Sawatzke defeats Thelen, 4 new commissioners elected

By John Holler

Earlier this year, it became obvious that the Wright County Board of Commissioners was going to be markedly different in 2013 that it has been for more than 20 years. With two commissioners opting not to run for re-election and two of the other three moved into the same commissioner district thanks to redistricting following the 2010 census, it was clear that there would be a new-look county board.

On Tuesday, Nov. 6, voters went to the polls and made their decisions on several different elections and ballot questions and, when all the votes were tallied, Commissioner Pat Sawatzke defeated Board Chair Rose Thelen to retain his commissioner seat.

The two had waged a spirited campaign that at times boiled over in the board room over the last few months as Thelen, whose district underwent significant change, tried to win over voters in Monticello, Sawatzke’s hometown.

Thelen fought for the board to select a different redistricting option that wouldn’t put her in the same district as Sawatzke, but, when that effort failed, she contemplated pulling out of the race because she felt it was going to be an uphill battle.

“As soon as they completed redistricting, I thought about not running,” Thelen said. “I knew I would be a long shot, because I wasn’t a known commodity in Monticello and it was Pat’s hometown. There were a lot of factors that were involved. I never really had aspired for political office. My role was more as an advocate for causes I felt strongly in. I had a passionate core group of supporters that encouraged me to run four years ago and again this year and I thank them for all the support they gave me, but, in the end, it wasn’t enough to overcome.”

In the end, it was Monticello and Monticello Township that made the difference in the election. Sawatzke won the election by 744 votes (6,249-5,505) and held a 900-vote advantage in Monticello and Monticello Township, but he credited his efforts in the new portion of his commissioner district as critical to his victory.

“I tried to get out in the area first to get my name out there and let those folks know where I stood and what I represented,” Sawatzke said. “I spent the last two or three weeks working back on my base of support in and around Monticello. I always felt good about my chances, but Rose ran a strong campaign and I knew it was going to be a battle to win re-election.”

Thelen said she has no current plans to seek political office again, whether locally or in four years when the District 2 seat comes up for re-election. She said the last five months since the primary took a toll on her, where she felt she was something of an outsider with the board — the other three sitting commissioners all endorsed Sawatzke. However, she said she was proud of her efforts to create change on the board and fought hard for causes she believed in.

“I think it was clear that the people I represented that voted me into office four years ago were happy with the job I did,” Thelen said. “I didn’t agree with the ‘business as usual’ policy at the county that resisted change because it wasn’t how they had done things for the last 20 years. I think, if nothing else, I showed that you could have a difference of opinion and make change — whether it was popular with the other commissioners or not.”

Sawatzke also considered not running for re-election, but, when it became obvious that three new seats would be open on the board (and a fourth would be added when Commissioner Dick Mattson lost his re-election bid in the primary), he decided to run for another term to provide experience and continuity to the county board. However, he said that this will be his last county board election.

“I was encouraged to run because of the amount of turnover we knew was coming,” Sawatzke said. “I don’t plan to be a candidate in four years. By then, we will have a board that has experience and I won’t feel that same obligation to run again.”

The four new commissioners that won election Nov. 6 and will join Sawatzke on the board in January are Christine Husom (District 1), Mark Daleiden (District 3), Mike Potter (District 4) and Charlie Borrell (District 5).

In items on the Nov. 6 agenda, the board:

AUTHORIZED signatures on a $10,000 state grant for the coming implementation of a new 911 emergency network. The initial grant is the first phase of a multi-phase project that will allow the county to connect to the state’s information database. No county dollars were involved in this portion of the grant.

OPTED not to schedule a budget committee of the whole meeting prior to the Dec. 6 Truth In Local Taxation hearing. The county set its 2013 draft budget and certified levy in September and it was felt that no further meetings needed to be held prior to getting public input at the TILT meeting. The county has the option to reduce both the budget and levy prior to final adoption, but can’t raise either the budget or levy after it approved the draft.

APPROVED a retainer agreement with the consulting firm Greene Espel to provide technical assistance the planning and zoning department when environmental issues arise that will require the county to get an expert opinion.

REFERRED discussion of reserved parking spaces in the courthouse parking lot to the building committee.

APPROVED a planning commissioner recommendation to rezone a pair of parcels owned by Barry Hart of Silver Creek Township from Ag General and B-1 Highway Business to B-2 General Business.