The Minnesota Primary Election is Tuesday, Aug. 14. Two seats up for election on the Polk County?Board of Commissioners, in Districts 3 and 5, have attracted more than two candidates, meaning some candidates need to be eliminated from the race in the primary, prior to the general election in November. The Times checks in today with the trio of candidates vyinng for the District 5 Polk?County Board seat, and on Thursday the Times will feature profiles of the handful of candidates seeking the hotly contested District 3 seat held by Bill Montague, who’s not seeking another term.
What follows are Q & A's answered by District 5 candidates incumbent Don Diedrich of Warren, and Ragnar Bergendahl and Randall Gust, both of East Grand Forks.
Q: First of all, some background info.
Diedrich: I have resided in Polk County my whole life and graduated valedictorian of my class at Northwest School of Agriculture in Crookston. My wife and I raised three children, Dr. Dan of Rochester (Mayo Clinic); Jennifer, a trader for Cargill; and Janine, auditor for Dairy Queen International. I own and operate a 2,500-acre farm in Brislet Township, raising potatoes, wheat corn and soybeans.
I have served in various capacities on numerous civic and service organizations, including Lions Club, Warren-Alvarado-Oslo Booster Club, Knights of Columbus, NWSA Alumni Association, founding member of the WAO Education Foundation. I was a 20-year secretary of our coop board, served 20 years as supervisor of Brislet Township, mainly as chair, and 20 years as chair of Polk County Planning and Zoning. I have also achieved the rank of Sergeant in the Minnesota National Guard.
Bergendahl: Officially I'm retired from the GF Post Office and ND Army Guard. This fall I'll be starting a new career as a substitute teacher in EGF, where I live with my wife Connie.
Gust: Occupation – I retired from the East Grand Forks Fire Department as Fire Chief and Emergency Manager on July 1st of this year; Education – K-12 East Grand Forks Public Schools, attended Northland College TRF (criminal justice); Family – Wife Annette, one daughter; Residence – I have been a life long resident of East Grand Forks.
Q: What made you decide to run for commissioner?
Diedrich: In the past eight years that I've served on the county board, Polk County has had a balanced budget and built reserves, while at the same time improving services and undertaking an aggressive building project with the justice center and remodeling the government center. Many improvements have been made to county roads and intersections in District 5. All this has been done with little impact to you as a taxpayer.
My background is such that I prepared myself to come into this job eight years ago and continue to work on those preparations. I am a far better Commissioner today than I was eight years ago. I have enjoyed being part of this and would like to continue building on the relationships formed over these years. It would be an honor to continue to serve my district.
Bergendahl: Taxes, The "A" Pillar story which lead to the $100,000 stop sign on US 75, and the Tri-Valley Weatherization fiasco.
Gust: I became interested in local government as an employee and department head in my work. I found it to be very interesting and challenging. Now that I’m retired I feel that I have the time to concentrate on the position if elected.
Q: What do you see as the top three priorities for the county to work on in the couple of years?
Diedrich: 1) To work with our new administrator to get him on board and up to speed. He is a fine person and I am sure he will be an asset to Polk County and the community.
2) I would like to see our website up and running, as it has been in the planning stages for some time. We need to keep up with today's technology.
3) Keep working on that budget, which is an ongoing process that makes everything in the county go 'round.
Bergendahl: 1) De-couple property valuation increases from the tax rate. Every year as values rise, we see a tax increase because the rate is stable. With Wall Street speculating in Ag land, producers will see the same problems others have with recreational and pasture land valuations.
2) Cost control. It costs Fargo less than $100 oversee a safe detox, yet we spend $578 at Glenmore. We have a migrant worker program advertising for clients when farming changes have eliminated the need for migrants.
3) We need to focus on our productive resident. Currently we're #1 in Human Resource levies, # 74 in recreation, and we spend zero dollars on economic development. The last 3 census's have our population at 30,000, as a county we're blessed with 2 colleges, then we export our children, and stabilize our population through more case loads. I think we need to grow great jobs along with good food.
Gust: 1) First and foremost would be the budget. I would try to help find ways to cut where needed and also find ways to keep spending in check. As with most of the citizens, I do not want to have my taxes increased and I would work hard to accomplish this.
2) Make sure that we maintain our county wide services and doing so in a cost effective and efficient manner.
3) The county is in the process of upgrading its 911 dispatching to the next generation. I feel that this is a priority that needs to be addressed as soon as possible. With my prior background and experience I feel I could bring useful ideas and thoughts to the table.
Q: What qualifications/experience would you bring to the board?
Diedrich: My background of working on boards for many years, often as an officer, helped to prepare for serving as a commissioner and all the responsibilities that come with it. I find this experience invaluable as I have made numerous friends and acquaintances in northwest Minnesota. It helps give me an appreciation for citizens' problems. I am better equipped to balance the needs of the county's residents and costs involved.
Of course, my eight years as county commissioner and the relationships gained with other counties, agencies and municipalities is also invaluable. My board assignments have included serving on other committees and boards such as Polk County Extension, Northwest Mental Health, Tri-Valley Opportunity Council, Polk County Personnel Committee, Middles Snake Tamarac Rivers Watershed District Advisory Board and various ditch boards. I have also been elected by my fellow commissioners statewide to serve on the Minnesota Counties Intergovernmental Trust Board, which I am honored to be a part of.
Bergendahl: I participated in the largest budget control effort in US Government history. The control of postal expenses. Not a lot of people liked it, and there's still controversy about office closures and labor issues.
I'm a strong advocate of Zero Balance Budgeting. That's the budget all of us do everyday. My expenses are X, I need this much to pay the bills. Zero Budget balancing is not popular among administrators because it's hard work to find out what your needs are and where the money goes. We currently use a fixed rate budget process, X amount last year + Y% for inflation factors = new budget.
Gust: I have been involved in local government for the last 27 years as a public employee. As the department head for the Fire Department I was responsible for developing a working budget and than I needed to work within that same budget. I did so every year as the chief. I had a staff of 30 members including full-time and part-time employees, so I have the experience of managing personnel. My job also included working with many different agencies through out the State, along with some Federal agencies giving me the experience of dealing with all levels of government.
Q: Why do you feel you are the best man for the job?
Diedrich: Because of my extensive background and my current status as incumbent, I feel that I am in the best position to continue with the current successful operation of Polk County. I do not need a learning curve.
I believe that I am the best qualified to represent all people of District 5, both city and rural residents, again because of my background.
Bergendahl: I don't think I'm the "best". I'm just bringing a different perspective. I've blogged that the Commissioners spread themselves too thin by sitting on 10-15 boards. I've stated I will do only one job to the best of my ability, the one you elect me to do. I'm not happy the Commissioners pay themselves $27,600 while neighboring County Commissioners get by on $12-18K. I've stated if $16,268.00 is good enough for the GF Commissioners, it's good enough for me. I said I will refuse the $75 Per-Diem Push Ups, that I'll accept the Federal rate of $46.00 and no retirement push-up.
Open Direct, Honest and Fair are the values I espouse, the values I will bring to job.
Gust: Although I would be newly elected I feel that my diverse background would make it possible to add useful knowledge to the Board of Commissioners. I also know that it would be a learning experience and would make it a priority to learn all I can on the operation of the county government. During my career I was very professional and dedicated to my work and if elected, I would carry this to the Polk County Board of Commissioners.