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County board candidates offer their ideas

Douglas County commissioner candidates (left to right) Owen Miller, Heather Larson, Mike Woods, Charlie Meyer, Tim Kalina and Judy Backhaus, answer questions at a forum Thursday evening. (Al Edenloff / Echo Press)

Lakes, improvements to the county, vacation rental by owners and planning for the future were just a few of the topics discussed at a debate Thursday night with six candidates vying for the three open seats on the Douglas County Board.

The 75-minute debate at Alexandria City Hall, sponsored by the Alexandria Area League of Women Voters and the Alexandria chapter of the American Association of University Women, featured questions submitted by the audience, along with opening and closing statements from each candidate.

Below is a summary of the statements from Judy Backhaus and Tim Kalina in District 2, incumbent Charlie Meyer and Mike Woods in District 4, and incumbent Owen Miller and Heather Larson in District 5.

Ideas for improvements

Backhaus: Overhaul the comprehensive plan for lakes in the county. Plan would be preventative, not reactive. Identify funding.

Kalina: Agreed with Backhaus on lakes. Spend dollars on needs, not wants, and with taxpayers in mind.

Meyer: Improve communication skills. Work on accountability.

Woods: Listen to each other. Keep open line of communication. Joked about putting in an outdoor swimming pool.

Larson: Growth within infrastructure. Create more jobs and employment.

Miller: Open communication. Would like more phone calls from constituents before election. Wants residents to attend meetings.

Lakes

Kalina: Quality of lakes starts with residents and how they use them. Limit fertilizers used by lakeshore owners. Research methods for salt use. Will take joint effort by all.

Meyer: People need to be educated on rules for VRBOs. Rules are in place, but enforcement needs to be done. Continue to work on invasive species.

Woods: Take a serious look at sewer systems, and spend money on them. Time for county to look at the future of lakes as the county is growing.

Larson: Not an authority on this issue. Knows efforts have been made. Trust in the DNR standards. Spend dollars to educate the public. Look at grants as funding options.

Miller: Listen to the experts. Attend lake association meetings. Likes the boat cleaning stations. Lakeshore owners have to do their part.

Backhaus: Need an overall comprehensive plan. Bring in experts. Water quality just as important as invasive species. Put regulations in place. Need consistent enforcement. Need to educate the masses.

Repairing relationships with employees

Meyer: Believes there is a process for building relationships and that some trust may have been irrevocably destroyed during negotiations. There have been huge misunderstandings. It's been a difficult year. Communication is key. "We can't change some things, but we can do the best we can."

Woods: Would recommend that administration be consistent. No department should be different and should be offered the same base rate for insurance. If departments have different options, it adds to mistrust.

Larson: Open door policy has to be in place. If you put invite out there, you have to be willing to listen. Find a way to make it work. Needs to be a level playing field for union and non-union employees.

Miller: County board indicates intentions to designated individual, who brings information to union rep. Union members vote on it. Work through negotiator if there's a problem. If 51 percent vote in favor of an issue, be upset with members, not county board. "There's a process in place. We try to meet demands, but stay within the contract."

Backhaus: Reopen cases if need be. Use letter of understanding or memo of understanding. Admit mistakes. "Back up the train, apologize and fix it."

Kalina: Problem is communication between commissioners and coordinator. Feels left hand doesn't know what right hand is doing. Needs to be more communication.

Working together

Woods: Believes it is vital to work together. Share staff and equipment. Have more coordination between two entities. Share services. School, city, townships, county should all put money in a pot and then do what they need to do with it. "We need to work together. It's all about the taxpayers."

Larson: Needs to be more fluidity in the whole county. Not a lot of complaining by city employees, but a lot with county. Work together and communicate effectively.

Miller: City, county and school districts do work together. There is cooperation. All entities need to look at homeless situation.

Backhaus: Strongly supports city and county working together, especially if same issue, like VRBOs. Don't duplicate services. Vital to work together because it's more than just Alexandria.

Kalina: Cut down on duplicated services. Share equipment. Share costs of equipment and split use. Save money when working together.

Meyer: It's a great idea to work together when it works. Have been times it hasn't worked. Difficult when each entity has own ordinances for following state building code. Need to have same rules, regulations.

Planning for future

Larson: Parks and preserving habitat important. Develop plan for 25 years in the future. Look at funding options.

Miller: Plans are being developed for area parks. Excited about new Brophy Lake park. Parks superintendent has plans for future. Great job done at Kensington Rune Stone Park.

Backhaus: Make three, five and 10-year plans. Plans need to be made now because county is growing. Plans need to be reviewed annually. Changes need to be looked at and adjustments need to be made. Re-evaluate what's changed and write plans accordingly.

Kalina: Make 20-year plan. No need to acquire more land. Concerned about wetlands, don't give credit or allow to be moved. Wetlands need to be preserved as is.

Meyer: Need to make a commitment for forever. Believes everyone should view the new interpretive center at Kensington Runestone Park. Can't wait for Brophy Park to be completed; it's a great project.

Woods: County needs a "really" long-range plan. Needs to be responsive and reactive. No trading of wetlands. County park system is great.

Increased salaries, per diems

Miller: Salary increase was in line with others. Only receive one per diem per day if attending a meeting, not one per diem per meeting. Time spent as commissioner is more than just at county board meeting. Spends 35-40 hours per week as county commissioner.

Backhaus: Was surprised at amount of per diems, salary. Wouldn't have voted in favor of increase. Believes it is a service job, not a make-money job.

Kalina: Increase shouldn't have been done. Wants to change things for the better. If you can't trust board, something is wrong. "I would have voted against it (increases)."

Meyer: We took raises two years in a row, but there's lot more to the job than people know. Never read so much in his whole life. Trust goes both ways. On other candidates' comments about the board's spending decisions and treatment of employees: "I'm only going to listen to so many name callings."

Woods: Mixed emotions about raises. Close to full-time job. If elected, will take salary, but won't take per diems.

Larson: Understands increase. Wants more accountability. Commissioners should document time spent at meetings.

Closing statements

Miller: Enjoys working, learning and experience of being county commissioner. Looking forward to another four years.

Larson: Doesn't proclaim to know everything. Can provide fresh perspective. Will have open mind, willingness to work hard.

Woods: Will give 100 percent. Will rely on experts to help him make decisions.

Meyer: Is motivated. Wants to bring fiscal responsibility to the board. Wants to collaborate with other counties.

Kalina: Likes a challenge. Wants to hear opinions. Hopes people get more involved.

Backhaus: Proud of county. Proud of employees who she feels are great. Organized. Likes to communicate and listen. Happy there wasn't any dirty politics.

Celeste Edenloff

Celeste is a reporter for the Alexandria Echo Press and has lived in the Alexandria Lakes Area since 1997. She first worked for the Echo Press as a reporter from 1999 to 2011, and returned in June 2016 to report on the community she calls home. Besides writing articles for the Echo Press, she has a blog, “Newspaper Girl on the Run.” Celeste is on a continuous healthy living journey and loves to teach bootcamp fitness classes and run. She has participated in nearly 200 races with her husband, Al, covering the 5K, 10K, 10-mile and half-marathon (13.1 mile) distances.

(320) 763-1242
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