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Forum recap: Hastings mayor and City Council

Mayoral candidates Danna Elling-Schultz (left) and Mary Fasbender answered a series of questions varying from how they handle delivering bad news to growth in Hastings. Kelsey Roy / RiverTown Multimedia.1 / 2
The three at-large City Council candidates Lori Braucks, Tom Cherney and Mark Vaughan discussed needs of the Hastings community during a forum Oct. 25 hosted by the Hastings Area Chamber of Commerce and Hastings Community TV. Kelsey Roy / RiverTown Multimedia2 / 2

The Hastings Area Chamber of Commerce and Hastings Community TV hosted a candidate forum Oct. 25 that invited candidates for Minnesota state representative, Hastings mayor and Hastings City Council to address their thoughts on state and local issues.

Here are their answers, edited for length:

At-large City Council

What is the biggest challenge facing Hastings, and how would you address it?

Candidate Tom Cherney highlighted the city's need for transportation and economic development.

"The bottom line is that they are all intermingled with one another, we just need to get it going," Cherney said. "Take a look at what we are doing and how we can do it better."

Incumbent Mark Vaughan shared similar feelings to Cherney, addressing the city's need for housing, transportation and economic development. For Vaughan, the No. 1 priority for the city is housing.

"I think we really need to focus on that, because it ties to the other two," Vaughan said.

As to where new housing should be located, Vaughan suggests going to the people to ask what they want and need.

Lori Braucks, an incumbent, took her answer in a different direction — focusing on a short-term issue.

"A short-term priority is to address our water and our water system," Braucks said. "We are doing a feasibility study. We are looking at the addition to chlorine in the water and at other disinfecting options."

She touched on the communication analysis that is being done to find the best way for the city to communicate with residents.

Please describe a time where you stood up for what you believe in, even though you knew it was not popular decision.

For Vaughan, his answer touched on the recent decision from City Council to vote down the final plat and site plan for the Wallin 18th Addition near the Wyndham Hills neighborhood.

"It took a lot of work and a lot of research to find out that we had a difference of opinion. I believe that I stood up for the residents saying that it did not meet the cluster development concept," Vaughan said. "The residents are the ones that live here. That developer owns the land, but we have to make sure that we are representing the people in that area."

The decision that stood out to Braucks was also during her time on City Council when they were voting on a law pertaining to sex offender distance.

"With my background in law and my understanding of the constitution, and just my personal beliefs, I didn't feel that the law was in line with the state constitution," Braucks said.

Despite the public's support of the law, Braucks said that she felt she justifiably held her ground when it came to a vote.

Cherney recalled his time in the Air Force to answer the question.

While working on a classified operation, Cherney said, an order was given to fire all officers.

Cherney was the leader of the fired officers, but was not going to be let go. This was a decision that he did not accept.

"If you want to fire them, you fire me first," Cherney said.

In your opinion, how can the city balance reasonable taxation while still providing strong quality of life services?

Braucks took the question first, stating that when making decisions on taxes, the impact on businesses and residents are always considered.

"We are balancing the needs of each department, as well as their wants and desires to support their staff, along with the ability to keep the tax rate down," Braucks said.

Braucks also mentioned work done by the city to keep tax rates down, despite the rising value of houses in town.

"Our goal is to always spend a good amount on public safety, which we feel is important," Braucks added.

Cherney said that to him, it is more about the money spent than the amount of taxes.

"You have to take a look at every specific action. If you are going to be in charge of anything, you have to get down in the dirt and make sure you have all the information," Cherney said.

Cherney also suggested that a commission needs to work on the budget and sit down with department heads to figure out how to build different parts of the budget.

Vaughan suggested moving the city to a two-year budget cycle to ensure better planning.

He also brought back discussion of economic development, stating that it is a big part of the budget.

"The best thing we can do is support ourselves — residence to residence, business to business. We need to keep as much as we can in this community, and I think that is the challenge that we all work together to get this budget up to acceptable," Vaughan said.

Mayor

Clean water has been a recent concern in Hastings. How satisfied are you with the steps the city has taken to this point? What has been done well? What, if anything, would you do differently?

One thing that could be enacted, Mary Fasbender said, is a city-wide emergency alert system.

"There were a lot of people who did not get an alert about it. I think our communication with our residents needs to become more and more for any type of situation," Fasbender said.

"[Residents] need to feel safe in any situation — I don't care if it's water or whatever. I would strongly try to work hard to make communications more in depth with the residents," Fasbender added.

Danna Elling-Schultz also focused on communication, stating that the crisis communication plan for the city needs to be updated.

"More needed to be done to get the information out quickly to let people know that the water available, and to the businesses, wasn't safe to drink and that there was a boil water advisory," Schultz said.

Schultz also said that she wants to look into other ways to keep the water safe without chlorination and finding a solution for drinking water.

"I think the City Council should immediately come up with a request that the Minnesota Department of Health come down here and have a community-wide meeting to talk about the water issue, how the process works and what they can do to help us get to a place where we have clean water," Schultz said.

As the mayor, what qualifications would you look for in a city administrator and how would you measure that performance?

For a city administrator, Schultz said she would want someone who has the best interest of the community at heart and a shared vision with the City Council.

"I believe that the city administrator essentially works for the council and for the mayor. We need to be working in sync with each other to have a quality city that is moving forward," Schultz said.

Fasbender would like for the city administrator to be more involved in the community, like councilmembers or the mayor.

"I want someone who will go out into the community and shake hands so that people can recognize her," Fasbender said.

Do you believe Hastings needs to grow? If yes, please describe what you see as the barriers to growth and what you propose to do about them?

"I have learned that grow is a scary word for a lot of people. I have personally changed that word to develop," Fasbender said. "I would love to see Hastings develop."

Fasbender acknowledged the city's need for housing, especially for seniors. In her plan, housing would be provided for seniors so that young families could move into the smaller homes that seniors currently occupy.

Schultz took a business approach to her answer, stating that conditions to recruit and retain businesses needed to be created in order to drive housing.

"In order to create those conditions, you need things like a solid transportation system that can move people around the city and to and from other places when they need to do that," Schultz said.

The City of Hastings recently had two high profile incidents in which the mayor had to deliver a message to the community. Can you explain a time where you as a leader had to deliver a tough message to an audience? If so, is there anything you would have done differently?

Schultz went back to 1994 when she was working with a team to get a new swimming pool in town.

"We didn't win. We worked really hard to get that done, and I had to tell my young daughter that the new swimming pool wouldn't be built. That was really a difficult message to have to deliver to a child, who really wanted to see that happen," Schultz said.

For Fasbender, it was the selling of her business two years ago and telling her employees.

"I've given years of my business, my government expertise and my civic involvement for 40 years for Hastings. So to tell my employees, 11 of them, that I was going to move forward into the position that I have been working diligently on for the past 40 years, that was really hard," Fasbender said.

Schultz to Fasbender: Do you support the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion resolution as it was written, that was approved by the City Council and the School Board?

Fasbender said that she is in support of the initiative, stating that she has been participating in several of the initiative's projects and meetings since the passing of the resolution.

"It has opened my eyes to what I would love to see Hastings become," Fasbender said.

Fasbender to Schultz: You work for the DFL at the state Legislature. You were given the DFL voting list. In a nonpartisan mayoral race, how will you reassure to the other percentage of Hastings voters that you will listen to them?

"I don't believe in labeling people. I believe in making the world a better place for everyone," Schultz said. "I am running for mayor not because of a political agenda."

Schultz said that although she works for Democrats, that her job is focused on helping all school children in the state. She also added that she is not running to push her ideals or beliefs on anyone else.