Endorsement: Mullenbach has earned a second term on board

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 25, 2002

The residents of Freeborn County’s Fourth District have a key decision to make on Election Day when they choose between incumbent board chairman Dave Mullenbach and his challenger, former county administrator Truman Thrond. Supporters of both are well aware that the balance of the board could shift dramatically if Mullenbach, who has helped lead the county toward a long-awaited courthouse solution, is replaced by a staunch opponent of the courthouse project like Thrond.

Because we believe the county is finally on the right track toward solving the problems in the courthouse and jail, and because the county more than ever requires progressive, forward-thinking leadership, we think Freeborn County would benefit most if Mullenbach is elected for a second term.

It’s been easy to view this race as an extension of the courthouse debate. Mullenbach has been the leader of the coalition that, largely through 3-2 votes, has pieced together a plan for a new jail, law enforcement center and court facilities, along with demolition of the 1954 building and renovation of the oldest part of the courthouse. Thrond, first as a vocal citizen, then as a leader of the &uot;save the ’54 building&uot; movement, and now as a candidate, has trumpeted a view opposite Mullenbach’s: That the 1954 building should remain part of the county’s plans, and that the $26 million courthouse plan should be scaled back dramatically.

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However, there’s more to consider.

Even in his first two years, and more so in the last two as chairman of the county board, Mullenbach has been a steadying influence on a governing body that has suffered from its share of strife. Despite operating in an intimidating atmosphere at times, he has stayed focused on the tasks at hand and matured into a capable leader. He is willing and able to see the big picture in Freeborn County and work with other governments and groups for the betterment of Albert Lea and all of Freeborn County.

Although Mullenbach represents the county’s most urban district, he has shown a commitment to rural interests as well, working toward solutions on watershed cleanup and helping facilitate development of the EXOL ethanol plant.

Thrond brings positive attributes, as well. He, of course, is no rookie; as a former county administrator, it’s clear he’s intimately familiar with the workings of county government. If he were elected, we would not need to worry about a learning curve; even as an observer, he has remained involved enough to step right onto the board without requiring too much time to learn. And his impassioned campaign on behalf of &uot;the people,&uot; framed mostly through the courthouse debate, is easy to admire. He seems committed to providing faithful representation in the mold of Second District Commissioner Dan Belshan, who is admired by many of his constituents for his honest approach and tireless efforts on their behalf.

However, we think the movement to get a courthouse referendum on behalf of &uot;the people&uot; was less about the people than it was about finding a way to stop the project. From the moment the 1954 building demolition was included, Thrond was an opponent, and not coincidentally, that’s when the referendum talk began. This opposition has led to connections to the Freeborn County Committee for Fairness, which is now holding up the courthouse project with a questionable lawsuit. That should raise a warning flag for voters. And while Thrond has more experience than most challengers for a county board seat are likely to have, we don’t think his grasp of the issues is as acute as Mullenbach’s.

Mullenbach is the candidate who best exhibits the progressive leadership style we think the county needs. With lake improvement, economic development and other key issues still on the table, he is the best candidate to represent the Fourth District on the county board.