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Akeley Mayor Jennifer Mitchell fielded a variety of questions about city taxes, street projects and the Paul Bunyan statue. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

Akeley forum marked by 'no shows'

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Akeley's Monday night candidates' forum was more illuminating for the proverbial empty chairs than it was for the discussion about the city's future.

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Only thee of eight candidates running attended the pubic forum.

"It was hugely disappointing," said Chamber of Commerce President Kristen Fake. "I think it says more with their silence than with their words."

Mayoral candidate Jerry Tatro and council candidates Troy Hegg, Trygve Karl, Donald Sabinske and Kevin Gentry all declined to participate. Hegg is running unopposed for the city's only four-year term. The others are running for two-year terms.

Mayor Jennifer Mitchell dominated most of the discussion since the majority of the questions were directed at her. She repeatedly told the four-dozen audience members how hard she was working for them and the city.

Mitchell touted the fledgling capital improvement plan as a method of driving infrastructure and said it would take a village working together to bring about growth.

"One person isn't going to build a community or facilitate growth," she said of her role as mayor.

She urged residents not to "focus too heavily on the negative aspects" and asked them to become "an active part of the solution."

She invited citizens to city council meetings, board strategy sessions and to become more involved in the city.

Audience members asked her about the Paul Bunyan statue, taxes, law enforcement, city ordinances, water projects and tax incentives for new businesses.

"Yes, I'm looking into that heavily," she said of the tax incentives. She said it would take time to implement such tax breaks to attract new businesses and that an overall plan needed support from the Chamber of Commerce.

She said the city was exploring grants for small cities to complete a variety of urban development projects.

Candidate Dan Riggs, who said he is a relatively new member of the community, invited applause when he demanded more government transparency and said he'd work to lower property taxes that audience members claimed were driving people out of the community.

He said city records should be available to all citizens via the Internet because it's too constricting for citizens to seek the records on city business hours.

The owner of a storage business said he "pays too much property tax."

Council member Terry Chalich said little. In his opening remarks, he said he was disappointed in the way things were running in the city and decided to be part of the solution instead of griping from the sidelines.

As to the tax issue, Mitchell said, "Heck yeah. I live here. I'd love to see taxes decrease every year."

But she urged the city needs to "play smart" and stretch out available funds.

"We're trying to project based on unknowns," she said about the budgeting process currently under way.

The city needs water projects and public safety to lure residents, she added.

The town is in the second year of paying for its own police services. Jimmy Hansen is the sole law officer.

Mitchell said with the exception of 2011, when Akeley incurred unanticipated costs and taxes rose 19 percent, city taxes have generally deceased or remained stable.

"We're moving in the right direction."

The hot button issue seemed to be the mammoth statue of Paul Bunyan on the main drag.

The city has been embroiled in a copyright dispute over the rights to repair the tourist attraction. Meanwhile orange fencing surrounds the wounded giant.

Mitchell said the League of Minnesota Cities recommended the fencing to protect the city from liability and to protect the statue from more vandalism or deterioration.

"You don't know how hard I've been pushing" for a solution to the repairs, she told the audience. "My hope is that we get it cleared up as soon as possible."

Mike O'Rourke acted as forum moderator.

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Sarah Smith
Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.
(218) 732-3364
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