by Paul Rignell
Current incumbents Larry Farber and John Riebel were joined for the Elk River Area Citizens League forum by their respective challengers, Bruce Anderson and Roland “Rollie” Lange.
Farber and Anderson, both of Elk River, will face off in District 1, which covers most of the city. Riebel and Lange, both of Becker, are running in District 3, which includes two precincts in northern Elk River and also Orrock Township.
Following some opening candidate statements, moderator Charlie Blesener asked the men to discuss the county’s biggest challenges. Blesener had announced earlier that the candidates deferred any coin flip to determine who would speak first, which ultimately gave Anderson the first chance to respond, with his name coming first alphabetically.
He responded to Blesener’s first question by speaking of his time as a retired county sheriff. “I think what people are looking for is strong leadership,” Anderson said, “and I’ve provided that over the career of my being a sheriff.
“I’ve worked with lots of cities, townships, school districts,” he added. “I think I can bring a lot to the table as being a county commissioner, and I think that’s probably one of the biggest challenges.”
Farber responded that it is of highest importance for the county to continue boosting economic development. “I understand the taxpayers cannot afford more taxes,” he said, explaining that commercial and industrial business growth will ease that burden. “They also bring in jobs.”
Being another retired law enforcement officer who has worked as a police detective among other positions, Farber added that the existence and expansion of the Northstar commuter rail line has begun to aid development, first with residential growth, to be followed by commercial. “We are working with cities to encourage this economic growth,” Farber said, “and finally manufacturing will follow.”
Lange agreed economic development is important, and he emphasized there is great need for business growth in the western portion of the county. “Sherburne County is a drive-through county,” he said. “We need to find a way to get people to stop and spend their money.
“I look for that opportunity to work as a developer.”
Lange said he has envisioned a “Salute Center” for the Clear Lake area that could include gas stations, quality restaurants and overnight lodging, plus central statues to honor – or salute – veterans and farmers.
Riebel said this county and others continue to be challenged by unfunded mandates handed down from state government. “We need to somehow get the state Legislature to help us out a little bit and relieve some of these mandates or change them,” he said, adding it is also critical for the county to keep its budget from growing.
“We’ve still been delivering the services that our constituents expect us to do,” he added.
Blesener asked the candidates to tell why they are running. With the order for responses changing as it had for each of the forum questions, Farber spoke first of how he has enjoyed being involved in local politics since he joined the Elk River City Council 20 years ago.
He noted that being a local official gives the constituents more of a chance to meet their representatives on the street or in a store. “My love for that has grown every year,” Farber said.
He joined the county board in 2009, and said that has given him new experience. “I found it’s a much different job than city council,” Farber said. “It’s a lot more involved, and it’s kind of one of those unknown units of government that people really don’t understand.
“I love it,” he added. “We are the arms and legs of the state and federal government. All programs that are enacted at the state and federal level are put into act by the county, whether they’re funded or unfunded. They’re mandates.”
Anderson said it was a “tough decision” to file for county board. “I enjoyed retirement, but I’ve been asked by a lot of people to come back into public service.
“I have a lot of support in this community. I have a lot of support outside this community,” he added. “They know how I’ve operated, what I can do, and I can give back.”
“I enjoy working with people,” said Riebel as the question shifted to his side of the table with Lange. “I like to look at the individual budgets of each department, and to me that’s a challenge to see if they’re spending too much, what their increases are. As a business person, I itemize a lot of it. I watch taxpayers’ dollars very, very closely.”
Lange replied, “I’m the only candidate (here) that hasn’t served in the public sector but I have in the private sector, so I’m going to bring a different vision to the county and help build jobs. It’s all about jobs. … If we don’t start planting seeds here for change, anything we do at this particular level, no matter who’s elected, won’t make any difference.”
Additional questions that were submitted by audience participants asked the candidates to speak on issues of transportation, public health and the schedule and broadcast of county board meetings, among other topics. The forum ran for nearly 90 minutes and will be rerun on ERtV Channel 12 prior to Election Day.