Park Rapids City Council candidates stake out their positions
The Park Rapids Area League of Women Voters held a candidate forum on Monday, Sept. 27 for city council candidates.
Three candidates running for the Park Rapids City Council took questions from the audience during a League of Women Voters (LWV) candidate forum on Monday.
Joe Christensen, Tim D. Little and Erika Randall are running for two available seats on the council in the November election. Randall is an incumbent who has served for 10 years on the council, while fellow council member Tom Conway is stepping down at the end of his term.
It was the first of a three-night series of “meet the voter” events on the lower level of Northwoods Bank in Park Rapids.
Moderator LuAnn Hurd-Lof explained that the LWV sponsors the forums to give the public an opportunity to hear candidates discuss the issues that are important to members of the public.
Hurd-Lof gave each candidate time for brief opening and closing remarks before reading pre-screened questions submitted by the crowd. Approximately 30 people attended the forum.
‘On vacation all year’
In his opening and closing statements, Christensen called Park Rapids a beautiful place where he was lucky to grow up. “I want to serve my community,” he said.
Christensen said he has a good working relationship with city employees and surrounding townships. “I’ve got a pretty good understanding of what they want to do,” he said, “and it’d be nice if I could help serve in any way that I can.”
Noting that he had a chance to leave town about 25 years ago, he said, “I stayed because I love it. I’m on vacation all year. I’d like to help our community stay so that everybody can be on vacation all year.”
Being there to help
Little also described himself as a Park Rapids native who worked here his entire career. Now retired after a 31-year as a city employee, he also served as a firefighter for 24 years.
“I know pretty much everybody who works for the city,” he said. “I know quite a bit about the city – not everything, but quite a bit – and I thought this would just be a good way to give back to the city.”
If elected, he said, “I would like to be there to help the city of Park Rapids.”
Enjoying her time
Randall said when she was asked to fill out the remainder of an unexpired term, she never expected to enjoy serving on the council as much as she has.
“I have lived in Park Rapids for 20 years,” she said, “came here right out of law school. My parents were both born and raised in Park Rapids, so I grew up coming here, and so I was pretty lucky to find a job (here), and this is where I have now raised my family.”
She recalled serving on the finance and personnel committees, the airport commission and the Armory board, and being involved in all aspects of the city.
“We’ve had some struggles, but I think we’ve come through really strong,” she said.
Areas of discussion
There was general agreement between the candidates in their responses to the audience’s questions.
- Asked what issues motivated them to run, Christensen said public safety, infrastructure for economic growth and supporting the arts. Little noted that in parts of the city, utilities are pushing 75 years old, increasing the risk of sewer backups and watermain breaks. Randall stressed the city’s economic stability, saying the city has been working hard to budget for upcoming needs.
- All three candidates agreed a local sales tax would help fund road and infrastructure projects, though Christensen added that he’s “not a fan of it, necessarily.” Randall argued a sales tax-funded street project would benefit visitors who shop in town, and both she and Little said it would mean local taxpayers won’t foot the full bill.
- Regarding the city’s role in regulating the sale of cannabis products, Randall said it will be important for the council to “come up with some parameters so that it can be allowed in a way that reflects what’s important to our community.” Christensen emphasized regulating locations and curbing marketing directed at kids. Little compared the regulation of CBD to that of tobacco and alcohol.
- On the need for additional housing, Christensen cited “a huge need” to develop more buildable lots. Little said apartments added in recent years have helped, but more is needed. Randall said the city is working closely with the Heartland Lakes Development Commission to find ways to offset developers’ costs without burdening taxpayers.
- Asked how the city should use liquor store revenue, Randall quipped, “What aren’t they used for?” and recalled using it to buy squad cars, fund building and street projects and support the airport. Christensen said the funds should be spent on public safety needs.
- As to how they would inform themselves about a problem and look for possible solutions, Randall said she would follow the chain of command, going to the city administrator or the relevant department head. Christensen emphasized teamwork with city staff.
- Regarding how to create a welcoming and inclusive community, Little and Christensen pointed to the city’s parks, art programs and downtown area. Randall added that the city council holds its meetings at a time when working people can be involved.
- On whether the city will recreate a public swimming beach on the Fish Hook River, Christensen quipped, “If you want swimmer’s itch, let’s do it.” Little said there isn’t enough room. Randall called it an asset the city is missing, but admitted that for the reasons above and issues involving the DNR, it’s not realistic.
- Asked about the dead trees and brush along State Hwy. 34, Randall said she has discussed potential safety issues with public works staff, and suggested that the city’s Parks and Beautification Board could budget for landscaping improvements. Little added that it’s a state right-of-way and due to the traffic, it’s impossible to grow anything there.
- Regarding sidewalk plowing, Christensen agreed that the city should do it because many people don’t shovel their sidewalks. Little said it’s difficult because of the time and expense, and Randall agreed, noting that city personnel have areas they must plow first and other areas may have to wait for a day or two.
- Asked about extending utilities to Discovery Circle, Little and Randall agreed that since the area has been annexed, the city will eventually have to do so. Christensen said this needs to be done before the neighborhood’s aging septic systems fail and residents spend a lot of money replacing them.
- All three candidates agreed that tax increment financing has been beneficial, helping businesses get started in Park Rapids.
Hurd-Lof reminded participants that Mayor Ryan Leckner is also running for another term, unopposed.