Breezy Point candidates discuss issues at forum
Breezy Point City Council candidates took part in the event Thursday, Oct. 6, at Eagle View Elementary School
BREEZY POINT — Managing growth. Keeping finances in check. Improving communication with the public.
These were some of the top issues for Breezy Point mentioned during a city council candidate forum Thursday, Oct. 6, at Eagle View Elementary School.
The six candidates on the Nov. 8 ballot – Gary Bakken (incumbent), Steve Jensen, Tom Lillehei (appointed), Michael Moroni (incumbent), Brad Scott and Angel Zierden – discussed their stances on various issues the city faces.
Scott, Lillehei, Moroni and Bakken are vying for the two open four-year council terms, while Jensen is the sole candidate for a two-year role on the council and Zierden is the only candidate for the mayor’s seat.
Forum moderator Rebecca Timmins asked the candidates what their top priority will be if elected. Answers varied, but Jensen and Zierden both cited a desire to revise or replace city ordinances they deemed “outdated.”
Lillehei mentioned the Buschmann Road improvement project as a chief concern.
Moroni said he wants to manage the city’s growth and address staffing concerns.
Scott said his priority is engaging the citizens and bringing more public input to a city hall that has at times been “not welcoming” to outside voices.
Bakken called for cooperation among council members in the new term.
“I am talking about the seated members of the council working together,” he said. “No hidden agendas. We work for the people, not ourselves. That has been my goal forever. I do what is right for the masses.”
Timmins, a volunteer with the League of Women Voters, asked candidates about their philosophies on controlling taxes and fees. Consensus from several candidates was that taxes needed to be maintained responsibly, and different revenue streams need to be obtained.
I believe you can’t just keep raising taxes every year to cover expenses. It places burdens on young families and seniors on a fixed income - which I am one of. You need to look at generating alternative revenue sources.
“I believe you can’t just keep raising taxes every year to cover expenses,” Jensen said. “It places burdens on young families and seniors on a fixed income - which I am one of. You need to look at generating alternative revenue sources.”
The candidates were asked if the city should do more to communicate with the public, and what methods of communication should be implemented. All candidates agreed the city and the council could do a better job.
“The city of Crosby has an amazing thing. When they send out their water bills, they actually have their newsletters on the back of those,” Zierden said. “They are already sending those mailers. Let’s just utilize what we already have … I have looked at what it costs for mailers, and it’s not overly expensive. I do think that is a good form to use sparingly throughout the year.”
Zierden also suggested making city hall more family-friendly – for instance, supplying items like coloring books for children – in an effort to allow young families the opportunity to attend the city’s 7 p.m. meetings.
To maximize communication with the public, Scott advocated for the council to host town hall meetings periodically.
“We live at a point in time where there are more methods and means of communication – social media, newsprint, you name it – that it can’t be just any one method that’s put forward,” Scott said. “You have to have a combination of ways to reach out and engage people. I am an advocate for hosting town hall meetings, getting people that have the ability and the interest to come out and engage in conversation with the council … and really have discussions that are hard to have otherwise.”
When asked how the city and the council should go about managing the increasing residential growth in city limits, revising outdated zoning ordinances was brought up again by both Scott and Jensen, and Zierden called for greater access to child care in the city.
Lillehei and Moroni called on the council to encourage development – both residential and commercial – within the city.
“We are doing something right – people want to move to the area and they want to build a home in Breezy Point,” Moroni said. “I think that is a testament to what the city has to offer. We need to make sure that we are doing more for the community (in terms of) public services.”
Timmins asked candidates how they want to work with local businesses.
“I don’t know how you can make an informed decision about commercial activity – or the growth of it – without engaging your current business activity in the community,” Scott said. “I think, along with that, you have to engage the public and hear from the residents … about what is missing. What would people like to see?”
The forum ended with a few questions from the audience, with which candidates showed their differences a bit more.
The first asked candidates their thoughts on a potential new community center. Jensen thought one would be a “great addition” to the community, but had serious concerns regarding the funding of the project.
Lillehei argued a community center would give the city both visibility and a sense of community.
Moroni discussed the idea of a new or expanded city hall instead – as the current city hall was built when the city’s population was roughly one-third what it is now and the building cannot accommodate larger crowds.
Bakken, Zierden and Scott suggested the council look into partnerships with local businesses – perhaps Breezy Point Resort – for recreational opportunities before shelling out for a community center.
“Who is going to work there and who is going to pay the staff?” Zierden asked. “I believe that the resort and Bob Spizzo have a very good plan for a sports complex, which includes a community center, that would be paid for by private dollars. If some kind of partnership could be made where if you are a Breezy Point resident, you would get all the amenities for very, very low cost, that is going to serve our community much, much better.”
The candidates were questioned about their stance on the expansion of the city’s disc golf course. The three sitting council members – Bakken, Moroni and Lillehei – expressed favor for the expansion.
“When we were at 18 holes, it was already one of the premier disc golf courses in the country,” Lillehei said. “It has very, very favorable reviews. We just finished the expansion to 36 holes … Once it gets up and running, it will be bringing revenue into the community – it is a proven fact when you have something of that nature. The goal that we were looking for many years ago, when this was first being talked about, was that disc golf would be to Breezy Point what mountain biking is to Ironton.”
Bakken took the opportunity to defend the council and city staff against the perception the expansion of the course was not communicated thoroughly to the public.
“I am the liaison to the parks and rec (committee), and I was involved in the inception of that course eight years ago,” Bakken said. “To defend the city staff, there were notices published. The problem is nobody comes to the meetings. Our public works (department) did a great job in doing that, and it was done at very little cost.”
Jensen and Scott both said they have no position on the course’s expansion, but felt the council did not do a good enough job of communicating the plans to property owners nearby.
Zierden said she favors anything in the city that can generate revenue while also giving residents and families something to do.
Find a recording of the candidate forum on the Pequot Lakes Chamber of Commerce Facebook page.
Dan Determan, sports writer/staff writer, may be reached at 218-855-5879 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Dan.