Candidates differ on RTCPublished 11:11am Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Tuesday night’s Fergus Falls mayoral candidate forum was marked by different points of view and ideas for the future, perhaps none as markedly different as the candidates’ views on the Regional Treatment Center property.
Close to 50 crowded into the Fergus Falls City Council chambers at 5:30 p.m. to hear the opinions and plans of incumbent Mayor Hal Leland, Pat Connelly, Jeffrey McSorley Jr. and Daryl Synstelien (candidate John Strauch has dropped out of the race, and Ron Melius did not participate). They were presented with a variety of options from the candidates, whose plans ranged from demolition to current redevelopment to preservation for the future.
Calling the city’s handling of the RTC a “boondoggle,” Synstelien said the property should have been handled and marketed by an independent economic development group, not by local government.
“Now, five years later, we can all see the incompetence of city government at creating or stimulating economic development,” he said.
Though he hopes that marketing firm Colliers International will be able to find a buyer for the RTC, Synstelien said he feels it’s unlikely. If no such buyer can be found, he said the city should use its state money to demolish much of the existing structures. Though he was more optimistic about Colliers’ success, current Ward Three alderman Connelly also said that in the event of the firm’s failure, the city should tear down much of the Kirkbride, retaining the tower portion to turn into a “signature venue” for the city.
Contrasting those views were Leland, who believes Colliers is already being successful and who wants the state Legislature to extend the time the city has to spend state grant money on the project, and McSorley, who said the Kirkbride would be a great spot for a mall, business hub, or any number of other economic possibilities.
“There’s just so many different possibilities out there that destroying any of it – it seems wasteful,” he said.
Of course, the mayor in Fergus Falls has a hand in shaping policy decisions like the RTC only indirectly, a fact that candidates were able to address after an audience question about whether the mayor should have a vote. Leland, who attempted to get the city charter changed earlier this year to allow the mayor a vote, said that too much power is put into the hands of the city administrator and that the charter is currently arranged in such a way to limit the mayor’s access to information – giving aldermen an easy excuse to ignore him.
“The no-vote provision relegates the mayor to second class status, as well as those who vote for the mayor,” he said.
Though he’s been in city government for a decade, Leland highlighted his differences with some of the council’s recent policies (as mayor, he opposed actions made in regard to both the new ice arena and the RTC) and stated that more transparency is needed. McSorley, who works at Premier Meats and Seafood, stressed his working-class roots and concern for the average resident’s plight while emphasizing the importance of retaining the city’s young adult population by promoting innovation and business growth.
Synstelien insisted that city government needs to restore trust, financial responsibility and community interaction – even going so far as to invite all voters to visit with him about the issues over coffee at Café 116 from 10 a.m. to noon on Oct. 21 and 27 and promising that he would work to require voter approval of long-term indebtedness. Connelly told voters that he believes the solution to many of the issues facing Fergus Falls in the future, from state aid reductions to business development to budget concerns, can be found by empowering the people already in the city, the “human capital” that will continue to persevere when funds are limited.
“When you take care of the human potential in our community, the financial matters and concerns generally have a way of taking care of themselves,” he said, later adding, “We need to stop comparing ourselves to other places, and focus on greater enhancement of the strengths that exist right here in Fergus Falls.”
The forum will be re-aired on PEG Access TV. The next forum is for the Ward Two candidates at noon Thursday in the city council chamber.