Three now in running for open Elk River council seat; two drop out

by Joni Astrup

Associate editor

Two of the five people seeking appointment to an open seat on the Elk River City Council have dropped out of contention due to job-related issues.

An Elk River City Council agenda.

An Elk River City Council agenda.

Bernard Ruppert and Brett Dexheimer have both withdrawn from consideration.

Ruppert accepted a full-time job and the hours conflict with City Council meetings, according to Elk River City Clerk Tina Allard.

Dexheimer told the council during his interview that a year to 18 months from now there is a good possibility that he will have to travel extensively as part of his job. It’s something he wasn’t anticipating when he applied for the council seat.

Dexheimer withdrew his application for the council seat the next day, Allard said.

The remaining candidates are Nick Freitag, Barbara Olsen and Stewart Wilson.

They and Dexheimer were were interviewed by the City Council Tuesday, Feb. 5. In addition, Wilson, Olsen and Freitag have been invited to participate in a forum that’s open to the public and begins at 9 a.m. today (Saturday, Feb. 9) at Elk River City Hall, 13065 Orono Parkway.

The council intends to select an applicant Monday, Feb. 11, to fill the remaining two years of former Council Member Nick Zerwas’ Ward 1 term, through Dec. 31, 2014. Zerwas was elected to the Legislature in November.

Freitag has indicated if appointed, he envisions running for the council seat in 2014.

Wilson has said if appointed, he would not anticipate running in 2014.

Olsen said if she is appointed, she can’t be sure at this point if she would run or not in two years.

Candidates answer questions from city

Here are the remaining three candidates’ answers to some of the questions posed by the city in the application for Ward 1 council member.

What aspects of your current or past occupation(s) will help you as a City Council member?

Freitag: My job consists of constant problem solving, using reason and critical thinking.

Olsen: I have always worked with the public in several jobs and professions. I find that to be invaluable experience.

Wilson: I have worked at the bank (The Bank of Elk River) for 37 years. The banking business has provided me a strong background understanding finance, lending, budgets, the local economy, managing employees and how to productively and effectively work with people and businesses.

Why does appointment to this elective office interest you? Why should the City Council appoint you to this vacancy?

Freitag: I believe that I share the opinion of many local families and I would like to be their voice. I will do what is best for the city, always.

Olsen: I was a political science major in college. I have always had a fascination with the political process, and am interested in making it a better system. I ran against Dan Erhart for county commissioner in Anoka County. It takes common sense, an open mind, a willingness to listen and the toughness to make difficult decisions when you are a representative of the people.

Wilson: There have been some residents of Ward 1 that asked me to apply for the appointment. I have been active in city government for many years and would consider it an honor and privilege to be appointed by the council to serve the remainder of Nick Zerwas’ term. I feel my years of experience in the financial industry and in city government have well-prepared me to serve on the council. I feel I have a strong understanding of how the council functions, having worked with the council many times and also having made presentations to the council. I consider myself as being open-minded, conciliatory in nature coupled with a strong desire to do what I feel is best for the ward and the city.

How do you deal with conflict or criticism?

Freitag: By assessment, dissection and then choosing the best course of action of response; whether it be by action or attitude; internal or external.

Olsen: When discussing differences of opinion one needs to study the facts from all sides of the issue. Courtesy should be utilized at all times. We learn by listening to facts from as many sources as possible. One should always keep an open mind and be receptive to all ideas.

Wilson: I attempt to manage conflict in a well-thought, un-emotional context. I appreciate the other person’s differing point of view understanding the reality of disagreement, especially in a public forum. Nonetheless, I would feel compelled to tactfully verse my contrary opinion. I feel divergent points of view can be healthy and ultimately lead to a desirable solution formed by healthy discussion, negotiation and compromise. Criticism is extremely useful if it is constructive in nature. I welcome that kind of criticism because it causes me to become better rounded as a person and leader. Negative, punitive criticism is more difficult to digest. Again, I understand the reality that there are people that will find fault no matter what. I do my best to let this type of criticism roll off my back and not be consumed by it.

What do you think are the major issues facing the city in the next three years?

Freitag: That is what I would like to learn about and help fix.

Olsen: 

•Continued level of services while maintaining a reasonable tax rate.

•Making an effort to attract clean industry and expanding retail outlets.

•Keeping up the infrastructure.

•Keeping Elk River a safe, yet progressive place to live for all age groups.

Wilson: Elk River real estate values were drastically lowered as a result of the Great Recession. The effect of the decreased values has rippled through many areas of the community, causing strain on many levels. The stabilization of values can lead to accurate budgets and financial forecasts within which the city can effectively appropriate its revenues to the benefit of its citizens. That being said, financial issues will remain a significant issue and concern for municipal governments, in including the city of Elk River.

Maintaining and attracting industrial growth is also a major issue. Existing jobs, new jobs, existing tax base and increased tax base are all areas the City Council and staff must be paying strict attention to.

There has been a lot of work done by the city on revitalizing the downtown area of Elk River. There are more opportunities to further enhance downtown for additional commerce, recreation and leisure to serve as a focal point of identity for the community. The development of Bailey Point Park could serve as another catalyst to spur more visits to the downtown vicinity.

About the candidates

Nick Freitag

•director of sales and marketing at Alliance Machine Inc. in Elk River.

•has been involved in Habitat for Humanity, Gateway Church and the Chamber of Commerce.

•has lived in Elk River for a total of 29 years, most recently returning to Elk River in November after living in Rogers for 2.5 years. He also spent two years in Alaska after graduating from college with an education degree.

•played basketball for the Elks, for a junior college in Rochester and for a university in South Dakota.

•he and his wife have two children.

Barbara Olsen

•a real estate broker who owns her company, Best Way Realty. Olsen also is employed as an office assistant in the Sherburne County Assessor’s Office.

•grew up in St. Cloud and was a political science major in college and once ran against Dan Earhart for Anoka County commissioner.

•served on the Coon Rapids Planning and Zoning Commission for more than 10 years.

•a member of Central Lutheran Church/WHY Church; a member of the national, Minnesota and St. Paul Association of Realtors; and a member of MAAP Minnesota Association of Assessment Personnel.

•has lived in Elk River for 17 years.

•she and her husband have one son. Her brother-in-law is Nick Olsen, who was principal of Elk River High School before retiring.

Stewart Wilson

•senior vice president at The Bank of Elk River, where he has worked since 1975.

•current chair of the Elk River Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA) and an HRA commissioner for 16 years.

•served on the Elk River Planning Commission in the 1980s and was on the Guardian Angels board for 17 years.

•has a bachelor’s degree in political science.

•a lifelong Elk River resident.

•he and his wife have two children and two grandsons

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