City council, Ward 1 - Justin Westman, challengerHere is a profile on Justin Westman, who is challenging for the Ward 1 city council seat in Hastings.
Q: Give us some background information, including how long you have been a resident of Hastings, your education, job position, community service and your previous and current connection with government.
A: I have been a resident of Hastings for 10 years now. I have studied at Metropolitan State University and am currently a business analyst on the Revenue Cycle Management team at Allina Health. I volunteer though Allina’s Volunteer Match (https://allina.
volunteermatch.org/) as well as through my former employer, Children’s Hospital, serving communities around the metro area. I have no current or previous connection with the government which I believe will benefit the city by having an outsider come in and bring a new perspective.
Q: Why did you decide to run for this position?
A: I have lived in this wonderful town for over 10 years now and decided it was time to give something back. It is the people that make this town great and they deserve a city council that works for them. We have enough crony capitalism in Washington; we do not need it here in Hastings. Every business deserves equal treatment for the services they provide our residents. Favors should never be granted on the basis of having a friend on the council. With the cuts in state funding along with the growing number of residential and commercial foreclosures we need to start changing the direction of the city.
Q: What are the major issues facing the City of Hastings? How should they be addressed?
A: The number one issue that needs to be addressed is the lack of assistance to those who want to open a business here. If you drive down Vermillion Street there are way too many bank owned buildings as well as ones that are just sitting vacant. Go out to Industrial Park and you will see even more vacancies due to businesses packing up and leaving for more business oriented communities. The city of Hastings has a very select number of people that are helped for success. I believe this can change. We need to extend our hand to the small business owners to assist them in their success.
I also believe that Hastings should align and work with education of foreclosures and short sales, which would assist people to understand the issues that come with it and how every member of our community can actually be impacted by it and assist others through it. This would reduce the level of blighted properties as well as help educate the public as to what to watch for in their own communities.
Q: With ongoing budget constraints, is the city handling its programs/services and staffing in the right way?
A: Absolutely not. As a recent example, it was brought to my attention that there were many local business owners and private residents who offered to help out after the major storm that occurred by calling and asking the city where they could drop the tree branches and limbs off. They told me the response was they were not allowed to drop any debris off and that the city would be taking care of it. Was this just payback to city workers who lost out on a lot over overtime due to the light winter? I’m not sure but it is times like these when we should depend on our local resources that are willing and ready to assist instead of paying city works overtime for a job that took over three weeks to complete. This is just one example but I know we can do better a better job deciding how we spend our money. Economic times are tough right now and there needs to be creativity and accountability as to how we go about budgeting.
Q: Is the city doing enough to attract businesses and industries to help offset increasing residential property taxes? What, in your opinion, is the right approach to accomplish this?
A: As stated in my previous answer, by looking at all the commercial vacancies I do not think enough is being done to attract local businesses. What I propose doing is reaching out to businesses and bend over backwards to make Hastings a welcoming community to anyone who wants to setup shop here. This would include ensuring that the entire infrastructure was in place to make sure the business could be successful. This would include road access, water and sewer. The city needs to evaluate the way it is assessing new construction we; have lots available and other lots that are on hold due to traffic issues. Every job, including temporary construction jobs that are brought to Hastings ,helps many aspects of our community. The more red tape the city puts up the less likely we are to make Hastings a business friendly environment. We also need to assist with fees for permits and licensing by either reducing or waiving some of them as incentive to open here or allow an extended time to pay.
Q: What makes you the best candidate for this position?
A: What makes me the best candidate for this position is that I have no ties to any businesses or city officials here in Hastings. I am coming in impartial and will make choices that best represent the city and its residents. With these difficult economic times combined with the decrease in funding from the state, we need to start looking at different ways at spending our resident’s money. Transparency and accountability is what I would like to bring to the city council.