David De La Hunt, Vern Massie, Tom Krueger and Ed Smith are vying for seats on the Hubbard County Board in November's election.
They met Oct. 4 to answer questions at a candidate forum hosted by League of Women Voters (LWV) Park Rapids Area. Sue Tomte served as moderator.
De La Hunt is challenging District 1 incumbent Massie, while Krueger is challenging Smith in District 3.
Ted Van Kempen is the sole candidate for the District 5 opening. He was present Thursday, but did not participate in the forum.
Massie is running for re-election after completing a four-year term as county commissioner. He is a lifelong resident of Hubbard County. In 2013, he retired after 42 years as a Hubbard County planning/zoning and solid waste administrator. He said he has enjoyed serving on the county board.
De La Hunt is a 1985 graduate of Park Rapids Area High School. He received his Bachelor's of Science in electrical engineering in 1990 and has been employed at De La Hunt Broadcasting ever since. He has served as a Henrietta Township supervisor for over 10 years. His wife, Joleen, is Century School Elementary Principal. They have two sons.
Krueger is a U.S. Navy veteran. He was a local resort owner for over 20 years and a licensed realtor for five. He's now in his 18th year serving on the Hubbard County Planning Commission/Board of Adjustment.
Smith, a Vietnam veteran, has served four years as county commissioner. He, too, is a lifelong resident of Hubbard County. He was employed by the county highway department for 32 years, retiring in 2009.
Challenges for county
When asked what are the major challenges facing Hubbard County, Smith said water quality, aquatic invasive species (AIS) contaminations, budgetary considerations, highway maintenance and economic development.
De La Hunt agreed with water quality and AIS, adding drug use and jobs. He said hiring a new Hubbard County Regional Economic Development director - a vacancy created by David Collins' departure - is essential to economic growth. He recommended adding more AIS decontamination stations and more funding for public access inspections.
Massie said social services issues, in connection with drug use, are a challenge. He noted there's a need for more jobs as well. As for AIS infestations, he said, "All we can do is slow it down" through inspections and education.
Krueger agreed that good-paying jobs are an issue. He is also concerned about AIS and suggested requiring AIS training for resort owners.
Encouraging business growth
Massie said the the county has the infrastructure to attract new businesses.
Krueger said, "A really important thing for government to do is to make sure you don't create barriers for private business and entrepreneurs to run their business. Keep taxes as low as possible."
Smith said the county is facing housing and workforce shortages. "One of the first prerequisites to a solid economy is a good transportation system. I worked hard to do that," he said.
De La Hunt reiterated that "the person you pick for the Hubbard County Regional Economic Development director is the voice of the county. That person can do a lot of good. They can forge relationships and partnerships with colleges and universities." Low taxes, low regulation and supporting tourism are also economic drivers, he said.
Balancing economy, environment
"That's always a tightrope to walk sometimes," De La Hunt said. "The thing that drives our economy is our nice lakes, so we have to take care of those things." Being good stewards of the land must be balanced with providing a living for county residents, he said.
Massie said, "Hubbard County's fortunate in that we've got lakes and so much public land. Those are going to be preserved. With the rules and regulations developed over last 40 years, the lakes are being protected. . .I think we've reached a balance."
As a county planning commission member, Krueger said he's already walked that tightrope. "I do want to promote tourism. You've got to balance it with conditions in place that will protect the lakes as well," he said.
Education is vital, Smith said, "in getting people to understand what we have and what we need to do to preserve that." A lot of "good programs" exist to encourage people to populate the county, he added.
Tomte asked, "What's your position on countywide zoning ordinances?"
"We already have it in so many degrees," Massie said.
While subdivisions and sewage are addressed in existing ordinances, Krueger said building codes are not and should be.
De La Hunt said zoning in Henrietta Township is "more comprehensive than what we have countywide. I think townships should be able to do that, so you can keep government as close to the people as possible. But there are some holes."
Improving communication with residents
De La Hunt said the biggest criticism he has about the county's website is that documents are hard to find. "By department it's organized quite well, but sometimes it's hard to find the document you're looking for," he said, adding he'd like to improve that.
Massie described the county website as "a work in progress." The county board and the IT department are always open to suggestions, he said.
As a realtor, Krueger said it is cumbersome to find parcel information on the county website. He agrees it's important to fix that.
Smith agreed with Massie.
Since county board meetings are held during working hours, Tomte asked if the candidates supported audio/video recording of all county commissioner meetings. She noted the equipment is already installed in the boardroom.
"Definitely," Krueger said, saying openness is important. Recordings would also protect commissioners in case something was brought to a lawsuit.
De La Hunt went further, suggesting that a local cable access TV station record the meetings as well for more transparency.
Smith and Massie said they were not opposed to the idea.
All the candidates said they would be accessible via letters, emails, calls or in-person meetings.