Nisswa: Five candidates participate in cordial candidate forum

Despite mayor's arrest and allegations against city police department, candidate forum has no drama.

Participating in a Nisswa City Council candidate forum Sept. 22 at the Nisswa Community Center were mayoral candidates Fred Heidmann (left) and John Ryan; and council candidates Bob Fier, Ross Krautkremer and Mark Utzinger. Nancy Vogt / Echo Journal

There were no fireworks in Nisswa when the two mayoral and three city council candidates took turns answering questions during a candidate forum Tuesday, Sept. 22, at the Nisswa Community Center, not even when candidates were asked about the most important issues facing the police department.

Listed alphabetically, candidates on the Nov. 3 ballot are:

  • Mayor: Incumbent Fred Heidmann, a two-term mayor first elected in 2016 and a two-year council member elected in 2014; and John Ryan, a current city council member elected in 2016.

  • Council: Bob Fier, who ran unsuccessfully in 2018; Ross Krautkremer, a former council member who was appointed in June 2014 and then won election to a four-year term that year; and Mark Utzinger. Residents can vote for two council candidates.

The question about the police department came after an incident Heidmann had with a Nisswa officer and a Pequot Lakes officer during a traffic stop of a third party in which Heidmann was arrested under probable cause for disorderly conduct and obstructing the legal process. Heidmann then leveled various accusations against the police department at a subsequent council meeting.
Answering the question at the candidate forum, Heidmann said he’s a big supporter of law endorsement and good police. He said as mayor for the past four years, people have come to him with serious concerns about the Nisswa Police Department.

“I know that the council and citizens don't know the extent of what is happening behind the scenes,” Heidmann said. “That's why I called for an investigation at the last council meeting.”

The council took no such action at its meeting, and other council members said they knew nothing about Heidmann’s allegations.


Answering the same question at the candidate forum, Ryan - a former police officer - said Nisswa is fortunate to have a good police department, calling it a young department.

“They need to know that we have their back,” Ryan said, acknowledging problems need to be investigated when they are properly brought to the council’s attention.

Fier said he doesn’t like to make a decision of importance until he’s fully informed, and he’s not fully informed about the Nisswa Police Department or whether it’s staffed efficiently.

Krautkremer said he supports the police department, also saying it’s a young department. He’s a proponent of officers being present, including along Highway 371. If there are problems, he believes in following the correct process to bring them to the city’s attention.

Utzinger said he would address any allegations by following the city process and gathering facts, data and information - not through emotion or drama.

“I believe we need to follow through with what’s going on, take challenges as they come to us and address them in a fair and open process so everyone knows what we’re doing,” he said.

Other questions

  • What do you see as the greatest opportunity and the greatest challenge for the city of Nisswa and how would you address that?

Ryan cited the ability to engage businesses to expand business and the tax base while keeping Nisswa’s up north feel as an opportunity. He’d take a solid look at the city’s comprehensive plan and use it.

Fier agreed with Ryan, saying with a rapid expansion of commercial business coming up the Highway 371 corridor, Nisswa needs to keep its up north feel. The city is doing some things better than five and 10 years ago, such as the addition of a city administrator and electronic surveys.


Krautkremer cited Nisswa’s growth as an opportunity, saying the streets are full of people in the summer and Grand View Lodge’s expansion brings more people here. A challenge is to look at the future, developing property and getting a tax base in addition to tourism.

Utzinger said Nisswa has a beautiful combination of nature and lakes to protect, as well as to provide growth for commerce. A challenge is to have the infrastructure to support the city’s summertime population and future growth, which is a big opportunity.

Heidmann said it’s important to be prepared for growth as more people move here and work remotely. Protecting resources through growth is a challenge. This area is about pine and lakes, and those assets must be protected.

  • What is your philosophy on balancing the quality of city services with managing city taxes and fees?

Fier said there’s a rank order of importance of city services that must be offered, some with certain tax revenue and others that must be funded elsewhere. He advocated funding services based on available revenue.

Krautkremer said this is a never-ending task that’s difficult because of the seasonal influx of people. A town of 1,900 needs infrastructure and facilities to handle a town of 30,000 for three to four months of the year. Time and effort need to be spent on the budget, finding out where the money is going and how it is being spent, especially as items become more expensive.

Utzinger advocated being efficient and ensuring strong infrastructure for people using it, especially in the summer. Look at efficiencies and tie that to the amount of tax base growth in the city.

Heidmann said the council needs to take a hard look at budgets every year. He advocated diving into each department’s budget and discussing expectations and needs, rather than targeting a certain percent increase.

Ryan said ultimately it comes down to what people are willing to spend, what they want and what they want to get rid of. Police and fire services are critical, and the city must be prepared for the influx in population and price tags that may bring.


  • What role, if any, should the city play in helping local businesses and individuals recover from the COVID-19 crisis?

All candidates said the city should do whatever it can to help businesses and residents. Fier said money should be spent prudently and where it would make the most impact.

  • Do you think our Main Street downtown is healthy and successful? If not, what would you do to change that?

Utzinger said using space downtown as efficiently as possible is a challenge. He’d look at the possibility of expanding Main Street further south.

Heidmann said the city does a good job promoting events to get people downtown and can look to create space for parking. It’s not the city’s job to manage businesses, but to give them the opportunity to succeed.

Ryan said he hears lack of parking is a concern, especially for large vehicles. Addressing issues would require input from property owners. He cited expanding downtown to offer more opportunities for shoppers and residents, as well as jobs for younger people

Fier said Main Street is healthy and successful, though there are parking issues. He advocated having citizens study alternatives, including the possibility of no cars and only pedestrians, like Pearl Street in Boulder, Colorado.

Krautkremer called downtown successful and the crown jewel of the community. “Nisswa’s got a lot going on that other communities struggle with,” he said, noting parking will always be an issue that needs work to resolve. Tourists are everything, and the city needs to promote Nisswa for tourists. The city must protect what it has and plan for the future.

  • If the city was given $1 million with no strings attached, how would you propose it be spent?

Heidmann would invest the money in walking paths and bike trails, giving residents and vacationers opportunities to come by golf cart, skateboard, bikes, etc.

Ryan said he’d have the city administrator and department heads put together ideas with input from staff, and he’d engage citizens. “What do people want? It's your city and that’s what I want to know,” he said.


Fier would engage the community with a contest to make it fun, such as offering a dinner to the person who presents the best idea. He also cited incomplete projects, like Nisswa Lake Park and the Gull Lake Trail, as places to spend the money.

Krautkremer said he’d put the money toward roads and equipment. Look at liabilities and use the money to help the city not have to borrow money, he said.

Utzinger cited tourism infrastructure, such as trails for bikes and hiking. He advocated bottom up type leadership and asking people close to the problems for input on what would help.

  • When weighing a leadership decision, what do you lean on most - public opinion or your personal judgment?

Candidates agreed they’d use their personal judgment while also engaging citizens’ opinions.

Candidate statements

Heidmann said he first ran for the city council because he saw the need for change in the city. The city was falling behind, and department heads ran the city as they wanted with little supervision or accountability. He wanted to see the city as good under the hood as it appeared outside to citizens who visit. He said citizens told him they could trust him to help with concerns and problems, whether it be roads, staff behavior or police department concerns.

He cited strength, passion, vision and determination as words to describe himself.

Ryan said when he ran for his council seat four years ago, he saw a lack of direction from the council to employees. The city needed to embrace the city administrator position, though the council still has an obligation to be involved with city departments.

“I strongly believe if you give citizens an opportunity to voice their opinion that we will grow together,” he said, citing the need to get information to citizens to get their feedback because this is their town.


Fier said his attitude is don’t complain to others if you don't like what’s happening, and volunteer instead. He’s seeking a council seat because he thinks he could do a good job. As a businessman he was always in touch with clients.

“You’re the clients and I want to do what the majority thinks,” he said.

Fier said he has the technical and business skills for the position. His priorities would be to establish relationships with the city administrator, council and mayor.

Krautkremer said he’s always been community minded and spent 24 years with the Nisswa Fire Department.

“When I do volunteer or say I will do something, I give 110%,” he said.

He’s proud of the four years he served on the council and after a two-year break wants to come back and apply the experience and knowledge he learned during his prior term. He is committed, does his homework and comes to meetings prepared and ready to get the job done. His sense of community is what drives him to be on the council.

Utzinger is relatively new to Nisswa but grew up visiting relatives here. He’s lived here for three years full time. Nisswa has been a special place - almost magical - he said of his decision to retire here, which he'll do in March after a business career that took him to Japan. He believes in working with data and facts, and not drama, saying it’s important to act professionally.

The candidate forum is available to watch on YouTube.


Nancy Vogt may be reached at 218-855-5877 or Follow her on Facebook and on Twitter at

Nancy Vogt is editor of the Pineandlakes Echo Journal, a weekly newspaper that covers eight communities in the Pequot Lakes-Pine River areas - from Nisswa to Hackensack and Pequot Lakes to Crosslake.

She started as editor of the Lake Country Echo in July 2006, and continued in that role when the Lake Country Echo and the Pine River Journal combined in September 2013 to become the Pineandlakes Echo Journal. She worked for the Brainerd Dispatch from 1992-2006 in various roles.

She covers Nisswa, Pequot Lakes, Lake Shore and Crosslake city councils, as well as writes feature stories, news stories and personal columns (Vogt's Notes). She also takes photos at community events.

Contact her at or 218-855-5877 with story ideas or questions. Be sure to leave a voicemail message!
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