Seven Pequot Lakes City Council candidates - two for mayor, five for council - shared their opinions on a variety of topics Monday, Sept. 21, during a candidate forum held in a conference room at Breezy Point Resort.
About 20 people attended the forum in person while 35 watched it on Facebook Live.
Listed alphabetically, candidates are:
Mayor: Tyler Gardner, a council member from 2013-14; and incumbent James Tayloe, who was first elected two years ago.
City council: Jason Baca, who ran unsuccessfully in 2016; Pete Clement, who was appointed to serve from January-March this year; Kent Johnson; incumbent Scott Pederson, who has served for eight years; and incumbent Mimi Swanson, who has served for four years.
Topics covered included explaining the city’s greatest challenges and opportunities; balancing the quality of city services with managing city taxes and fees; helping local businesses and individuals recover financially from the COVID-19 crisis; voting on controversial issues; promoting and funding the Heart of the Good Life development; using a hypothetical $1 million donation to the city; addressing housing needs in the city; and building a splash pad in Trailside Park.
Following is a summary of each candidate’s opening and closing comments, as well as their thoughts on the topics addressed.
Gardner: Born and raised in Pequot Lakes, Gardner said he has come and gone a bunch of times in search of the greener grass. “And I found it back at home,” he said. He served two years on the council before resigning because he moved out of town. He returned home to buy his family’s sanitation company and decided it was time to get involved again.
If elected, Gardner said zoning regulations would be a topic he’d focus on to bring businesses to Pequot Lakes to grow and thrive here. He and his wife considered moving their business, Pequot Sanitation, into Pequot Pequot Lakes but met too many roadblocks. Instead, they built in Jenkins, where it was cheaper, painless and they dealt with nice city staff.
Tayloe: A resident for 16 years, Tayloe said he is personable and gets along with people. He wants businesses to thrive and the city to offer what residents and visitors want, and he wants to keep the city safe.
He said the city must share more support for businesses. A priority would be to find out what city services local business owners want and need and what need they are satisfied with. Housing availability is an issue for businesses to have employees to hire.
He’d work on the Heart of the Good Life development - 80 acres of city land south of downtown proposed for business and recreational use - to help the area thrive and to bring people here.
The job of mayor has a learning curve, and Tayloe said: “I think I’ve done pretty well. I think I’m a quick learner. I want to do it two more years.”
Baca: Baca grew up in Pequot Lakes and said he started a business at age 16 that he continues to operate today. He started without any money, never borrowed any money and is still successful.
His platform is less taxes, less regulations and more freedom. He’d work to improve the retail and commercial sectors downton, to lower taxes and to reduce regulations to attract commercial businesses. He’d reduce the budget and eliminate petty ordinances and regulations that waste staff time.
Baca said in the past 10 years taxes have increased more than the city’s population.
He’d encourage prevention of violent crime, theft and drug problems but encourage less time spent on petty citations.
And he’d preserve and promote the rural character and local attractions that make the city a top spot for tourism and to move to.
Clement: A 22-year resident, Clement said his family has a home and business (The Wild Daisy) in the city limits, and he was a city maintenance worker for five years so he knows how the city functions.
He’s concerned about taxes.
“I’m running because I know we need growth, but I want calculated growth. Growth for the sake of growth kind of scares me,” he said. “The bottom line is I really like Pequot. I like the small town feel. I like the quality of life and I think we’ve got to maintain that, but not at the expense of taxes going up to grow this town. We have to mitigate some of that, I believe.”
He cited his three months of experience on the council, which led him to want to get involved again. Clement said he is fiscally conservative and has an eye for the little guy, which is who he is trying to appeal to.
Johnson: “I’m running because I want to be known as a voice for the city,” Johnson said, and make fiscally responsible decisions for the city. He’d look at what would draw businesses here to grow, as well as areas to spend and invest, and other areas where it wouldn’t pay to spend. He’d make sure he’s looking for the right problem and the right solution.
“I have no agenda other than what is best for the community is why I think I'm the best candidate,” Johnson said, noting he has two years on the park commission and volunteered with sports programs in the area.
Johnson acknowledged he’s relatively new to the city as his family moved here in 2017. He said he’s here for the long run and wants what is best for the city, including growth.
Pederson: “As a candidate for council, I believe it’s all about experience,” Pederson said, saying he’s been a positive voice for businesses and residents as a council member for the past eight years.
He called himself an idea person and an out of the box problem solver who welcomes good challenges and opportunities. Pederson said economics will continue to be a top priority, saying the city’s property tax rate is 7% to 15% higher than surrounding communities and he has and will continue to work hard to lower that. That’s why he voted not to approve a 6.5% budget increase last year, he said, citing unnecessary spending.
He cited leadership by insisting Main Street remain open during downtown road construction last spring and said he wrote a city policy to reopen businesses during the COVID-19 shutdown.
More business and housing units are needed to help ensure the city’s financial stability. He supports improved streets and parks, as well as police and fire departments to promote safety.
“Experience, balanced, honest, common sense decision making. That’s what I’m all about. That’s what I believe makes me the best candidate,” Pederson said.
Swanson: A resident since 2001, Swanson said it’s been a wonderful experience to be close to nature and meet exceptional people. She feels closeness to the city that gives her peace and she loves the sense of community.
People will find her motivated, balanced, thoughtful, transparent and honest, she said, adding four years of service has given her a solid start of understanding how government works. She’s learned to be confident in herself to make decisions for the town for today and for the future.
She helped tackle the Rasmussen Road improvements and worked with citizens, businesses and the school district toward implementing a safe and effective design for Patriot Avenue; she supports continued funding for the police and fire departments; and she promises to strive for fiscal responsibility and innovative budget planning to not burden residents with taxes.
Swanson said she’d put residents first, keep the town financially stable, and protect the town people call home.
“I’m running again because I want to be one of five decision makers who work to develop the future for this town. My vision is your vision,” she said, noting she’d make sound decisions that align with residents.
Following are candidates’ answers to some of the eight questions asked at the forum.
What do you see as the greatest opportunity and greatest challenge for Pequot Lakes and how would you address them?
Tayloe: The Heart of the Good Life project is an opportunity, and Tayloe said he believes in the proposed sports complex that could be located on some of the land. He said it would be great to work with the school board on the project.
The challenge would be getting it done, getting people behind it and sticking with it.
Baca: An opportunity is the downtown retail area next to Trailside Park, where park improvements could be made.
A challenge is dealing with the highway bypass that reduced traffic by 12,000 cars a day, Baca said. The city has to be competitive and lower taxes to bring those vehicles back.
Clement: An opportunity is the Heart of the Good Life property and other economic situations available.
A challenge is to facilitate and encourage that in a calculated way, always with a mind to taxes. “Any idea or plan better not just be blue sky in the end,” he said. “We need to do homework and have numbers to justify things.”
Johnson: The Heart of the Good Life development and encouraging youth to stay in Pequot Lakes are opportunities, with people seeing the development off Highway 371 and wanting to come to the city.
“We need to have people come off the highway and come back into our town,” he said.
Pederson: Pequot is loaded with opportunities. The city has room to grow with business and housing, has good roads, schools and amenities like parks.
“A challenge is always going to be money. Where does it come from?” he said.
Swanson: A great opportunity is to buy local, where money stays in town, she said.
“Pequot Lakes has everything that we need right here. Buying local is a win-win for everyone and keeps the tax burden lower,” she said.
Gardner: Heart of the Good Life and Patriot Avenue projects are opportunities, and it would be nice to see extra traffic and money locally spent.
The challenge is the how and who to finance the Heart of the Good Life. Whose taxes will pay for it and how much, he asked.
What role, if any, should the city play in helping local businesses and individuals recover financially from the COVID-19 crisis?
Clement said business hasn’t been bad for The Wild Daisy, and Johnson said he lost his business (The YARD) to COVID-19 after 10 months in business. But both said it’s unknown how involved government can be.
Pederson said he proposed the council look at 2021 as a recovery budget with a spending freeze the rest of this year to assure property taxes wouldn’t increase and would drop to help people.
Swanson mentioned the CARES Act funding allocated for local businesses to apply for funds.
Baca said people should work together to recall Gov. Tim Walz because losing people and businesses to a government shutdown is wrong.
Suppose the city council is tackling a controversial issue. If elected how would you decide which way to vote?
All candidates said they must listen to constituents and do what the people want. They also said they must rely on gut feelings when an issue has equal support on both sides.
Pederson said he’s an information gatherer, and Gardner said networking and talking to people is important to him. Gardner said important controversial issues should be put to a vote by residents.
Swanson said sometimes it’s hard to take a different path from the rest of the council, but it’s important to follow the heart and beliefs and make that tough call.
Clement said issues need to be thought out and the end result must justify the expenditure.
What do you see as ways to promote and fund the Heart of the Good Life development?
Pederson: He supports giving 20 acres to the school district for ballfields and keeping the city out of the business of building recreational facilities.
Swanson: It’s going to take some time but it’s a great opportunity for the city, which is fortunate to have that property available.
Gardner: He advocated getting the public and students involved, saying it would cost less if the school district handled the recreation area because of the larger tax base.
Tayloe, Clement and Johnson also said the city should work with the school district. Tayloe advocated for a sports complex to draw people to town.
Baca said to keep taxes low, the land would have to be developed with donations. “We have thousands and thousands of rich people,” he said.
Johnson said signs on the highway say the property is shovel ready but it looks harvest ready since it’s a cornfield.
If Pequot Lakes received a $1 million donation with no strings attached, how would you use it?
Swanson: Invest money in fire department equipment, work on Patriot Avenue and Main Street, the park and bring both sides of town together.
“It’s a tough question but it would be welcome,” she said of the money.
Gardner: Heart of the Good Life project, roads, Sibley Park, youth investments.
Tayloe: Lights, bleachers, concession stands and restrooms for the Heart of the Good Life sports complex.
Baca: Pay off city debt and invest in youth if any money was left.
Clement: Put in Heart of the Good Life infrastructure. “I don’t know if a million bucks would get it done,” he said.
Johnson: As a homeowner that seems like an enormous amount of money, but it doesn’t go far for a city. Fund the fire and police departments and spend the rest to pay off debt. “A million bucks would probably go about a block on a new street,” he said.
Pederson: “I had the longest time to dream about it,” he said, as he was the last to answer this question.
He suggested a revolving business fund to invite businesses into town, and hiring a professional agency to promote Pequot Lakes.
We don’t have enough mid-level housing. How would you address that?
Candidates agreed the city needs affordable housing and advocated finding ways to work with developers.
What are your thoughts regarding a proposed splash pad at Trailside Park?
Tayloe is opposed to building a splash pad in town, saying it will cost taxpayers money in the long run. “I’ve never been for it and I’ll never be for it. You cannot convince me to be for it,” he said.
Baca and Clement were also opposed and leery about building a splash pad in hopes people would use it.
Others said they’d be willing to investigate long-term costs to determine a splash pad would benefit the city.
Swanson said she’d like to see a splash pad build next summer to bring people to town to shop local.
Nancy Vogt may be reached at 218-855-5877 or email@example.com. Follow her on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Nancy.