North St. Paul races heat up before Election Day

In North St. Paul, five candidates are vying for two city council positions, and only one person filed for the mayoral race.

Council members Candy Petersen and Terry Furlong, as well as Mayor Mike Kuehn, have terms expiring at the end of the year. 

Petersen is campaigning for re-election, competing against Tim Cole, Chris Johnson, Ronnie Sprigler and former council member Scott Thorsen.

Kuehn announced early August that after 11 years as North St. Paul mayor, preceded by 17 years on the city council, he is not running for re-election.

Following Kuehn’s announcement, Furlong stepped forward to try and fill the mayoral seat. He is the only candidate who filed for the seat.

The Review asked the candidates via email why they are running, what skills or experiences they will bring to office, what they believe the top challenges will be in North St. Paul in upcoming years and what project they will prioritize if elected.

 

City Council

Cole, 55, said he is running for a council position because he wants to “give back to a community that has provided my family with so much.”

Cole, who is married to Kelley Cole, works full time as a sales team leader at Hamilton Beach Brands and holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration and economics from Augustana University.

He said he would bring to office “negotiating experience with some of the country’s largest retailers,” “a results oriented approach to leadership” paired with respect for each community member, “a collaborative skillset” to unite the city, and active listening and transparent communication skills.

Cole listed economic development and a growing tax burden on the residents as two challenges he thinks North St. Paul will face in upcoming years, and he said that if he is elected, he will prioritize “economic development that grows the city’s tax base, which is critical to keeping resident taxes low.”

He also said improvement of streets and infrastructure — particularly the Highway 36 and Century Avenue intersection — and continued development to the downtown, would be upcoming challenges, and if elected, he would prioritize the ongoing improvement to streets, parks, trails, community space and events that bring residents together, as well as making the downtown area a destination by helping to attract new businesses and restaurants.

Improvement in school test scores making North St. Paul a destination for young families, is another challenge Cole foresees, and working with the school board to this end would also be a priority if he is elected.

Cole also indicated health and safety of the community and communication with residents are important to him.

Cole said, “I believe North St. Paul needs a fresh face for a fresh future. Our city has lots of potential and opportunity to grow and attract new residents and business.”

 

Johnson, 62, said he is running because he believes he will serve the public well and his life experiences as a blue collar worker could bring a different perspective to the council.

“I feel that all citizens who have vested interests in issues brought before the council need a fair consideration,” Johnson said. “Our decisions are for the betterment of the city, but we must remember it is the citizens that make up the city. Without the citizens it’s just real estate.”

Johnson, who is married to Rebecca Johnson, is a retired part-time bus driver for School District 622. He holds a high school degree from Jefferson High School in Alexandria, and he said he would bring to the council his common sense, strong communication and listening skills, and adaptability.

When asked what he thinks the top challenges are that North St. Paul will face in upcoming years, Johnson said that “continuing infrastructure improvement is paramount.”

“Our city has a lot of old neighborhoods that need upgrading,” Johnson said. “As these improvement projects move forward I would like to make sure trees are taken into consideration as well as the aesthetics of the neighborhood the work is being done in.”

Johnson also said that drawing in businesses and enhancing the downtown business district will be an upcoming challenge, one that he would prioritize if elected.

He explained that “more businesses would be good for everyone,” including new businesses, existing businesses and residents. 

“The benefits of business growth in the community is essential to local economic health,” Johnson said.

He added, “I also look forward to the opportunity to continue on a path for keeping our lakes healthy and I would like to see our beach continued to be staffed with lifeguards.”

 

Petersen, 64, is an incumbent finishing up her second, four-year term on the city council.

When asked why she is running, Petersen said, “I have been honored to serve my community these past eight years and I want to continue to serve the city I love!”

She added that it is an exciting time for the city because developers are investing in the community, with plans to develop some of the empty lots.

Petersen is a widowed retiree who studied education at the University of Minnesota, and she said that if she is re-elected, she will bring to the council her skills as a consensus builder and good listener, as well as her experience studying the issues and being accessible.

Petersen said that one of the challenges North St. Paul faces is providing services “that we all have been accustom to,” but that now come at a higher cost.

Another challenge she listed is that “North St. Paul is almost built out and we need to be proactive and smart about redevelopment.” She added that the city needs to grow its commercial tax base and that public safety is essential but costs money.

Petersen said that if she is re-elected, one of her priorities is the reconstruction of Seventh Avenue. She added that Seventh Avenue is a “charming” main street for the city, but it needs to be improved.

“The infrastructure is in disrepair but of course that will be expensive,” she said.

Petersen said, “I want to keep North St Paul attractive and affordable for businesses and families.”

 

Sprigler, 51, said she is running for a place on the city council because she has spent years advocating for people and communities.

“I believe that everyone should devote their time to the improvement and growth of our neighborhoods and surrounding communities,” Sprigler said.

Sprigler is a widow who works full time as a paraprofessional in St. Paul Public Schools District 625. She holds an associate’s degree in education from Inver Hills Community College.

Sprigler said her experience as an “innovative professional with 21 years of combined experience in special education, customer service and event planning” is something she will bring to the council if she is elected. She added that she is also an “exceptional communicator with the ability to build a rapport and relationship with individuals of all ages.”

When asked about the city’s top challenges, Sprigler said, “Crime and the growing drug problem in our community is a great challenge to address.”

“We also have to look at old policy and find a standard that allows growth of our small businesses while cherishing our small town appeal,” she added.

Sprigler explained that if she is elected, she would prioritize additional police and fire support, “as well as learning and understanding the needs of our community.”

Sprigler did not provide the Review with a photo of herself.

 

Thorsen, 35, said his main reason for running for election is his concern about the city budget and how the city has been managed.

“I think it is important that the city has a strong and competent city manager to carry out the day-to-day operations,” Thorsen said, adding that the council needs to find a city manager, work together as a team and give clear direction to staff.

Thorsen, who is not married, works full-time as an accountant at Thorsen, Breidinger & Novak, P.A. He holds a bachelor’s degree in accounting from the University of Wisconsin – River Falls.

When asked what he would bring to the council, Thorsen said, “As a prior council member (2013-2015) and Firefighter (2007-2017) I have an understanding of the city budget, city operations, and how the city council works. I would like to get involved again to help bring a different perspective to the council and believe that my background can be helpful in doing so.”

Thorsen listed North St. Paul’s top challenges as hiring a new full-time city manager, the White Bear Lake lawsuit, the Highway 36 and Century Avenue interchange project, sticking to the Capital Improvement Plan and communication with the public.

He added that the city budget is a challenge, noting that the property tax levy seems to be drastically climbing each year. He also listed the Community Center, which he called the “Money Pit.”

Thorsen explained that if he is elected, he would try to prioritize all of the issues he listed as top challenges for the city, though he did highlight ensuring the most qualified person is hired as the next city manager.

He added, “I will attempt to make my thoughts and opinions clear and understood as to help facilitate open and honest debate amongst council members in a respectful and professional manner.”

 

Mayoral race

Current council member Furlong is the only candidate running for the open mayoral position.

Furlong, 56, said that he initially had planned not to run for elected office after his council term expires at the end of 2018, but “after much thought and encouragement from my wife, family, friends and the many people who supported me and my efforts the past 10 years on the council, I decided I would like the opportunity to lead the city as Mayor for the next four years.”

Furlong, who is married to Sandy Furlong, works full-time as co-owner of Furlong’s Liquor and holds a bachelor’s degree in finance from Bemidji State University. 

Furlong said he would bring to office his experiences as a city council member from 2008 to present, as a past trustee and transitional team member of Church of St. Peter between 2001 and 2008, as a past president of the Oakdale Business and Professional Organization, as a former district chair for Friends of Scouting and as the 1996 St. Paul Winter Carnival Prince of the East Wind.

When discussing the city’s top challenges, Furlong noted the need to continue working on many capital improvement projects regarding streets, parks, downtown improvements and the Highway 36 and Century Avenue intersection.

He also listed the need to improve communications with residents, build relationships with the local school district and neighboring communities, continue focusing on economic development, and staffing the volunteer fire department.

Furlong said that if he is elected as mayor, he would prioritize development opportunities, like the Anchor Block site, ensuring they keep moving forward.

He also said he would prioritize the city budget, city services, crime and continued economic development. 

“I look forward to using my leadership, business, community and city government experience to help the City of North St. Paul serve the needs of its residents now — while strengthening its foundation for the future,” Furlong said.

 

 

Election Day is Nov. 6. North St. Paul is made up of four precincts, and depending on where they live, residents will be able to vote at River of God Church, 2490 Seventh Ave. E., North Presbyterian Church, 2675 Highway 36 E., Cowern School, 2131 Margaret St. N., or Richardson School, 2615 First St. N. 

 

To verify your precinct and voting location visit, www.pollfinder.sos.state.mn.us.

 

-Aundrea Kinney can be reached at 651-748-7822 or akinney@lillienews.com.

Rate this article: 
Average: 5 (2 votes)
Comment Here