A veteran alderman and a newcomer looking to shake up the status quo are vying for the Ward 1 seat on the Minot City Council.
David Lehner, who works for Clear Channel Communications, has served on the council since 2002. Robert Timm, a Realtor and owner of National Marketing Realtors, has lived in Minot for 11 years.
The candidates provided responses to the following questions.
Are you satisfied with the operations of the city? If there should be changes, what would you suggest?
Lehner: I believe the city is functioning as well as it can with the staff we have versus the growth in both business and population. We could use more help in all departments but more help would also result in more employee expense. The annual budget is always a challenge. We need to provide funding for needed infrastructure and personnel but also need to keep property taxes increases at a minimum
Timm: No, I am not satisfied with the current operations of the City of Minot. The first change I would like to see is I and other new faces on the City Council. I think if there are any improprieties to be exposed, they need to be exposed right off the bat so newcomers like myself can address them and hold those accountable whom should be held accountable.
Has enough been done to assist with flood recovery? Are there additional steps the city could be taking to cleanup abandoned properties or address other areas of flood recovery?
Timm: I do not believe the city has done enough in dealing with, and assisting with, flood recovery. Having been a flood victim myself, I can speak first hand as to the frustrations I and many other flood victims have had over the way the city has failed to address issues key to our flooded portion of the city. Caring individuals and faith-based groups helped. Grants from the state and federal agencies helped. The city threatened fines and raised the taxes of those who worked hard to restore their lives. They've done little to nothing to help.
While many of us were struggling to get back into our homes, we were threatened with fines if we did not focus on our lawns while at the same time most city-owned properties were horrendously overgrown and littered with debris. Many city-owned properties today, such as the dead loops, are still loaded with litter three years later. It shouldn't take a group like those protesting the "zombie" homes for the city to get to these homes and clean up the yards and charge the labor back against the property. While I believe in doing business locally whenever possible, I think the state should have advertised nationally for engineering firms to bid on all possible stages of flood control. Maybe other engineering firms coud have created a more cost effective product.
Lehner: There is always more to be done in the area of flood recovery and cleanup. One problem is that not everyone has the same economic capabilities to pursue property renovation. I believe some properties are held by financial institutions who do not seem to be concerned about fixing the condition of those properties. However we proceed, the city must follow the legal process so we don't end up costing the taxpayers of Minot more money in the long run.
Is Minot doing a good job of managing its growth? What improvements might the city be able to make in this area and how could the city best go about making those improvements?
Lehner: Planning the growth of the city is essential. As new businesses want to come to Minot, their infrastructure needs have to be met and that is an expense the city may have to take care of up front, realizing that once the business is here, there will be tax benefits to the city. The upfront costs to bring is new business is always a challenge.
Timm: I don't believe we need to annex all the land from Burlington to Surrey and Minot Air Force Base to Max. So much of our aging infrastructure is failing that neighborhoods are feeling neglected because of the gleam in the city's eye to build out as far and fast as possible. The city needs to address citizen's complaints about water and sewer systems that are not functioning properly. The neighborhood I live in has been putting up with sewer backup problems for over 12 years, and the problem is only being addressed now. It should not take 12 years for the city to respond to such a health hazard.
With the city's rush for growth, it's creating miles and miles of new roads while at the same time potholes multiply at a rate even higher than our property tax increases. Just a few years ago, most of us saw our snow-covered streets plowed within 12 hours of a winter storm. Last winter we often did not see a plow for two days. Many of us with alley access have not seen maintenance for years.
What are the main issues in your ward that you would seek to address?
Timm: All of the above. However, first and foremost is addressing the aging infrastructure. With the city assessing our properties at top dollar and expecting us to pay the bill, we citizens, in turn, should receive topnotch services and upgrades, as opposed to patches, just like the newest neighborhoods in town.
Lehner: I would like to see the infrastructure in the ward updated in parts of the valley. Some areas have water lines, storm and sanitary sewer line that are close to if not over 100 years old. Some are being worked on now in the area of Roosevelt Park on Burdick Expressway.
The need for a new search for city manager and the firing of a new city attorney have some residents concerned about the city's hiring processes. What are your thoughts on the situation?
Lehner: I believe the hiring process for key department head positions has worked in the past. To hire for those positions in the future help from outside firms that specialize in finding the right candidates for the job will enable us find qualified people and candidates who otherwise may not be aware of positions available in Minot.
Timm: The citizens of Minot should be concerned about the hiring and firing practices of the city. The recent firing of the new city attorney will truly shine the light on those practices, and I hope it will clean house on any doubt as to what abuses of power have or have not been going on. I'm concerned that with 14 council members that there was not one single dissenting vote concerning the firing of the city attorney. One may get the impression that this is just a "rubber stamp" committee. Perhaps a council of seven one representative per district would make the council more accountable.
What are your priorities for the city in terms of things you would like to see happen?
Timm: Minot's number one priority is to have its own house in order. An independent firm specializing in the governmental affairs needs to take a look at how things have been done over the past 25 years so they can present and expose to the public any wrongs, inefficiencies, improprieties, etc. that they find. This way we can start the new city council out with a clean slate.
Lehner: One of my main priorities will be the continued effort to get an aggressive Mouse River dike/levee maintenance program into place and followed. Many areas of the river bank are in need of repair and then yearly maintenance.
Another priority will be continued work on the flood control project. Minot cannot afford another disaster like we had in 2011. The completion of the flood control project will help give those in the valley the assurance that not only will homes and business be safe if another high water event occurs but also the knowledge that flood insurance rates should remain affordable. We need to continue our quest to find funding for the flood control project through both federal and state levels. Also, future building codes in the valley without the project could make new construction and even remodeling cost prohibitive to meet guidelines for federal insured financing.
What knowledge and background would you bring to the position that would be beneficial?
Timm: As a real estate broker and active sales person, I know the neighborhoods of Minot fairly well and I am familiar with many of the needs of these neighborhoods. As the owner of a property management firm, Tops in Marketing & Management, I am familiar with the concerns of both renters and homeowners. As a business owner, I know how to work within a budget and how to do with what is available, not living outside of one's means. As the father of a 12-year-old and 14-year-old, I am aware of the needs of our younger citizens as well as the needs of other parents.
Lehner: I bring 33 years of previous retail management experience and involvement in the community. I also bring 12 years experience on the city council as Ward 1 alderman. I currently serve on the following City Council committees: Public Works, current vice chairman and past chairman; Airport; Community Development (Facilities), chairman; City of Minot Pension Board; All Seasons Arena Commission; Temporary Housing, chairman; Flood Buyout Appeals, chairman; and Steering Committee-Flood Control, charter member. Previous committees include Liquor and Gambling Control Committee and Franchise Committee.