot of challenges in my life and have faced them head-on. There are going to be a lot of tough decisions that will be made in the coming years, but I’m excited about the opportunity to help Wright County move forward.”
Mark Daleiden (District 3)
A former Frankfort Township supervisor with a business background, Daleiden’s impetus for running for county commissioner wasn’t so much a strong motivation to seek public office, but to give voters a choice.
“When redistricting changed up the districts, Otsego and half of St. Michael became a new district that didn’t have a representative,” Daleiden said. “After the filing period had been open a while, there was still only one candidate. I ended up filing because I thought people should have a choice,” he said.
“When I signed up, I didn’t even know that the commissioner position was a full-time paying job,” he said. “But, I learned a lot about my responsibilities since then.”
Daleiden said his diverse background will help him as a commissioner because his experience has made him well versed in many of the issues that face the county.
“Even though I represent the only district that doesn’t have a township, I grew up in between two farms and have a deep farming background in my family,” Daleiden said. “Over the years I’ve gained a little experience in a lot of different areas. I’m kind of the jack of all trades and the master of none. I think having a working knowledge in several areas will be useful to the board.”
One area of specific concern is that Daleiden believes the county hasn’t embraced the numerous technological advancements that have been made in recent years and wants to see the county move forward and use technology more to its own advantage.
“I think we need to get into the 21st century,” Daleiden said. “We haven’t used technology to our advantage. At the Law Enforcement Center, they have extreme electrical costs because, while the geothermal heating system is a great idea, the compressors they use are small and ineffective. As a result, we have electric bills of $30,000 a month. Things like that will have to change and I hope to be part of that change.”
Mike Potter (District 4)
When Potter was the mayor of Albertville, he was the youngest mayor in the State of Minnesota and he had big ideas. He brokered the Albertville Outlet Mall being constructed and, admitted his tireless to get it completed cost him $15,000 out of his own pocket and almost cost him his marriage because he was away from his family so much. He sees economic development and transportation as being the critical components to restoring the growth of Wright County and increasing the commercial tax burden to take it off the backs of the residents, as he did in Albertville.
“The city was in an economic funk and we needed help,” Potter said. “The city was $220,000 in the hole and struggling badly. There were a lot of people who didn’t think the outlet mall could get done or be successful, but Albertville has blossomed since then and the outlet mall is the single-largest taxpayer in the county.”
Potter believes there has been a frustration with the previous county board over issues concerning business development and infrastructure improvements. The county board tried to keep taxes down, but it came with a cost.
“I’m conservative, but there is a difference between being conservative and being cheap,” Potter said. “Unfortunately, government is full of inefficiencies that need to be addressed. You have to budget for the future. For too long, the county has been penny-wise and dollar-foolish. We have to deal with those problems and move forward.”
He understands that, with so many new commissioners coming on board at once, having so many new voices coming together at once will be a challenge to getting a unified vision, but he believes the numbers speak for themselves.
“When you get one or two new commissioners, not much changes,” Potter said. “When you have four new commissioners, you have to change out of necessity. We have the 10th largest county in the state, but we are 84th of 87 counties in per capita spending. It tells me that we have a lot of inefficiencies in our budgets and that has to change.”
Charlie Borrell (District 5)
Borrell didn’t really have any intention of running for the county board until he attended a campaign forum and didn’t like what he was hearing. It was that disenchantment that got him to throw his hat in the ring.
“If I had heard someone who expressed my views, I probably wouldn’t have run,” Borrell said. “I think that government from the federal, state and local level has become too intrusive and have taken away a lot of personal freedom. It’s gone overboard. We’re losing our freedoms because too many politicians have lost touch with the people and have become part of the problem, not the solution.”
There are areas of specific interest that Borrell wants to be involved in because of his own experience, including planning and zoning, county ditches and veterans’ services. He knows that there will be a stiff learning curve, but his strong beliefs and willingness to work with others will help shorten that learning process.
“My area has more townships and rural areas than any other area in the county,” Borrell said. “I don’t want those people to get lost in the shuffle. It’s easy to push the concerns of the rural areas of the county to the side because there are always issues that come up in other areas that it is believed needs a quicker fix. I’m not coming into this naïve. I know I have a lot to learn, but I want to represent my area of the county well.”
Borrell isn’t motivated by being a mover or a shaker at the county board level. He comes in as a commissioner with a plan to represent the interests of his district and not become a career politician.
“I don’t need this job,” Borrell said. “I’m not in for the money or the power. I just want to make sure people are represented fairly. In arguments between the government and the people, I’ll side with the people almost every time. I won’t serve more than two terms as commissioner. I got elected to one. Now we’ll have to see if the people will want me back for a second term.”
Freelancer John Holler covers government and the Wright County Board of Commissioners.