Archived Story

Candidates: City needs to restore trust

Published 10:56am Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Local election season kicked off in earnest in Fergus Falls Monday when the first city council candidate forum took place at city hall.

Ward Four candidates Anthony Hicks and Pam Ness spoke about their hopes for the city and their plans if elected to the city council. Tim King, the other candidate for the Ward Four spot, could not attend the forum, and moderator Tom Rufer read King’s brief written answers to the questions provided by the forum’s sponsor, Noon Kiwanis.

Green Plains – Otter Tail General Manager Hicks touched many times on an undercurrent of dissatisfaction with the current council, while Glyndon City Clerk Ness (she commutes every day from Fergus Falls) touted her government and budgetary experience. Communication with residents was key for both candidates.

“We seem to have lost the art of listening to the people and hearing what they say,” said Hicks, noting that he often attends council meetings where he feels sitting alderman don’t listen to the public’s concerns.

“I feel that we’ve lost a certain amount of trust,” he added.

Both candidates heavily emphasized community involvement by Ward Four, stressing that they want residents’ input about what city services are needed, where the city budget can be reduced, and what infrastructure improvements are necessary. Ness voiced concern over the projected spike in city property taxes this year, warning that taxes could rise to the point where those with fixed income are struggling to make ends meet.

“You could be essentially taxing people right out of their homes,” she said.

The candidates were in agreement on many questions asked. Both said that road maintenance should be a big priority, both cited past credentials when it comes to fiscal responsibility (Hicks in the pork and ethanol industries, and Ness in the non-profit and governmental fields), and both emphasized government transparency. Hicks suggested a clearer long-term look at city capital projects (the city does have a capital improvement plan), and Ness emphasized the community ownership of local government.

“The city works for the residents,” she said. “We don’t work for the mayor, we don’t work for anyone up here, we work for the people in the community.”

The Regional Treatment Center property came up several times throughout the discussion. Both candidates praised the council’s recent deal with Colliers International to market the historic site, and both expressed hope that all or part of the structure could be saved – preferably in a way that creates economic growth.

Hicks, however, was more critical of the council’s handling of the structure, just one of the issues he pointed to as evidence that the council needs “new blood.”

“The state funding allows for a number of different options, which include mothballing, improving the infrastructure as well as to demolish all or parts of it,” he said. “I believe we should have used the time and state money more productively by engaging in the appropriate persons and organizations much earlier.”

Ness, Hicks and King are running for the council spot currently held by JoEllen Thacker, who is not running for office this year.

The forum will be re-aired on PEG Access TV. The next forum is for the mayoral candidates at 5:30 p.m. today in the city council chamber.

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