Council hopefuls talk downtown, economy

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 6, 2002

Candidates for city council from the second, fourth, and sixth wards debated and answered questions posed by a media board Thursday night at Riverland Community College. Two main topics were economic development and downtown revitalization.

Ward Two candidates Randy Erdman, Mike Kelly, and incumbent David McPherson fielded questions on downtown and the city’s greatest assets.

Erdman focused on downtown revitalization and lake clean-up in his answers. Erdman spoke of the importance of leadership to get the community motivated. &uot;We do have a lot of good people in our community, but they can be challenged to do more,&uot; he said. He said that through progressive leadership by example, the community will follow suit.

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Kelly spoke of the need to focus on the people not as an asset. &uot;I usually think of assets as something that you use to get something else,&uot; he said. He maintained that the assets of the community are the economy, cultural diversity, the democratic system and ecology.

Kelly also said downtown revitalization is important to him. &uot;The downtown historic district is something we need to focus on,&uot; he said. &uot;Our downtown core gives our community character.&uot;

McPherson said the assets of Albert Lea are &uot;Its hard working people and our willingness to work together.&uot;

The city’s role in downtown development must be limited to appropriate functions, he said. &uot;Most of the downtown buildings are private property. But we can certainly encourage that by providing infrastructure,&uot; he said. That can mean keeping up streets, sewers and water works, which he said would assist in economic development.

The Ward Four candidates are Roger Bok, Jeff Fjelstad, and Incumbent Ron Sorenson.

In the forum, Sorenson said the city has succeeded in economic development. He said the city needs to work to bring in new companies, but maintained that leaders have been working extremely well to bring in and maintain companies. &uot;We have been working together with the Port Authority, Greater Jobs, the county and the city,&uot; he said. He referred to this set of entities as a &uot;SWAT team&uot; for economic development.

Sorenson also said that people need to maintain a bright outlook for Albert Lea to progress. &uot;We can’t be negative,&uot; he said. &uot;We have to stay positive.&uot;

Roger Bok criticized the current council and staff. &uot;There is a lot of talk, talk, talk with no action,&uot; he said. Bringing jobs is not easy, he continued. &uot;You have to get out there and work for it.&uot;

Bok also spoke of the importance of working together as a council to get jobs and economic development. Resisting individual interests is important to him, he said. &uot;If you get six signatures it looks much better than one signature,&uot; he said.

Fjelstad said he’s got a formula for success in Albert Lea. &uot;I think there are two quick fixes and one long-term fix,&uot; he said. The city needs to be able to &uot;pull the trigger&uot; on projects such as the Farmland site cleanup and the Wal-Mart Supercenter project, he said. Farther down the road, &uot;My long range goal is to get high-tech jobs here,&uot; he said.

Wards Two and Four will both be on the primary ballot Tuesday to cut the candidate pool for each down from three to two. A map of city wards is available online at

In the sixth ward, where there will be no primary election because only two candidates are running, incumbent Al &uot;Minnow&uot; Brooks and candidate Keith Porter Jr. are competing.

At Thursday’s forum, Porter spoke of the importance of bringing jobs to the community. &uot;In order for it to pick up we need some livable, sustainable-wage jobs brought into town,&uot; said Porter.

An active union leader, Porter stressed the importance of finding quality companies. &uot;We need places in town that take care of their employees,&uot; he said.

Brooks talked of the importance of getting youth back into town, saying it is important to develop high-tech industries in the area. Brooks also spoke of the need to work together and find ways in which groups working toward the same goal can work together.

&uot;We need to get on the same page,&uot; he said, referring to several groups working on cleaning the lakes and to city and county cooperation.