A TALE OF TWO CITIES: And the new mayors elected to run them
In addition to Nov. 6 determining the course of the U.S. Presidency and fate of the two amendments on Minnesota’s state ballot, residents in Champlin and Dayton had another reason to head to the polls in droves – new city leadership. Both of the city’s incumbent mayors chose not to run for re-election this year. Dayton Mayor Doug Anderson announced his retirement several months before the election and Champlin Mayor Mark Uglem announced his desire to seek a higher office.
Champlin City Council Member ArMand Nelson was at the Champlin American Legion surrounded by family and friends as he awaited his fate. Having run a campaign against a fellow council member, Greg Payer — both of whom were giving up re-election bids to their current ward seats for the chance at the leadership position — Nelson was aware of the consequences. After the evening’s tallies, at least one of them would be leaving the council at the end of this year. In fact, with a third candidate in the mix, Ryan Sabas, who ran on his success as a business owner, could have delivered defeat to both council members.
The voters spoke in favor of Nelson, handing him the mayoral victory with more than 36 percent of the vote, coming in 342 votes ahead of Sabas and 808 votes ahead of Payer.
“It was very competitive and I think my experience on the council pushed me over the top,” said Nelson. “What I heard while knocking on doors is that most people like the way the city is currently run.”
Nelson’s focus is on providing the most value for their tax dollars to the taxpayers.
“This includes all the services we provide from road repairs to snow removal to emergency services and more,” said Nelson.
He also believes it’s important to keep progress moving on the Mississippi Crossing redevelopment to add to the city’s bottom-line tax base. The project’s vision is designed to revamp the look and use of property nestled on the banks of the Mississippi in the northern portion of the city.
Because the issue came to the forefront during this past election season, Nelson would also like to see if changes can be made going forward in the way the council replaces members who leave their terms early. He said he heard from many residents in Ward 1 that they would have liked the chance to vote on the replacement versus having the council appoint someone. Nelson would like to look into the plausibility of holding a special election if similar circumstances arise in the future.
Dayton Mayor Doug Anderson announced his intentions to retire early on in the election season. Council Member Tim McNeil, in his second term on the council, announced his intentions shortly thereafter. He found himself in a race for the mayoral seat with Anne Ziebell, the city’s Public Safety Commission Chair since 2006. Ziebell also did a stint on the council from 1997 to 2000. Ziebell’s decision to run for mayor was initially made to take a stand against anyone running unopposed.
“But as I was brought up to speed on the issues of the day I quickly realized that Dayton is truly at a crossroads with regard to its future,” she said.
Ziebell offered her best wishes to all the council members and the mayor in the hopes they are successful in creating a solid future for Dayton.
She cited issues of housing development, business development, regulations and fees, support of the interchange city hall staffing and more as concerns she came across in her campaign.
McNeil approached his campaign very similarly to the way he’d been approaching residents throughout his tenure on the council, through email updates and a lot of legwork. He helped organize meet and greets, where other local candidates were also invited and attended the I-94 West Chamber of Commerce candidate forum. As much as he strived to be out in the community meeting people and finding out there concerns, come Election night, McNeil found himself in a different position. While he planned on stopping by three or four Election night gatherings he discovered at the first location that it was impossible to access the Internet because of the mass of people trying to do so. He returned home to finish watching the results come in, albeit staying connected to friends and supporters through social media.
McNeil’s platform has been that of approaching the city’s finances with a conservative hand and to remain very conscientious about telling people what to do or how to do it with their own property. Earning 54.24 percent of the vote, McNeil’s categorical win demonstrates the voters seem to agree with his philosophy.
“I doubt residents will see anything that resembles drastic change,” said McNeil. “Like most communities, Dayton has been hit by the economic slow-down, which limits our ability to actually do things, because doing things requires money and with slow growth and decreasing property values, money is in short supply everywhere.”
While residents were in favor of McNeil stepping into the mayoral role, they were divided in selecting the two councilors to fill the open seats. Scott Hoke did not run for re-election but Phil Forseth did; however, he was edged out by 15 votes.
“With the current council having nearly 70 years of experience, the next council will begin with just 8 years of experience,” McNeil stated in a post on his website www.timmcneil.com. “There will be many hard choices, and lots of learning to do. We will have to see how many promises were made, and how many can be kept.”
Looking ahead, McNeil says he has studied the campaigns of all the candidates and has come up with a set of unifying priorities for the council which include: move forward with the interchange in a fiscally sound manner; examine the budget and make sure our spending and debt are sustainable and reachable when compared to neighboring cities; reach out to the business and building communities to find ways to make Dayton more inviting; and ensure Dayton can maintain a rural feel as long as possible while still promoting growth.
He adds a fifth priority, which seems to be a demonstrated strength in his skill set: make sure our communication with residents is proactive, not reactive.
McNeil said the current council implements many of these priorities already.
He would also like to have the council and staff participate in a goal-setting session based on these priorities.
“Obviously one person alone cannot do anything on a council of five people, even if that one person is the mayor,” said McNeil. “With a group that can agree on the boarder goals, I would expect great things, even with the limited resources the current economy has given us.”
While Champlin has seen more development and is working on refining its business community and redeveloping Mississippi Crossings into what could be a signature locale for the city, Dayton is facing the challenges of balancing their small town qualities with the need to be prepared for development. Many of the issues facing these communities are different; however, both Nelson and McNeil will lead councils with new members who will experience a learning curve over the next couple of years. Both mayors will step into roles armed with experience, which they will need to continue to navigate the priorities for each city and the challenges that may arise in the coming two years.