Eight City Council candidates gathered on stage Tuesday night for the Women of Today's Voters Forum. The candidates, four from St. Michael and four from Albertville, were each given a five-minute introduction period in which each candidate touched on some form of taxes"fiscal responsibility", "keeping taxes and levy low" and "getting rid of wasteful spending."
Albertville council candidates included: Incumbent Larry Sorenson, Rob Olson, Paul Turpin and Incumbent John Vetsch. St. Michael candidates included: Incumbent (appointee) Chris Schumm, Tom Biernat, Cody Gulick and Incumbent (appointee) Joe Marx.
Following the candidates' introductions, the audience of nearly 40 was invited to ask the candidates questions. Questions had to be non-partisan and could either be directed at the Albertville candidates, St. Michael candidates or both.
One recurring question seemed to revolve around taxes. One resident asked the candidates if they would support the proposed 3 percent tax levy being voted on in December in St. Michael.
Biernat and Gulick both said no. "When the city center was built we were told no levies would be raised to cover the cost of it," Gulick explained.
"While I haven't had the full experience, I want to keep taxes low," Biernat said noting council members need to weigh "what we want versus what we want to spend."
Schumm, a current St. Michael council incumbent addressed the question by saying, "it's not an issue we take lightly, no one wants the taxes raised."
Marx was not present for this question.
Eric Boone of St. Michael touched on one hot-button issue for the St. Michael-Albertville community. "When it comes to a choice between raising taxes and building a hockey rick, or a senior center, that only affects a small percentage of people, what's more important?"
"If a hockey arena is self-sustained, I don't think anyone has a problem with it," Schumm said noting that what's really important is the essential services like schools, police and fire departments.
"There's a large gap between what residents want and what's actually happening, which is why I encourage your participation in meetings," Biernat said.
Gulick was clear that "spending that only helps a few, I'm against."
Rick O. from Albertville followed up on that citing, "an ice arena or senior center is a nice to have."
Most of the candidates agreed that if the money isn't there, they are against it.
Albertville Mayor Candidate and current council member Jillian Hendrickson had a question for Albertville candidates. "One thing very important to me is engagement, how will you be engaged as a council member?"
"I'm always available via phone, email and have an open door policy," Albertville candidate Rob Olson explained
"I think the biggest thing is showing up at all the meetings, and getting out in the community," Paul Turpin said also noting that he thinks it's important that his presence is visible and that people know he is accessible.
John Vetsch, who has been on Albertville City Council since beating his dad in 1992 explained that timeliness is important. "Being on time to meetings is important and I also think stopping in and asking businesses and residents how things are going helps."
"My record stands for itself," Larry Sorenson said noting that he has missed just one meeting in his four-year term. "I also make myself available on email, phone, my Facebook page and Patch," he said.
Finally one of the last questions of the night was on communication and transparency within the cities.
"I've often wondered why we don't do an e-newsletter or something when it's so inexpensive," Biernat said.
"It's all on the city website, and I often re-post city news on my Facebook page," Schumm answered.
"I'm the wrong guy when it comes to technology," Marx said further stating he does know that the minutes and agendas are on the city website.
"I'd like there to be more transparency on what's being paid out," Gulick said.
"Albertville rolling out their new website is great timing but I also think text message alerts would be nice too," Olson said.
"While I think it's important to get the info out there quickly and think a newsletter is a great idea, bigger turnouts at meetings would help too," Turpin said.
"The website issue came up four years ago and now that it's updated should help tremendously. The new city clerk is doing a fantastic job but I've even wondered if we could get a city Facebook page. Any feedback is welcome," Sorenson said.
The evening was coined a success, residents said, with good dialogue between candidates and residents and ended with a social time.