Endorsement: Open minds, aggressive leadership needed

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 26, 2002

Races for Albert Lea City Council are under a more powerful microscope than in the past this year. Two of the body’s long-time members and most experienced leaders are in danger of being replaced, judging from the primary, where they finished behind challengers. And, at a time when more and more people are becoming vocal about the need for leadership from the city council, Albert Lea may be ready to reevaluate what it wants in its representation.

The two biggest races are in the second and fourth wards, where David McPherson and Ron Sorenson, respectively, face challenges from Randy Erdman and Jeff Fjelstad. In the sixth ward, we’ve seen a much less heated race between one-term incumbent Al &uot;Minnow&uot; Brooks and challenger Keith Porter, Jr.

Ward Two

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McPherson has been a reliable councilman for eight years. Always thoughtful and professional, he has provided low-key but steady representation. He is clearly one of the councilors most schooled in city operations and procedures.

His challenger, Randy Erdman, is a strong candidate in his own right. He has demonstrated a strong vision for the future through his involvement in Destination: Albert Lea, and although inexperienced in public policy making, he’s proven studious and careful.

Either would provide able representation for Albert Lea. The most important difference is in Erdman’s more aggressive approach to the issues facing the city. As an advocate for more active leadership on the city council, his style is what the city needs at a time when important decisions loom. It would hurt the council to lose McPherson’s experience and knowledge, but at a time when the city can benefit from more vocal and progressive representation in the city, we think adding Erdman would have a positive effect on the council.

Ward Four

Ron Sorenson has been the most controversial councilman on a very non-controversial council, and the man he’s facing, Jeff Fjelstad, looks like he’ll inherit that same title if he wins the election.

Sorenson has been the most vocal council member, and when he has felt the city didn’t get the credit it was due, especially in the arena of economic development, he has been quick to point out the facts as he sees them.

At the same time, he’s viewed by many as the most negative voice on the council. He has a great asset in his experience and knowledge about how the city works, but at times he seems too jaded, and sometimes appears to shut himself off to new ideas.

Fjelstad, on the other hand, has already proven to be just as outspoken, although in a different way. He’s railed against the city establishment, including City Manager Paul Sparks, and challenged the city to make progress on the Wal-Mart Supercenter and the demolition of the Farmland plant. Wal-Mart and Farmland have started moving forward, so perhaps it was because he needed a new line that he pledged to quit and give all his pay back if he didn’t, as he put it, get control away from Sparks and back to the council within six months.

It’s true that Albert Lea’s city council has been reactive in the past, and Sparks, the experienced city manager, appears to have more influence than some people are comfortable with. Although Fjelstad should have been more tactful, and setting ultimatims is never a good idea, his pledge probably hit home with many residents who want to see the city council assert more of a leadership role.

Fjelstad clearly has much to learn about city business, and if he’s elected, he’ll need to make an immediate commitment to catching up.

While Fjelstad is by no means an ideal candidate, his open mind and fresh perspective could be valuable to the city council.

Ward Six

Keith Porter, Jr. says he wants to be the common person’s representative on the council, but the fact is that his opponent, Al &uot;Minnow&uot; Brooks, already is.

Both are relatively soft-spoken, reserved personalities in public. Both have a common-man sense about them.

Porter, a union leader, has highlighted economic development as a way to bring in more quality, high-paying jobs, although he’s been able to elaborate little on how the city should go about it.

Brooks, based on his service to the council in his first term, has proven to be a common-sense representative who’s willing to give new ideas a fair shake. Although it’s clear at times he’s still learning, he appears to be getting more confident about himself on the council and is beginning to assert himself more.

In this race, Brooks has proven to be a solid councilman who is not concerned with politics and who can be counted on to listen with an open mind. Porter has provided no compelling reason to replace Brooks.