The League of Women Voters Plymouth-Wayzata Area chapter hosted virtual candidate forums for Mound city council and mayoral candidates on Sept. 30.

Both forums were recorded by the Lake Minnetonka Communications Commission (LMCC) and are available on LMCC’s elections page at www.lmcc-tv.org/lmcc-election.

MAYORAL FORUM

Current city council member Sherrie Pugh and incumbent Mayor Ray Salazar took part in the 45-minute Q&A that elicited their views on such topics as affordable housing, downtown redevelopment, racial inequities and what the city’s budget priorities should be.

Julie Distel, the third candidate vying for the mayor’s seat this election season, declined participation, said LWV moderator Melissa Musliner.

Both Pugh and Salazar listed infrastructure and commercial redevelopment as priorities; Salazar also emphasized improving water quality while Pugh said environmental considerations were of concern to her.

Both Salazar and Pugh pointed to the “naturally occurring” affordable housing in Mound and said that, with little room to grow in new development, the city’s role was not necessarily in attracting more affordable housing but instead is one of ensuring these properties are well-maintained.

Both candidates had in August voted against a high density housing proposal for redeveloping the beleaguered Commerce Place shopping center in the city’s downtown. Salazar emphasized the importance of small business and talked about his decision to revive an economic development committee. Pugh suggested partnering with Hennepin County to move the library to Commerce Place.

On the topic of racial and gender inequities, Salazar said any change must first happen organically and on an individual level, “from the inside out,” while Pugh said much of the problem is with her own generation and that society would do best to follow the younger generations in their attitudes.

Budget priorities for both candidates involved building for the future, with Pugh pointing to further opportunity in the city’s Harbor District and Salazar emphasizing the importance of strong infrastructure to accommodate new businesses and residents. Both also said that further shoreing up of Mound’s reserve funds is important.

CITY COUNCIL FORUM

Five candidates are jockeying for two Mound city council seats this year, and three of these candidates participated in the forum Sept. 30: Drew Heal, Nichole Spiess and Debra Vertnik. Moderator Musliner said that candidate and current council member Paula Larson declined the invitation and that candidate Jason Holt had not responded to multiple attempts to reach him by phone, email and letter.

The candidates who did participare answered many of the same questions given during the mayoral forum, and like in the mayoral forum infrastructure and redevelopment were common themes. All three candidates who participated said they’d like to see the city remain a small town and recognized that Mound has little area left that is undeveloped; any growth would have to come in the form of redevelopment and attracting small businesses, they said.

Vertnik was candid in saying repeatedly that she had more questions than answers and that she was keen on taking the pulse of those who live in the city for their views, including those they may have for redeveloping the downtown Commerce Place.

Spiess suggested trying out some of the “big city” ideas, like helping fund parks through naming rights. Heal advocated strong partnerships with other agencies and seeing what grants may be available.

Both Heal and Spiess said they’d like to see strong relationships between the area’s police departments to ensure best practices, while Vertnik suggested the addition of “community officers” in Mound and questioned whether the city’s 2012 decision to contract with Orono on police was the best decision.

On the topic of the environment, Spiess said a societal shift toward more conscientiousness has gone a long way in preservation. Heal, who said he had installed solar panels on his home, advocated for tax credits, and Vertnik suggested that city-level mandates could be necessary in changing behaviors to benefit the environment.

Other topics included the city’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, racial inequities in the city and, briefly, backyard chickens.

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