Three vie for County Board seat
By VICKI L. GERDES
When John Bellefeuille decided to run for a seat on the Becker County Board of Commissioners this fall, it wasn't a sudden whim.
"It's something I've thought about for 15 years," said the 53-year-old Detroit Lakes native.
A former Detroit Lakes police officer, he retired three and a half years ago, and now runs his own investigative service on a part-time basis.
He and his wife, Pat, live on Long lake. They celebrated their 21st anniversary this year and have two daughters: Amy, the eldest, who is married to Kregg Wolf, and Nicole, who is finishing up a master's degree in architecture at college in Bozeman, Mont.
So why did he decide to run this year?
"I've always had an interest (in county government), and I just think the time is right," he said. "I've spent my career solving conflicts," he said. "I think I can bring some good, solid attributes into the (county) commission)."
Though he admits his career in law enforcement has made him "public safety oriented," Bellefeuille said he doesn't have a specific "agenda" should he be elected, noting that he feels the sheriff's department is "doing a great job."
"My platform is that I'm a trained listener and I believe in government by the people," he said. ""I have the skills and the training to be able to listen to people and make the best decision for Becker County, by listening to the people who elect me.
"It appears to me as though the county is in pretty good shape," he continued. "I know many of the people in the various county departments... we've got some great people in Becker County.
"It just feels like this is the right time in my life to do it (seek county office). I've thought about it for the past two or three elections, and this time, my wife encouraged me to file."
Though he does have a part-time business, Bellefeuille said he would make the county board his priority if elected.
"If I get elected, I intend to pour my heart and soul into it," he said.
Bellefeuille says he'll bring the following attributions to the county board:
He is fiscally conservative.
A man of integrity.
A three-year member of the Detroit Township Board.
Respectful, objective and fair.
A good listener.
A consensus-builder who works hard to bring people together for the good of all.
A lifetime resident of Becker County.
A retired police officer who served on the Detroit Lakes Police Department for 23 years.
Named outstanding peace officer of the year in 1992 and 1998.
By NATHAN BOWE
Bob Bristlin looks back with pride on the nearly four years of his first term as Becker County commissioner.
Bristlin, 66, and his wife, Rita, live in Detroit Township. They have seven grown children.
Since he was elected in 2002, the rate of annual levy increase has slowed significantly, he said. It totaled 20.8 percent for the three years prior to his election, and totaled 9.2 percent the three years since his election.
"We cut the budget when the state was also cutting us -- while others were increasing their levies, we were cutting ours," he said.
He credited a switch to "as needed" budgeting, and hard work by department heads, commissioners and County Administrator Brian Berg.
"I want to emphasize how much Brian Berg has really meant to the county," he said.
He also praised fellow commissioners, past and present.
"No matter what people think about conflict (on the board) there isn't a one of them I wouldn't work with again," Bristlin said. "People think I have a problem with them, but I just say what I think ... I get a lot done by being transparent, to be honest."
Asked about community involvement, Bristlin points to his support of the Boys and Girls Club, Detroit Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce and Becker County Humane Society.
"I have donated to them and worked with them on their buildings," he said. Bristlin's company, Bob Bristlin & Son Construction, built or worked on all three projects -- new buildings for the chamber and humane society and extensive remodeling for the boys and girls club. He said he has also helped with the boys and girls club's new thrift store.
As an accomplishment, Bristlin pointed to the minimum security jail, which he said has eliminated a backlog of 120 people on a list waiting to serve jail time.
"I don't even know how you measure how much it saved the county," he said. "We were boarding them out (at other county jails) at $50 a day, we board them here for under $30 a day, plus we don't have to transport them, plus the money stays in Becker County. The STS crews and boarders we take in almost pay the entire lease payment."
Bristlin also points to:
Consolidation of the auditor and treasurer positions.
Elimination of $37.50 annual solid waste fees per household.
Completion of an extensive $1.8 million renovation project at Sunnyside Nursing Home near Lake Park.
Completion of an addition to the human services building without a tax increase.
The Becker County Workshop's purchase of a building in the industrial park. (The seller was his brother, Dick, a deal that Bristlin said he did not have a hand in, but was pleased to see work out. The Becker County EDA approved the deal, he noted)
Significant improvements to county zoning ordinances.
A $1.1 million increase in benefits paid to veterans living in Becker County.
Remodeling of the sheriff's department and dispatch center.
"I enjoy a challenge and we've had plenty of challenges -- we've accomplished a lot in a short period of time," Bristlin said. "There's been a lot of conflict and a lot of controversy, but we got it done one way or the other."
By NATHAN BOWE
Detroit Lakes business owner Chet Collins is making his first foray into politics with his run for the District 4 seat on the Becker County Board.
Collins, 35, has owned Lakeside Tavern for the past five years. He and his wife, Chris, have two children -- Caitlin, 6, and Samantha, 3.
"I've been actively involved in the community since I've been here," he said. The family moved to the Detroit Lakes area in 2000 to be closer to Chris' family, since she has roots in Becker County.
Collins said he has planned to run for county board for several years, and determined that this year the timing was right. His goal, he says, is to improve the financial conditions of the county. He is particularly interested in improving the tourist economy, and in working for property tax equality.
He is not running because he is unhappy with the job done by incumbent commissioner Bob Bristlin, though Collins would do some things differently.
"I'd decided for quite some time I was going to run," he said. "To be honest, it didn't matter what commissioner district I was in, I was going to run."
He said he has a lot of respect for the duties of county commissioner.
"It's a tough job. For Bob Bristlin and all the commissioners, it's a very tough position to be in."
Collins says he'd like to improve the planning process.
I'm looking very closely at long-term planning and restoring growth."
The county needs to put more effort into restoring the tourism economy, he said, and it needs to switch to 'true county assessing,' in order to achieve tax assessment equality across the county.
That means he would like to see the county assessor's office handle all assessment tasks. Under the current system, some townships hire freelance assessors, whose work is overseen by the assessors office.
"I'm totally in support of true county assessing," he said. Townships should rotate assessors, and county employees should handle the job.
"I think we could utilize our Becker County employees, we do a lot of subcontracting out," he said. "Becker County employees are more than qualified to be handling a lot of these."
Becker County has great potential, he said. "It's one of the nicest places to raise a family."
But improvements can be made.
"The county needs to work closer with the Chamber of Commerce and listen to small business to see what we need to do to help enhance (tourism)," he said.
It's all about responsibility and accountability, he added.
"If I'm elected, my door will always be open and my phone number will be out there -- people can talk to me any time. It's a tough job, but I'm 100 percent committed."