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Voter Guide: Carlton County Board, District 1

Dick Brenner vs. Erik Blesener

 

October 2, 2020

Dick Brenner (incumbent)

Background

I moved to Cloquet in 1972 with my six children. I have a finance degree and over 40 years of corporate accounting experience. My wife, Liz, and I volunteered locally, including teaching junior achievement. I have served on many boards, including the Cloquet School Board and Wells Fargo Community Board.

What made you decide to run for county commissioner this year?

I enjoy public service, even in the challenging times of coronavirus. My fellow commissioners and a number of constituents supported me and expressed value in my experience leading organizations through socially and economically tough times.

How do you think the county should proceed on funding for a new jail if the state legislature fails to allow a local sales tax or doesn’t allocate state funding?

We are engaged in concerted efforts to procure legislative support for a local sales tax option and have proposed a female offender program as part of that proposal. Should we succeed, we would be able to generate revenue through that part of the program to help offset the costs of jail operations for the foreseeable future. Should those efforts fail, our only option would be to bond for the jail and pay those bonds back with local property tax dollars. In that case, we couldn’t include a female offender program, despite critical need for such programming, locally, regionally, and statewide.

The pandemic has made people painfully aware of the importance of a good internet connection for education and people working at home. What do you think is the role of the county in helping underserved communities gain access to high-speed internet?

Good high speed internet is critically important. A local internet provider recently presented options for expanding broadband in our county, and we strongly support our economic development department in pursuing broadband funding opportunities that benefit our communities and citizens. We work with and support the Fond du Lac Band’s efforts to grow local broadband networks and we are considering using federal CARES Act dollars to improve local internet access to unserved and underserved areas.

Elaborate on something you think the current county board has handled well over the past two years.

We have made great strides in upgrading and improving technology in an effort to provide better service to our citizens. The way we communicate and do business with the public has improved 100 percent in a number of areas, including the live streaming of board meetings, digitization of records in the recorder’s office, enhanced GIS services, online submission of zoning permits and human resources job applications, and modern website presence, to name just a few.

Name one other issue facing Carlton County that you think is important, and how should it be addressed?

Strategically and thoughtfully balancing the quality of public services with the costs of providing them, or more simply put, getting the most out of every tax dollar! So much of what we do is paid for with local property taxes; therefore, it is imperative that we commissioners and our staff control costs and grow revenues whenever possible. Unfunded and underfunded state mandates continue to create financial stress for us locally, but we have become skilled at leveraging local dollars to draw down state and federal dollars. Our dedication to public safety, quality transportation and healthy communities is unwavering.

Why should people vote for you?

Because I am experienced. I am knowledgeable, and I am hard working in the area of local government, and I am passionate about public service.

*****

Erik Blesener

Background

I have previously served on the Cloquet City Council. I am retired from the City of Cloquet police department after 25 years of service. I currently work for Cloquet Senior High School as an Indian Education Tutor.

What made you decide to run for county commissioner this year?

I have a desire to serve because we are a great community and I feel that I can make good, educated decisions based on my over 28 years working for, and with our county government.

How do you think the county should proceed on funding for a new jail if the state legislature fails to allow a local sales tax or doesn’t allocate state funding?

I have strong beliefs that the newly planned jail needs to be re-evaluated based on all of the issues surrounding the pandemic. I worked in the jail for four years before working for Cloquet. I do not believe in locking up sentenced individuals — most for drugs — that do not pose a threat to the public. This practice is costly and proven to be completely ineffective and rarely results in reform or being chemical free after release. I’m not opposed to building a new jail, but recommend a smaller facility using the additional funds to start a chemical abuse therapy program.

The pandemic has made people painfully aware of the importance of a good internet connection for education and people working at home. What do you think is the role of the county in helping underserved communities gain access to high-speed internet?

I feel that the government (state, city, and county) can all play an important role in providing internet access to citizens in the future. I realize that private companies can do this but we know there are plenty of gaps in the area. I feel that some role by county government could help this situation be more effective and equitable throughout the county.

Elaborate on something you think the current county board has handled well over the past two years.

I think the most significant issue that I would be foolish not to comment on here is the Covid-19 situation. I have been in and around Carlton County properties and have spoken to employees. I think that our county’s great leadership and guidance has really shined here, and I commend everyone on a very good effort.

Name one other issue facing Carlton County that you think is important, and how should it be addressed?

I feel that property taxes have risen to levels that are too high and yet we are facing some significant projects in the not so distant future. Our courthouse is completely outdated and the jail is next in line. Very good financial management will be extremely important moving forward.

Why should people vote for you?

I’m a lifelong resident. I’m a strong supporter of the youth and have a long relationship with many local programs. I’ll work hard and listen.

 
 

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