Candidates question city leadershipPublished 11:06am Friday, October 12, 2012
Alderman Jim Fish defended the city council’s record with pride as his Ward Two challengers hoped to trade on resident dissatisfaction at the latest city council candidate forum Thursday at noon in the Fergus Falls City Council chambers.
Though six filed for mayor’s office, Ward Two (the city’s northeast section) is the most sought-after city council seat in 2012, with incumbent Fish facing off against Nathan Gramley, Mathew Larson and Robert Reisch. During the forum, Fish took a more pro-city government approach as Larson, Reisch and Gramley (who was not present but submitted written answers to some questions) focused on what they saw as a lack of true representation of the people by the council.
“We can bring back integrity and help restore that trust that people have lost,” said Reisch, who repeatedly used the phrase “back door politics” to describe many of the council’s recent decisions.
A big issue for Reisch is the reining in of the city’s Port Authority, which he said has too much power to approve projects without voter consent. The Port Authority (which is made up of sitting council members) was influential in securing the funding for the city’s new ice arena project while ignoring a petition to put the bonding process for the arena up for a vote.
Larson focused less on distrust and more on getting back to basics in city government, funding city necessities (roads and infrastructure, public safety and economic development among them, he said) and then allowing special projects to use what’s left. He cited water pressure problems in the south part of town as a key area that may be being ignored while less essential projects are moving forward.
“If you can keep those priorities, I believe that you can keep a solid base in your community,” he said, noting that a solid base is what convinces business owners and families to move to town.
Fish stood up for recent council decisions, including the city’s handling of the Lake Alice water quality project and its dealings regarding the Kirkbride building (which he said should be torn down, except the tower, if a developer can’t be found soon). He also looked to the future, focusing particularly on the city’s slow but steady build-up to a library project of some kind, be it a new building, an expansion or a move. He would like to see the library continue to improve its range of resources, with an increased emphasis on technological learning in addition to books.
“There are things that we need to do with the library, but at this point we are going very slowly with that whole process and feeling out the town and getting the wishes of the people in the town as to what we need to do,” he said.
He added that he might like to see a local option sales tax pay for the project in order to get money from users outside of city limits, but he noted that the current tax to pay for the city’s new ice arena would legally have to expire for a year, putting the library project at least five or six years down the road.
Though he was not present at the meeting, Gramley made his voice heard with some sharply-worded responses read by moderator Tom Rufer. In an early remark, he blasted the resources used to fund the Tower Road bridge project (even though most of the funding came from non-city sources) and accused the council of a breach of trust.
“Our leadership is divided into power-hungry, money-based political falsehoods that the citizens entrusted to do what is best for the community,” Gramley wrote.
The forum will be re-aired on PEG Access TV. The next forum is for the Ward Three candidates at noon Monday in the city council chamber.