Crow Wing County voters will see a familiar name on the ballot among those running to represent District 2 on the county board, but it may not be the one that probably comes to mind.
Bill Brekken, a longtime Brainerd lakes area resident and RE/MAX associate, filed his candidacy for office Friday, June 1, in a bid to unseat Commissioner Paul Thiede, chairman of the board.
"I believe that my time serving the community in the private and nonprofit sectors has prepared me to enter into public service because I've been on the front lines seeing the effect that county policy has on people every day," Brekken said in his announcement.
He managed the Herberger's department store chain for 17 years at the Brainerd location and later served on the board of directors for Lakewood Bank (now known as BlackRidgeBANK), and later as the institution's business development coordinator for seven years.
Brekken was also the executive director of the Brainerd Lakes Area Community Foundation, worked with the Center for Lifelong Learning at Central Lakes College, and, most recently, in the real estate industry with the commercial division of RE/MAX Lakes Area Realty.
"I know what it's like to be a small business owner, an educational professional, and a nonprofit leader in this community and, if elected, I plan to draw on those experiences as I represent the district," Brekken said.
Thiede announced his intention in May to run again, citing his desire to continue the financial successes the board has overseen during his time. The district represents the cities of Crosslake, Breezy Point, Jenkins, Pequot Lakes, Breezy Point and Nisswa.
Thiede served in public office intermittently since 1979, when he was elected to the Minnesota Legislature. He served until 1981 and then returned to office 1983-89. Thiede won a seat on the county board in 1994, lost the next election and then ran and won again in 2006. He is seeking his fourth consecutive term this year.
"I think the leadership in our county and our county staff has really done a very good job, and I think that, for me, I'm feeling the responsibility to get involved-another set of eyes-to really look at the future," Brekken said of Thiede. "We have a lot of issues that are going to be facing both the county and individuals going forward, and that's where we've got to try and start anticipating what direction we need to take and what role does the county play in that."
Thiede has said a combination of the board's desire to maintain a flat or reduced levy and sound investment strategy have the county in a good position moving forward. Thiede pointed to eight consecutive years of a flat or reduced property tax levy among the board's accomplishments.
"We know that water is an issue that we have to be confronted with. We have a workforce situation-a labor shortage-and that's going to have to be addressed and the (mental) health issues that we have," Brekken said.
"I'm not advocating increasing taxes, and the county has been really fiscally responsible, and so managing this going forward and helping prioritize things will be a challenge."
Brekken made it a priority to give back to the community, he said, because of his positive experience in the private and business sector.
"The political arena is new venture for me. What initially motivated me to consider running was a comment I heard at an open meeting for Unorganized Territory last summer. It was something to the effect that, we the people of this territory, were not the county board's first priority," he said.
"And that stuck with me. I wanted to say, 'What do you mean I'm not a priority? Every citizen in the county should be a priority.' If I want that change, it is time to become involved in the process and go after making a difference in the lives of all Crow Wing County residents."
In 2013, Brekken received the "Service to Mankind" award from the Brainerd Area Sertoma Club for his work benefitting the Salvation Army, United Way, Bridges of Hope and the creation of the Common Goods store to benefit Bridges of Hope.
"To be honest, I think there's a big learning curve for me, and so I think before I can pass judgment on what has been done, I need to be able to get more involved and actually meet, too, with staff. I have known some of the staff members for a long time," Brekken said of his bid.
The 66-year-old neophyte plans to host listening sessions throughout the district to hear from residents about their needs and concerns. Brekken and his wife Jane have three children. His cousin Bob is involved with Brekken's, a locally-owned clothing store in the Westgate Mall.
"By being involved in the multiple areas of the community, I think that I have an interesting network of people that I've crossed paths with over the years, and so that experience, I think, can help benefit the county," Brekken said.