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Primary election is Tuesday: Craig Fontaine brings management expertise

Craig Fontaine, 57, has done a lot of things in life -- paramedic in Iraq, McDonald's store manager, scoutmaster, private pilot. He is now a security screener at the Becker County Courthouse.

Fontaine, who is single, came to Detroit Lakes from Bemidji to manage the McDonald's fast-food restaurant here, and he never left.

"I fell in love with this area," he said. "They were going to transfer me to a new one when this one was up and running."

He decided he didn't want to leave, and left the corporation after 19 years. He started working at McDonald's when he was just 15.

After McDonald's, he worked as an emergency medical technician with St. Mary's Ambulance Service, and taught restaurant management in the marketing education department at the technical college in Detroit Lakes for nine years.

He was laid off in 1996 when the technical college was revamped to become part of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) system.

He then earned a two-year paramedicine certificate from the MnSCU college in East Grand Forks and worked full-time for St. Mary's Ambulance Service until May of 2008, when he went to Iraq as a private paramedic supporting the western military coalition.

He served in a non-combat role, working at various times in six coalition bases in southern Iraq -- serving workers with the private contractors that do much of the non-combat work for the military. He also served some Iraqi citizens and some members of the military.

He received additional training a few months into his time there and ended up doing clinical work involving more advanced procedures.

"Iraq was very financially rewarding, and it was a challenge," he said.

It could also be dangerous. A rocket strike destroyed an office about 100 feet from his clinic on Thanksgiving Day 2010 -- hitting about 10 minutes after staff there had left to eat Thanksgiving dinner. He worked in Iraq for 42 months, with occasional leaves for visits back home.

"I have a lot of experience in a lot of different areas," he said. He has served as a volunteer firefighter in Detroit Lakes, and as a member of the Becker County sheriff's auxiliary.

He is a member of the Masons and for years volunteered as a scoutmaster, winning the Silver Scout Award. He likes to hunt, fish, and ride his Harley-Davidson. He is also a private pilot.

On the campaign trail, he says people seem most concerned about erosion on West Lake Drive, aquatic invasive species, and, of course, taxes.

"People along the lake are getting socked with taxes," he said. High lakeshore taxes are a problem. "Some people (on the lake) are paying $500 a month in taxes," he said.

"I don't have a problem with paying my taxes," he added, "as long as they are used frugally." (He lives on Villa Lane, a neighborhood just off West Lake Drive.)

It's been a long time since there has been a commissioner on the county board who only represented Detroit Lakes residents, but that's the case with the newly-created open district Fontaine is running for. It consists solely of Detroit Lakes wards (2 and 3).

"Having a Detroit Lakes representative on the county board can be good and bad," he said. "It can be an opportunity to work closely with the city on services and making it more effective."

But the city may have had more influence on the county board when the wards were split among more commissioners, he added.

The candidates were asked if they agreed with the county's strict enforcement of zoning laws, which have resulted in decks, retaining walls and other structures -- built without the proper permits -- being torn down.

"With the economy the way it is right now, it's kind of a shame to (waste the resources) and tear it out because it was not properly applied for," he said. "The contractors generally know the permit rules, but if you do something on your own... at some point you have to be held accountable for that. The easiest way is education, so people know what they have to do before making changes in their property."

Candidates were also asked if they believe any county departments are under-funded or over-funded and if so, what changes they would make.

"I'd like to learn the budgets," Fontaine said. "I'd like to look into it and see ... we need to have a nice balance between what the people need and what the departments are able to provide."

Asked what he believes are the top issues facing the county, Fontaine said:

"Trying to pay for everything without breaking the backs of the taxpayer."

Fontaine was named McDonalds' "outstanding store manager of the year" for two years running in the Minneapolis region, which covered about 2,500 restaurants in three states. He would bring that management expertise to the county board.

"People are the most valuable resource the county has," he said. "The department heads are professionals -- we have very good department heads right now. I'd challenge them to be the best leaders they can be and the employees to be the best they can be."

The third issue is that the county badly needs a county administrator, and Fontaine would have liked to see a local person chosen for the job.

"I strongly feel we have good people within our county, rather than looking outside the county," he said, mentioning Becker County Auditor-Treasurer Ryan Tangen specifically.