Cloquet votes 'yes' to incumbents, sales tax


November 11, 2022

The race for Cloquet mayor was much closer than it was four years ago, but the end result was the same: voters elected Roger Maki to lead the city forward.

Maki defeated former Ward 2 city councilor David Bjerkness by 118 votes. Maki had 2,312 votes (51%) to 2,194 (48.5%) for Bjerkness.

The race looked a little different when the polls closed and the in-person votes were tallied. Bjerkness had the advantage then, leading by 48 votes.

That didn’t include the absentee votes, however. Those early votes made a critical difference for Maki.

Maki credited his reputation and long history with the city for the win, and his performance over the past four years as mayor.

“I came in at a difficult time four years ago and I was able to help get us back to a good place,” he said. “I think I was able to restore trust in city government. But I know I lost people with the mask mandate.”

Both Maki and Bjerkness agreed it was a good, positive race.

“We didn’t get into the gutter. That was refreshing compared to four years ago,” Maki said, referring to his win over previous mayor Dave Hallback. “That race was much more difficult in those ways. This one was difficult because it was a lot closer.”

Bjerkness said he was proud of the race, and happy to have reentered local politics.

“I totally enjoyed campaigning and reengaging with the city,” said Bjerkness, who previously served 17 years on the council. “It was hard to sit on the sidelines. Once you’ve held office as long as I did, it’s hard to let go.”

Council races

The Ward 1 city council race also pitted a former city councilor against a current one. That race was also won by the incumbent, Warren “Bun” Carlson. Carlson had 551 votes to Erik Blesener’s 479.

Carlson said he was a lot more nervous about this election than four years ago, when he defeated incumbent Jeff Rock. Blesener was a more-experienced candidate. “He knows what it takes,” he said of the retired Cloquet police officer. “But I worked harder this time, too.”

Carlson said he hopes voters chose him because they’re happy with the job he’s doing.

“We really did some good stuff and sorted some things out,” he said.

The race for Ward 3 was the most confusing race in the county, as the sole candidate on the ballot — Chris Swanson — cannot serve as the Ward 3 councilor after moving outside the ward and stepping down in August.

Swanson won in a landslide, however, with 602 votes, versus 108 write-in votes. Pete Erickson and Iris Keller both campaigned as write-in candidates, but neither had the votes to win.

City administrator Tim Peterson said it will now be up to the council to decide whether to hold a special election early next year to fill Swanson’s seat for the next four years, or appoint someone for two years and hold a special election during the next General Election in 2024.

“I did call Chris to congratulate him on winning the election he couldn’t win,” Peterson said. “I’m going to suggest the council wait a couple weeks and think about what to do next.”

Ward 2 candidate Sheila Lamb ran unopposed and got 647 votes.

‘Yes’ to new sales tax

Cloquet voters approved two sales tax questions on Tuesday, adding up to $8 million in projects that will be funded by a 0.5% sales tax — half a penny per dollar — approved by voters.

City Question 1 asked for $2.12 million for improvements at the Pine Valley park, home to ski jumping, mountain bike racing and trails for running, walking, snowshoeing and Nordic skiing.

Question 2 asked for roughly $6 million for improvements to the two ice hockey arenas, which need a new and expensive system for cooling the ice, along with other improvements.

Question 1 passed with 2,806 votes to 1,883. The vote on Question 2 was closer: it passed 2,368 votes to 2,317 — a difference of 51 votes.

City administrator Peterson was thrilled, but not exactly surprised that Question 2 was closer. “I think the ice arena is probably more polarizing than Pine Valley, which is more multiuse,” he said. “But both projects would be tough to fund without options like the sale tax.”

Passage of the sales tax means Cloquet shoppers will pay 1% in sales taxes on their purchases to the city of Cloquet, because there is already a current tax that has funded millions of dollars in park and infrastructure improvements since its inception 10 years ago. Peterson expects that tax to end in about eight years, and the new tax to last up to 10 years.

“The current tax has collected more revenue per year than expected, so it will be paid off long before the 30-year limit,” he said.

Peterson said the city has paperwork and other steps to take before the new sales tax can be implemented, sometime around April 2023. Then they will probably let some funds accumulate and begin the planning process for the improvements.


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