There will be at least one new member on the Farmington City Council after this year’s election. 

Mayor Todd Larson decided not to run for another term, and council members Katie Bernhjelm, Terry Donnelly and Joshua Hoyt are vying to become the city’s next mayor. 

Donnelly whose term expires this year is not seeking another term to the council, while Bernhjelm and Hoyt’s seats don’t expire until 2022. 

That means a newcomer will be in Donnelly seat. The other expiring term belongs to Council Member Robyn Craig, who is seeking reelection. Also filing for the two, four-year term council seats were Eric Edwards, Lerew Kaas, Katie Porter and Steve Wilson.

Early voting has already started and more information voting is at farmingtonmn.gov/government/elections/absentee_voting or sos.state.mn.us.

Following are the candidates’ responses to the Dakota County Tribune’s election questionnaire. 

 

Robyn Craig, incumbent

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Age: 62

Family: husband Ethan, daughter Jessica and three grandchildren

Occupation : Retired 35 years in business development, corporate negotiations, marketing, networking, training

Education: College South Dakota State University, sociology

Previous elected, appointed or volunteer positions:  Feed My Starving Children, Operation Christmas Child, Loaves and Fishes and Breaking Free which works with women who have been sex trafficked. My husband and I also have done pre-marital counseling for over 14 years.

1) Why should people vote for you? 

My passion to serve the residents of Farmington has grown in the last four years. Farmington has so much potential and I want to continue working to improve the city. I took an oath to serve the citizens. I do not take that responsibility lightly. It is my mission to work for the growth and prosperity of Farmington. This next year the makeup of the City Council will change. It would be beneficial to have a council member like myself, who has experience and knowledge to continue our progress within the city and bring continuity in the midst of change.

2) What experience do you have working with a decision-making group? Why should people trust that you will make decisions in the best interest of the city and its residents? 

My greatest decision-making group experience has been working on the Farmington City Council. You have five people who are coming from different backgrounds and life experiences, each trying to determine what is best for the whole community. It takes patience and perseverance. You need to be able to state your position on any topic, and be willing to defend that position if you feel it would be in the city’s best interest. Negotiations and collaborations can be difficult at times, but in the end, we are all working together to decide the best course of action.

3) What priorities should the city have to help local residents and the economy recover from the COVID-19 pandemic? 

COVID-19 has created a very difficult year for residents, businesses, schools, city staff and the City Council. There have been so many unknowns. Just when you think you have a plan, the COVID-19 guidelines change. The council has been using every financial tool available, CARES Act, government loans, and EDA grants to help businesses stay afloat. It has been our top priority to make residents aware of every program that could be helpful during the continuation of COVID-19. This information was so important, I went in person to talk with business owners about the opportunity for CARES Act funds.

4) Has the city taken adequate steps to sustain its vitality as it ages? Do you have any ideas for making sure properties are well-maintained and for promoting development and redevelopment?

In my four years on the council, each year we budget finances to sustain and maintain our properties and facilities, including upgrading streets, parks and recreation spaces. In the last two years: We completed a major reconstruction project in Westview that included street, water and sewers. A water tower was cleaned and refurbished. We added two new parks and made multiple improvements to the Rambling River Center. Next week we are adding a new rubber floor to improve the ice arena. The council frequently discusses best practices to draw in and promote development and redevelopment. The city EDA has dialogue monthly with landowners and developers to keep a pulse on their timelines to build. This last month we approved an EDA grant to a developer interested in upgrading some downtown spaces. Positive changes are coming. Once COVID-19 is behind us we will start to see significant growth in Farmington businesses.

5) Has the city achieved a proper balance between city services, spending and taxes? What, if any, services do you think should be improved, added or curtailed? 

Looking at the balance between needs and taxes is always a major priority. I am concerned that high tax increases could hurt families and businesses. Yet we need to support infrastructure and provide important city services.  It is not an easy task. The council would absolutely love to do some of the projects that residents have requested. This is where fiscal responsibility comes in. The council would be totally irresponsible to not look at the delicate balance we need to maintain with both taxes and city services. We are still paying off debt from years ago. The city as a whole is in a much better place financially than when I started on the council four years ago. We have lowered our debt and worked hard to raise our bond rating, which allows for future projects to be funded at a better interest rate which ultimately saves the taxpayers money.

 

Eric Edwards 

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Age: 53          

Occupation: Management-marketing

Education: Some college

Previous elected, appointed or volunteer positions: No matter where I have lived, for as long as I can remember, I have had a heart for the place I call home, and serving in those communities. For several years I served on the Nisswa Jaycees Community Service Organization, planning community events. In recent years I have volunteered for the Farmington Community Patriotic Dinner, Toys for Town, Farmington Ambassadors, and my church. I was also invited to serve on the CLA Marketing team for several years, creating awareness about the school and to increase growth. As a business owner I have been involved with the Rotary. 

1) Why should people vote for you? 

I have a heart for community, business and people. I will strive to serve the residents of Farmington wanting for myself to have a safe and prosperous community.  I want to be an active participant in the change and growth of the Farmington Community.  As I speak to people who live in the community, I see their vision, I hear their stories, and I want to be a person of integrity who will lead the way to address their issues and make the visions come to life.  

2) What experience do you have working with a decision-making group? Why should people trust that you will make decisions in the best interest of the city and its residents? 

Throughout my career I have had countless opportunities to work cohesively with many different groups of people. Each day I go to work I am communicating effectively with owners and other managers to make the best decisions for not only the business but how we can serve our client base. We have been successful at both. We want to manage our city well, hear all sides and make the best decision for residents. I make it a priority to be informed in this ever changing culture. This helps me to be proactive in situations rather than reactive after the fact.

3) What priorities should the city have to help local residents and the economy recover from the COVID-19 pandemic? 

The city has access to the CARES Act which offers fast and almost immediate assistance for American workers and families, small businesses and nonprofits. This is offered in hopes of saving jobs so families still have an income. In addition, I am aware of several organizations that have been helping people within the Farmington Community. The Wednesday Free Meals, at Faith United Methodist Church, the Farmington Lutheran Pantry, and my church Homestead Community Church has a Generosity team which has helped out families in need. We also have the church open so that students can come and do homework.

4) Has the city taken adequate steps to sustain its vitality as it ages? Do you have any ideas for making sure properties are well-maintained and for promoting development and redevelopment?

In my opinion Farmington has so much more potential than what it is living up to.  We must always seek out the best value and quality when maintaining properties. Property owners in the community should be held accountable to the ordinances and the upkeep of their properties. By doing this It is a win-win! I believe we will attract additional businesses to come to our city. Just as we all have and leave first impressions, so does a city. Potential business prospects see the value in a community when they see the residents in the community take pride in where they live. Small town heart with big picture thinking.

5) Has the city achieved a proper balance between city services, spending and taxes? What, if any, services do you think should be improved, added or curtailed? 

One of the issues we are facing is high taxes. We need to work with land owners to ensure the land owner is interested in selling and then act as the liaison to take the prospective business from Point A to Point B to completion. This is just one way that we can rectify some of the tax burden for the residents in the community. Short term and long term fixes can be explored when making revisions on a budget of services offered and spending in hope of balancing the budget and ensuring sustainable decision–making that will best serve the community, businesses and residents who live there and call Farmington home.  

 

Lerew Kaas

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Age: 21

Occupation: Working at Hy-Vee in Lakeville

Education: I graduated from Farmington High School and I am currently attending Inver Hills Community College

Previous elected, appointed or volunteer positions: The first volunteer position that I took part in was when I volunteered at the Minnesota House of Representatives in the High School Page Program. I also served as a student member on the ISD 192 School Board. My most recent volunteer experience would be when I interned at the White House this past spring. I worked in the Office of Presidential Correspondence as a presidential writers intern.

1) Why should people vote for you? 

I hope to promote economic growth in the city of Farmington, and through that growth, help to keep the tax burden down for our residents. As our city continues to grow, it is important that we also focus on financial accountability and prioritizing projects within the city budget. We need to make certain our infrastructure is strong going forward. If elected, I intend to make a positive, long lasting impact in the city of Farmington.

2) What experience do you have working with a decision-making group? Why should people trust that you will make decisions in the best interest of the city and its residents? 

From a young age, I have been very involved in many decision making processes. In 2017, I served as student member on the ISD 192 School Board. Although I did not make official decisions as a student member, I was involved in the decision making process. I provided input to the board, furnishing viewpoints they hadn’t considered. This led to better decision making on their point. My record of being involved in the School Board as a student member and offering unbiased opinions is a perfect example of why I will make decisions in the best interest of our residents.

3) What priorities should the city have to help local residents and the economy recover from the COVID-19 pandemic? 

In light of COVID-19, one thing that we could do is to offer financial support to local businesses in need. Farmington currently has a grant program in place that assists businesses in need, which Farmington’s businesses can utilize. 

4) Has the city taken adequate steps to sustain its vitality as it ages? Do you have any ideas for making sure properties are well-maintained and for promoting development and redevelopment? 

The city is doing what they can to sustain Farmington’s vitality. There are many development opportunities to be had in Farmington. Some are currently in the works through the EDA. The city already has a grant program in place for property improvements, which is a great idea for helping to retain the life of the city. There are other measures that can be taken, such as maintaining relationships with current land and business owners, in order to keep the city up to date on current and future development.

5) Has the city achieved a proper balance between city services, spending and taxes? What, if any, services do you think should be improved, added or curtailed?

The city has been doing a great job in working toward an effective balance between the city services, spending, and taxes. The city has been working hard to reduce the large amount of debt it has acquired. The city has a current plan in place, which, if executed properly, will help to fiscally improve the city. Farmington’s city tax levies have not been raised in recent years, and I will strive to keep it that way. The city has been slowly reducing some of its services in order to help lower municipal costs and keep tax rates from rising. When the city cannot afford a particular service, we need to look at how we can afford this service, or look into reducing it.

 

Katie Porter

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Age: 33

Family: Husband Noah and five children

Occupation: Homemaker

Education: Psychology major, University of Northwestern- St. Paul

Previous elected, appointed or volunteer positions: Member of the Farmington Yellow Ribbon Network, Trinity Care Center volunteer, Farmington Ambassadors Program parent, Loaves & Fishes community meal, Farmington Community Garden

1) Why should people vote for you?

My heart for the people of Farmington will be an unwavering pillar in my leadership and representation of the ideals, vision and desires for change that are voiced in our community. I will not lead with any personal agenda nor will I make decisions without dialogue and feedback on the issues facing our city, to be certain that they are in the best interest of our community as a whole. I recognize the desire to be heard and therefore will always seek to be transparent, approachable and supportive.

2) What experience do you have working with a decision-making group? Why should people trust that you will make decisions in the best interest of the city and its residents? 

My passion for leadership began in high school; as a member of student council and the student body board, I was always seeking ways to be a voice for my fellow classmates. I have held several positions that have required consistent assessments of goals and success rates for clients and their families, as well as those that required background screening, interviewing and hiring of new employees. The decisions were always people-focused and I made it a point to listen to the needs and desires of those involved.

3) What priorities should the city have to help local residents and the economy recover from the COVID-19 pandemic? 

We need to listen to the people on this; there are a variety of needs, financially and otherwise, that I have seen come to light during this difficult season, and I believe the residents of Farmington need to be given the opportunities to voice these needs so that the city leadership is able to best address solutions. One area that we know has been gravely affected are our small businesses. Encouraging residents to patronize these businesses frequently, as well as discussions with business owners on how they desire to be promoted is extremely important!

4) Has the city taken adequate steps to sustain its vitality as it ages? Do you have any ideas for making sure properties are well-maintained and for promoting development and redevelopment?

The city of Farmington has a lot to offer, from unique businesses to historical buildings and a wonderful small town feel. I believe it is important that we take pride in our downtown area, parks and business districts by keeping the streets and buildings well-maintained and festive (when applicable). COVID-19 has presented many challenges to the continuation of gatherings and festivals in our community, but my hope is to promote more local attractions in order to help the city be a desirable and profitable place for present and future business owners alike.

5) Has the city achieved a proper balance between city services, spending and taxes? What, if any, services do you think should be improved, added or curtailed?

Unfortunately, the lack of available land for expansion and commercial zoning limitations in Farmington right now are an obstacle. We need to encourage more businesses to come to Farmington, but we will need to get creative and think outside the box in how to best approach this issue in order to see a lesser burden on taxpayers in years to come. Our residents would love to see an outdoor pool or splash pad area for our young families to enjoy, as well as the very prevalent and obvious need for at least one grocery store within city limits.

 

Steve Wilson

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Age: 51

Family: Married to Andrea for 22 years with three children. Josh is a junior at Gustavus Adolphus College, Ben is a senior at Farmington High School, and Elizabeth is a ninth-grader at Farmington High School

Occupation: Independent Insurance Agent, Individual and Medicare

Education: University of Minnesota, Twin Cities - BA in communications and political science

Previous elected, appointed or volunteer positions: Farmington City Council, elected- 2005-2010; Farmington Economic Development Authority (EDA) - vice chair, appointed - 2013-current; Business Growth & Retention Subcommittee of EDA; Farmington Police Department Citizens Academy; Downtown Redevelopment Task Force, appointed; Farmington Travel Baseball Coach; Farmington Troop 116 parent leader; Farmington Pack 120 Den leader; volunteered in numerous community activities with different organizations

1) Why should people vote for you? 

I will bring a common-sense perspective as a resident combined with a wealth of experience serving the residents of Farmington on the Economic Development Authority and the City Council. It is a high priority to ensure that all of our first responders, particularly our police and fire departments have the financial resources and the 100% backing of the City Council. Farmington has tremendous potential and great people who live here and I will be a voice of both fiscal responsibility and working together as a team with the mayor and council. Residents should expect this. 

2) What experience do you have working with a decision-making group? Why should people trust that you will make decisions in the best interest of the city and its residents? 

I have a broad set of experience in working with decision-making groups.  As a former council member, and as a current Economic Development Authority member, I have demonstrated that my primary goal is serving Farmington residents and helping to shape decisions that are in the best interests of our community. As an EDA member, we have a great team which has provided over $60,000 to fund local business improvement projects over the last four years. As a member of the Farmington Downtown Business Redevelopment committee, we have created a vision for downtown Farmington that is ready to be implemented.

3) What priorities should the city have to help local residents and the economy recover from the COVID-19 pandemic? 

The pandemic has affected every resident and every business in the community. The priorities should be to ensure that the budget does not have negative tax consequences on residents. The city should continue to look for ways to help and support our Farmington community in every way possible. As an EDA member we established a utility bill program to allow for any business to apply for up to a $500 credit on their city utility bill. We need to make sure that we protect our residents, including those on fixed incomes from large tax increases and growth in government.

4) Has the city taken adequate steps to sustain its vitality as it ages? Do you have any ideas for making sure properties are well-maintained and for promoting development and redevelopment? 

Farmington is approaching 150 years of being an incorporated city and the heritage of our community remains vital as seen through farming, a historic downtown, and continued growth. As noted previously, the EDA, which I serve on, has been able to invest in downtown businesses to improve structural problems utilizing federal dollars. In addition, the city as a whole has provided over $60,000 to help our local businesses with facade improvements which have enhanced their value and appearance. I support these continued activities. As a council member, we need to address the corner of Third and Elm along with the commercial area vacated by the grocery store. These are visible locations that need a vision and redevelopment to continue Farmington’s vitality into the future. The downtown redevelopment plan also envisions more walking/biking trails and parking to support this effort. I maintain a positive outlook on the future of Farmington.

5) Has the city achieved a proper balance between city services, spending and taxes? What, if any, services do you think should be improved, added or curtailed?

The city has a continual responsibility to review its short-term and long-term financial plans. If elected, I would like the council to review the 10-year financial plan and the capital improvement plan and determine what services and planned expenses are needed to meet the needs and expectations of residents. At the core, residents expect the council to provide a safe community. This is seen by all the signs of support our police and fire departments have by residents throughout town. I will always maintain financial support for our first responders. Looking at the long term financial and capital improvement plans, I believe we need to ask two key questions. First, is the resident seeing value from the service being provided? Second, do we have enough services that support growth in retail, commercial, and industrial growth? Answers to these questions will help shape spending and tax decisions into the future.

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