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DL council, school board candidates answer questions at Monday forum

Detroit Lakes School Board candidates (seated, from left) Kylie Johnson, Jennifer Pedersen, Robert Strand and Tom Trowbridge took part in a public forum hosted by the Detroit Lakes Area League of Women Voters Monday night at M State. Earlier in the evening, it was the Detroit Lakes City Council candidates' turn.

Candidates for seats on the Detroit Lakes School Board and City Council participated in a public forum hosted by the local League of Women Voters chapter Monday night at Minnesota State Community & Technical College (M State).

Both forums lasted approximately an hour, and included a wide range of questions submitted by audience members on notecards, as well as some that had been submitted via email prior to the event. The questions were carefully screened by a three-person panel — Linda Schell, Helen Foltz and Carrie Johnston — before being presented to the moderator of each forum.

City council forum

Participants in the city council forum included the four candidates running for two "at large" seats — Natalie Bly, Beth Pridday, incumbent Madalyn Sukke and John Thorpe — as well as the unchallenged candidate for the Ward 3 seat, Matt Boeke.

The two candidates vying for the Ward 2 council seat, incumbent Jay Schurman and challenger Rick Johnson, as well as Ward 1 Alderman Dan Wenner (who is running unopposed) were all unable to attend, though Schurman submitted a statement read out loud by forum moderator Terry Kalil at the start of the event.

Questions fielded by the five candidates included how they would fund a new police department if the upcoming referendum asking voters to approve a local option sales tax to fund it should fail; how they would address the need for affordable housing in the community if elected; and whether they support the current plans for developing West Lake Drive.

All of the candidates said they felt a new police department facility was needed, and the best option for funding it would be the proposed local option sales tax.

"My personal hope is that it does not fail," said Pridday of the sales tax referendum. "This would be a shared expense among everybody that uses our community services, and it is clearly the best option in my mind that we all share in the cost."

Pridday also said that she had toured the current police department building with her fellow Kiwanis Club members, and felt "it is a building that is not really adequate for the services that our community needs.

"Protecting our community takes resources, and it's something we need to invest in," she continued, adding that if the referendum does fail, the council will have "a hard question in front of them," with regard to other options for funding the new facility, and that while she would like to be a part of that decision making process if it becomes necessary, "I hope we don't have to have that discussion."

"I also would support that half cent sales tax increase," said Bly, adding that if it does not pass, "the alternative is a property tax increase and I think we'd be better suited with a sales tax to help spread that cost to everybody."

"I have chaired the public safety (committee) the last year," said Boeke, adding, "We looked at multiple options (as possible sites for a the new police facility), from the old Ulteig (Engineering) building, to moving into the upstairs of the sheriff's department... we looked at a bunch of different locations and options, all the way down to the old Kmart building (to determine) what we could make do and what would be the best use of resources and dollars to get this done. Currently I think the best plan is the position we have, with that location just east of the Holmes. If this does not happen, then we kind of scratch our heads and go back to the drawing board... but at the end of the day, something needs to be done."

"The need for the police station is one of the primary reasons I wanted to run for reelection," said Sukke. "The local option sales tax is really the best way to pay for this. Over the last 10 years or so we've lost $13 million in local government aid, which would have easily paid for a new police station and easily paid for a new public works building."

If the sales tax referendum doesn't pass, Sukke added, "the council will have to look hard at things... this will need to be probably looked at as a property tax increase on your levy."

"The police department in this city is, by and large, awesome," said Thorpe. "If you've had interaction with the police in this town you know the quality of people that represent this town... it's growing, we have a great need... I'm a 'vote yes' on that one."

The full forum is available for viewing on YouTube, via the link on the Detroit Lakes Area League of Women Voters page on Facebook. Also, look for a future story in the Tribune profiling the candidates for council that were not able to attend Monday's forum.

School board forum

The second LWV forum held Monday night at M State featured candidates for the Detroit Lakes School Board, where there are three open positions that will be filled on Nov. 6.

Incumbent Kylie Johnson and challengers Jennifer Pedersen, Robert Strand and Tom Trowbridge were present for Monday's forum. The fifth candidate, April Thomas, was unable to attend, though she did submit a statement read by LWV forum moderator Karen Pifher at the start of the forum.

The candidates responded to eight questions in a little under an hour. The queries posed included their position on the $49.9 million school bond referendum that will be on the ballot Nov. 6, as well as how to address concerns over student safety; recruit new teachers and a more diverse teaching staff; how the land purchased by the school district on Tower Road several years ago might be best used; their thoughts on whether the district should offer a fully funded pre-kindergarten program; and how the district can help students to graduate ready to enter the workforce, or a skilled vocational program.

Each of the candidates said that yes, they supported the proposed school bond referendum, albeit for slightly different reasons.

"I believe this is the right plan, it addresses all of the needs (at all four buildings) and I think if we tried to do anything less we would be regretting it, because it wouldn't be addressing all of the needs that we have," said Trowbridge.

"I like the plan," said Strand. "It keeps all of the buildings there that are in existence, and updates them. I just like the feel and the flow of the schools in this town and I think this (proposal) fits the needs of where we need to be."

"Yes, I support the referendum," said Johnson. "I will say, having been part of three failed referendums, I think that the difference this time around, as a board, an administration, and a district as a whole we really listened to what the community wanted. There is a real love of the neighborhood schools, so there was a conscious effort to retain those schools and their identity while still meeting the needs of the space issues that are facing the district right now."

"It (the referendum proposal) has really encompassed everything that I feel is best for the children," said Pedersen. "We're busting at the seams. We definitely need more space. There are safety issues at our schools as well, and this referendum takes (that) into account."

With regard to those safety issues, the following question was asked: "School safety, in light of so many school shootings, is on every parent and child's mind. What ideas do you have for protecting schools from any incidents?"

"The security for all of the school buildings is addressed in the referendum, so that there would be a screening prior to admittance into any of the buildings," said Johnson. "And also, we've gone to lengths with the bus pickup and drop off and parent drop offs. Two years ago at Rossman and now at Roosevelt and the middle school to try to address some of the safety concerns. We've got farther to go but we're certainly gaining ground."

"Passing this referendum will take care of a lot of the building concerns that each and every one of us have as a community, and as parents," said Pedersen. "Being community aware, I think, is another thing that we can do to help solve or at least keep the issue at hand to keep our students safe."

"Hopefully if the referendum passes they've got a lot of good ideas for the security improvements in there," said Trowbridge. "At each of the buildings, their entry would become more centralized, with the extra doors and they've got the security badges that they would hand out for people, so that you know, at a glance, that they belong there. Beyond that, you always have to carefully consider any improvements that you're making... for example at Roosevelt the drop off has been an ongoing issue... don't just settle and accept it. If you realize you can do better, then do better.

"The reality is, bad things happen to good people and it could happen here tomorrow... I'm not going to sit here and sugarcoat things and say if we spend all this money we're going to stop it — we're not," said Strand, who is a police officer. "The only way that we stop this is if as a community, you communicate your concerns. The people that are going to do this (i.e., start shooting), they're going to talk to somebody. Somebody's going to know something's going to happen. But... I like to see that the schools are locked now, that's a huge bonus. I'd like to see the camera systems in the schools updated, and hopefully with the referendum (passing), we can get that. But what it comes down to is taking ownership of your community and what you hear. If you hear something, say something."

As with the city council forum, the full video of the school board candidates' forum can be viewed on YouTube, via a link posted at the Detroit Lakes Area League of Women Voters page on Facebook. Also, look for a future story in the Tribune profiling each of the school board candidates, including Thomas, who was unable to attend Monday's forum.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 17 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454