The League of Women Voters hosted a forum at Fridley City Hall on Aug. 30 to give voters a chance to get to know the candidates.
The forum, attended by approximately 40 people, featured District 41A candidates Connie Bernardy (DFL) and Susan Erickson (R), District 4 Anoka County Commissioner candidates Sean Broom and Mandy Meisner, and Fridley City Council candidates Steve Eggert, Pam Reynolds, Tom Tillberry and Ann Bolkcom.
During the two-hour forum, the candidates were allowed to give opening and closing statements and were also asked a number of questions by moderators Karen Varian and Susan Anderson. Due to the number of questions asked, only select topics will be covered in this article.
State House Representative District 41A
Moderator Karen Varian opened the forum by asking each candidate why they are qualified to represent District 41A.
Susan Erickson said that although she is not a politician, she is a resident that is actively involved with local issues in her community.
“With taxing and spending out of control from our cities to our entire state there is a need for a new perspective representing you at the capital,” she said. “I know I can make a difference so that’s why I am running for a seat that my opponent has held for 12 years. I love being a part of this community and will be a representative that you want to discuss your concerns with.”
Connie Bernardy opened her remarks by expressing her love for the community.
“I love helping others,” said Bernardy, who has represented the district for six non-consecutive terms. “It is my favorite job as a legislator. I think a lot of us, when I go door-to-door in our community, we really want hope and opportunity for everyone in our community and our state. I think the other thing is we want to leave the state a better place for our children and our grandchildren.”
Varian then asked each candidate their short and long-term goals for the future of District 41A.
“I think going door-to-door and visiting with people and hearing what the concerns are,” said Bernardy. “By far what I am hearing from people in this community is our healthcare crisis. We need to ensure that affordable and quality heathcare becomes a real-life reality.
Bernardy then went on to talk about the importance of education.
“I love our community because we value education,” she said. “People value education. We value our teachers, we value opportunities for our students and we work hard for them.”
Erickson said that she will work on restructuring policies that will “let people keep more of their own money.”
“Our tax dollars are going to many failed programs,” she said. “Currently the quick fix is to pour more money into them and that’s not the solution. Business and jobs are leaving Minnesota due to high taxes and burdens and regulations. Support for removing unnecessary regulations, while keeping protections in place would be a good start.”
Candidates then answered questions provided by the audience. The first question being how they feel about the federal tax conformance.
“Minnesota is a state that has been very progressive in their taxes and trying to create a fair tax system for our residents,” said Bernardy. “It is important as we look to conformity to figure out how we are going to meet the challenges of the changes in the tax system that frankly are affecting Minnesota. There are going to be a lot of challenges before us and how we do our tax structure makes a difference in the lives of the residents right here in our community.”
Erickson said that she believes the tax conformity bill should have been passed.
“It is going to harm a lot of people in Minnesota when we go to do our taxes at the end of the year,” said Erickson.
The mental health housing question was also a hot topic during the District 41A forum. Varian asked each candidate what they plan to do to address the housing gap in the districts mental health system.
Erickson said she would begin by investigating the issue and gathering facts.
“I know that we have many halfway houses in New Brighton,” she said. “I do agree that people need safe housing and they need the support. I do support it but I would need to investigate further to find the best way to handle it.”
Bernardy said that she was in support of a $100 million bonding bill to invest in affordable housing in the state.
“A part of that was housing veterans and helping people be able to have stable housing,” said Bernardy. “This is really an important topic that we need to keep addressing. It is something that often does not get addressed as much as it should get addressed but these are our friends and family members.”
District 4 Anoka County Commissioner
Moderator Karen Varian opened the forum by asking each candidate why they are qualified to be the next District 4 commissioner.
Candidate Mandy Meisner said that working for the North Metro Mayors Association has given her the tools to be an effective commissioner.
“I have been the community relations manager at North Metro Mayors Association for the last three years,” said Meisner. “Through this work, I have learned about city operations, policy creation and how to work effectively through legislation. I have built strong working relationships with city leaders, current county commissioners, law enforcement and legislators, which will allow me to work on our unique district issues. I am here today because my community has been asking me to run for office for years and I am saying yes now because I know that I can best represent the changing face of Anoka County.”
Sean Broom also said that his resume and personal background have prepared him to represent District 4 effectively.
“I have a deep background in public policy,” “I have worked for several years as a staff member for the Minneapolis City Council. I was a policy and outreach staffer for a U.S. Congressmen. The reason why I am running for this office is because I know the value that a county can deliver. I know the value that the county can have in the lives of people in need. I know that because I was homeless as a teenager.”
Varian then asked each candidate their short and long-term goals as District 4 commissioner.
“The short-term goals have to be trying to find ways to make sure that Anoka Counties southern communities are building economically off of the heat that is coming out of Northeast Minneapolis, said Broom. “That we try to stay affordable for residents who live there now. That is one of the benefits of Fridley and Columbia Heights and that is that they are incredibly affordable for families. We need to make sure we can ensure that.”
In the long-term, Broom says investing in transit is most important.
“There is nothing that will sustain development longer than investing in transit,” he said. “It will connect people to opportunities.”
Meisner said that when she thinks about long-term, she thinks about the legacy that she wants to create.
“What I want to leave behind are the same things that I work hard at today,” she said. “Building a strong community by building strong partnerships. Partnerships that will allow economic development opportunities, promote jobs and the trades, and efficiently manage your tax dollars, our community resources and our infrastructure.”
Meisner said her short-term goals would be addressing the county’s mental health crisis.
“Minnesota has the lowest amount of mental health beds in the nation,” said Meisner. “The most recent bonding bill gave $30 million to create new crisis centers. These crisis centers will offer mental health beds but also wrap around services for housing, job placement and ongoing therapy. I will absolutely focus on developing the first crisis center in Anoka County.
Candidates then answered questions provided by the audience. Candidates were asked if they supported the Columbia Heights District 13 referendum.
Broom said absolutely.
“It is fundamentally important to our neighborhood and our communities that we have a strong education system,” he said. “The referendum for the Columbia Heights school district, which includes Columbia Heights, Hilltop and a part of Fridley goes to absolutely necessary improvements at North Park Elementary School. It is a really nominal investment for our community and is one that will pay dividends for generations.”
Meisner said that although she does not live in the district, and that county commissioners have very little influence over education, she believes Columbia Heights residents will make the right choice.
“I believe that the residents of Columbia Heights can decide for themselves what is right for their own school district,” she said. “As county commissioner, I would ask that we are always open to listening to both sides of the issue. I absolutely support education and I want what is best for the kids.”
Candidates were then asked how they will encourage economic development.
“Economic development is huge for long-term success for Anoka County,” said Meisner. “To attract business to Ankoa County and keep them is absolutely a focus of mine.”
Meisner also said that she hopes to connect community and technical colleges with employers in the area.
“Vocational training is not second place to college,” she said.
Broom said that the base of economic development is education.
“As a county commissioner, I think there is a really important role to be played as an advocate for all of the families and children in our district,” said Broom.
Broom also stated that the county needs to find ways to lower the costs of entry to business.
“We need to make sure we do a good job advertising the benefits that we have,” said Broom.
Fridley City Council Ward 2
Moderator Susan Anderson opened the Fridley City Council Ward 2 forum by asking each candidate why they are qualified for a seat on the council.
“I consider myself to be qualified based on that I am honest, friendly, I have a sense of humor, I know the difference between need and want and I know the difference between right and wrong,” said Pam Reynolds. “I have a past in representation and I enjoy doing research. As the current city council knows, I enjoy questioning the government’s actions on a regular basis. The reason I am running is I believe that I can make a difference in how government operates in Fridley.
Steve Eggert said he is running because he is passionate and cares about Fridley’s future.
“I am fully invested in our community,” he said. “I have deep roots here going back to 1964 before the tornadoes. I have many personal relationships and continuous community involvement. The community has served me well these past 50 years and as a retired person I have to time and desire to give back to my community. My qualifications include my wonderful career at Target, which prepared me in many ways. I have had numerous face-to-face meetings interacting with cities and agencies. We have collaborated, problem solved, and negotiated on many projects.”
Anderson then asked each candidate their short and long-term goals if they are voted onto the council.
Eggert said his short-term goal is to become available to the community.
“I’ll dig deeper into the current and upcoming issues,” said Eggert. “I’ll connect with more of the city staff and attend and represent the council at community events and workshops to be visible, accessible and responsive.”
Eggert said his long-term goals are to create a link with residents and a connection with businesses. He also said he wants to ensure that the police and fire departments in Fridley have to resources to keep the community safe.
Reynolds said her short-term goal would be to hold listening sessions.
“To learn what their needs are. To learn what they need from this city,” she said. “Then go back to the government in Fridley and express the needs of the community as they have been told to me.”
Reynolds said her long-term goal is to increase the transparency of the council.
“Currently, there are a lot of things that happen that are too late for the citizens to get involved,” she said. “I want to foster a ‘need and not want’ ideology that focuses on the needs of the citizens and not the wants of the city.”
Fridley City Council Ward 1 and 3
Tom Tillberry is running unopposed for Ward 1 and Ann Bolkcom is running unopposed for Ward 3.
League of Women Voters encourages informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. LWV does not support or oppose candidates or parties. The local League of Women Voters ABC is comprised of women and men from several north and northwest metro communities.