WAITE PARK — Three candidates — including two incumbents — are vying for two seats on Waite Park City Council on Nov. 3.
Incumbents Mike Linquist and Ken Schmitt are running for re-election. Joining them on the ballot is Shawn Blackburn.
The candidates elected to council will serve a four-year term beginning in January. They will join Frank Theisen and Vic Schulz on the council.
In Waite Park, council members earn $3,600 annually with the possibility of an extra $1,200 depending on the amount of special meetings they attend each month.
The candidates answered questions posed by the Times regarding the city’s response to the pandemic, priorities and why voters should support them on Election Day.
Responses have been edited for clarity.
Shawn Blackburn (Photo: Submitted photo)
Education: Bachelor’s degrees in anthropology and theater from St. Cloud State University
Elected or public service experience: Waite Park planning commission, amphitheater committee, Stearns County planning commission, Stearns County board of adjustment
Top issues: Continued growth and development with an eye to sensible planning and preserving limited resources while respecting and embracing our diversity and moving forward together. This is the key to our continued prosperity as a community
Education: Mound High School, one year of a vocational-technical school
Job: Retired from Qwest (now Lumen Technologies)
Elected or public service experience: Waite Park City Council, 22 years; Waite Park Police Department and rescue squad, 25 years; Spass Tag Family Fun Fest president, four years; Telephone Pioneers president, four years; Pineview Park president, three years.
Top issues: Getting back to our infrastructure plan that got pushed back this year and going forward with our comprehensive plan, as well as maintaining our tax levy with no increase.
Education: St. Cloud Business College (now Rasmussen College) for business and accounting
Job: American Senior Benefits as an insurance agent/broker and on the management team
Elected or public service experience: Waite Park parks board, 17 years; Waite Park Planning Commission, two years; Waite Park City Council, two years (appointed to vacant seat in January 2019)
Top issues: Making sure we have continued growth of the city, maintaining our city budget without any unnecessary taxes, making this a city that people want to move to.
What is your top priority if elected to Waite Park City Council?
Blackburn: My top priority for Waite Park is to help rebuild our faltering local economic base. We have recent developments that have been put on hold, been stalled, or even been canceled because of the pandemic. We need to encourage the Hilton/convention center development, the amphitheater and more as we start to generate more jobs, economic impact and security for the community.
Linquist: My top priority for the city is going ahead on our comprehensive plan, which was stopped due to the pandemic. We have to work with our businesses and citizens to get this back on track to help in business and residential development.
Schmitt: My top priorities are to continue the growth of our city and keeping the city safe.
COVID-19 pandemic response
How do you think the city is handling the pandemic?
Blackburn: Waite Park has been sensible in its response to the pandemic. City Hall has observed all reasonable recommendations and has continued on with its business. I’m practical and I approve of science-based action.
Linquist: I believe we it handled well. We responded to our business and citizens in the best way we could with the information we had available to us. We did what was expected and also we established a grant fund for our businesses, which was very important to our small business community.
Schmitt: The city staff has done a great job keeping up with guidelines of the CDC and state mandates. The city has worked with businesses on options to keep them viable.
Projects to prioritize
When the economy rebounds, what do you think should be the first projects the city works on?
Blackburn: As we move forward, I think we need to embrace the increased possibility of tourism dollars coming into our community. Maybe start a bit of an ad campaign to get folks excited about coming here.
Linquist: One of first steps is to watch our spending. We have put a safety net in our budget for 2021: no major spending until after the first half of the year so we can review how taxes are coming in. Secondly, our infrastructure has to get back on track and capital expense equipment needs to be looked at.
Schmitt: Maintaining our city streets and completing River’s Edge Park.
Shawn Blackburn, Mike Linquist and Kenneth Schmitt (Photo: Submitted and Times photos)
Views on Waite Park
What does Waite Park represent to you? How would you describe it to your friends?
Blackburn: Waite Park is a great microcosm of not only Minnesota, but also the U.S. as a whole. We have an incredible array of culture groups represented here and we still have some small town atmosphere.
Linquist: Being a citizen since 1973, I have learned that we are a city that cares and respects all people of all race and ages. We are a town that people come together to meet. It’s a place you go that has a park system and many amenities.
Schmitt: This is a great community for residents of all ages. The city has some of the best amenities in the area with our parks and trails, splash pad, pickleball courts, ball fields and the Healthy Living court and trail. There’s no additional charge for garbage/recycling, monthly brush pickup and a semiannual big garbage pickup.
Why should voters elect you?
Why does your background or life experience make you a good candidate for this role?
Blackburn: I’ve had a lot of great opportunities for growth through work and travel, and I have enjoyed many relationships academically and across cultures. I have been a leader making informed decisions about policies and attitudes with respect to differing opinions, cultures and even ages when compromise is needed.
Linquist: My experience as a council member has taught me not to be a rubber stamper; you need someone that is not afraid to question things when there is a question and not be afraid to listen to our citizens when there is a problem and come up with a proper answer. This has taught me to be a good listener and learn how to come up with good compromises with our citizens and businesses if problems come up.
Schmitt: I am a 40-year resident that has raised his family in this city. My community involvement includes the Waite Park Cub Scouts (treasurer, den and pack leader); Waite Park Boys Scouts (treasurer and assistant Scout Master, with three sons who attained the rank of Eagle Scout); Waite Park Boy Scout Christmas Dinner committee member since 1992; Waite Park festival committee member for more than 25 years (serving as treasurer, vice president and president); business member in Waite Park; and park board, planning commission and City Council member.
Who will you vote for in this year’s presidential election?
Blackburn: Traditionally, it’s understood that endorsing other candidates or announcing one’s party affiliation has no business in local elections for nonpartisan offices.
Linquist: I decide at the poll when I go to vote. In city government there should be no party affiliation. I have seen too many councils torn apart by this. You work for the citizens and business people, not a party.
Schmitt: I view the position of City Council as a nonpartisan position, here to look out for the welfare of the city and its residents.
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