Sheriff candidates debate drug strategy

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 30, 2002

Candidates for county offices took part in a forum organized by the Chamber of Commerce and answered questions Thursday at Riverland Community College, with the three-way race for sheriff taking center stage.

The forum, aired live on KATE radio, drew a crowd of about 200 people to the auditorium. Each candidate had two minutes to answer questions by Steve Oman of KATE, Brandy Bell of KAAL-TV and Pete Hjelmstad of KIMT-TV. The list of questions had been given to the candidate beforehand.

Questions to the sheriff candidates centered on spreading drug crimes in the county.

Email newsletter signup

While former drug investigator Mark Harig emphasized stronger enforcement and pledged to restore active involvement in the South Central Drug Investigation Unit, the other two candidates showed different approaches.

Bob Kindler, a Sheriff’s Office supervisor/investigator, said, &uot;Traditional law enforcement alone helped solve the problem.&uot;

And he stressed the necessity to educate the public along with training Sheriff’s Office staff. &uot;Education with enforcement will help curtail the problem,&uot; he said.

&uot;Crime is not a law enforcement issue, it is a community issue,&uot; Albert Lea Police Department Lieutenant Phil Bartusek said. He stressed a need to address juveniles through a partnership among law enforcement agencies, governmental bodies and community organizations.

&uot;We have to look at the root of problem,&uot; Bartusek said. &uot;Tobacco is a gateway drug. So, we have to educate our kids, we have to work with our retailers, and we have to look at the tobacco and alcohol issues also with our youths.&uot;

Commissioner candidates Dave Mullenbach and Truman Thrond for the fourth district, and Dan Belshan for the second district, battled over the new courthouse complex issue. Another second district candidate, Dave Hutchins, was absent.

As the chair of the county board, Mullenbach has contributed to advancing an issue that has stagnated over years. He voted for a bonding option that does not require a public referendum Tuesday.

&uot;The process of the courthouse issue has been going on for a long time, sometimes too long,&uot; Mullenbach said. &uot;The longer you wait, there will be more cost.&uot;

He said a referendum would not have been the best course.

&uot;I personally don’t favor referendums simply because it will be nearly impossible to educate the public on state statutes, agency policies and projected countywide needs. So, I felt that the lease-revenue was the fairest way to go. If we have a referendum for everything, we don’t need us.&uot;

Thrond, who led a group opposing the demolition of the ’54 courthouse annex and demanding a referendum for the project, said, &uot;This is the heaviest debt that has ever been imposed on taxpayers in Freeborn County. Why not a referendum? All the maneuvering to avoid the referendum really irritates the people.&uot;

Dan Belshan, a vocal opponent of the courthouse project, criticized the lease-revenue bond, calling it is similar to what Enron did. &uot;The corporation hid their debt by leasing. This is just what the county is doing to avoid the referendum.&uot;

For the Auditor/Treasurer position, incumbent Dennis Distad presented his education, experience and knowledge from being in the position for past 17 years. Challenger Keith Porter, Sr., a former commissioner, said he would rely on the staff while he would learn the operation of the office. &uot;I am not ready to be retired,&uot; said Porter. &uot;It’s a real challenge. But it will keep me off the street.&uot;

Incumbent Recorder Kelly Callahan stressed his knowledge in both the private and public sector, and his achievement in implementing the Universal Commercial Code in the office, while challenger Irene Anderson underlined her proficiency in the overall county business, working on the administration staff of the county government.