Candidates' grades for council range from good to 'C'Ward 2, Ward 4 hopefuls participate in debate
By: Ross Dolan, The Daily Republic
The Mitchell City Council received mixed ratings Thursday from five candidates seeking two council seats.
During a debate in the Mitchell Technical Institute amphitheater, Ward 4 candidate Marc Bernard gave the current City Council a “C” rating. Bernard said the council failed to listen to the will of the people when the council proposed a public-private land swap near Lake Mitchell. He said lake residents were forced to petition the idea to a public vote, though that was not their original desire. He promised to listen to constituents if elected.
Two other candidates are also running for the Ward 4 seat. Greg McCurry joked that he should give the council a “C-minus” to be different from Bernard, but he instead called the council’s performance “average.”
“That’s not what we need here in our city,” McCurry said. “We need to be doing an extraordinary job.”
He said communication must improve, and he promised to host coffee meetings with constituents if elected.
Deborah Skibsrud-Bueber offered a “B or even a B-plus.” She said many of the council members are very experienced and are using that experience well, and she said there seems to be good communication at City Hall.
Two candidates are running for a seat in Ward 2. They participated in the forum together with the Ward 4 candidates. Owing to the size of the field, unopposed candidates Ken Tracy in Ward 1 and Phil Carlson of Ward 3 were introduced but sat out the debate.
Incumbent Ward 2 City Councilman Dan Allen, when asked to rate the council’s performance, answered “we’ve worked well together” and said the council has adequately handled the challenges it faced during tough economic times.
Allen’s challenger, Tim Moon, agreed the council has done well but added “there’s no reason it couldn’t do better.” Moon said he has two ears that work well and pledged throughout the debate to use them if he is elected.
On the issue of whether the city should add a city manager, Bernard did not offer an opinion.
“I’m on the fence on the issue,” he said, adding he is considering all options.
McCurry said Mitchell needs “someone with background and training to run the city,” but he said it is a decision that needs to be made by voters and not just by the council.
“I’m glad this will go to a public vote,” he said, “and I will vote ‘yes.’ ”
Skibsrud-Bueber was alone in being adamantly against the hiring of a city manager. She said state statutes invest authority in the mayor, who can adequately handle the managerial role.
Allen is for a city manager. He rejected arguments that a manager’s cost will be excessive. One of a manager’s jobs would be grant writing, he said, and “one grant will more than pay for his wages.”
Moon said hiring a manager would be a “positive step” that would allow the council “to focus on the bigger picture.”
Candidates also fielded questions from the media on the need for a public events facility and a better community wellness venue.
Allen said the question of building a 5,000-seat public arena is “a dead issue,” but a joint effort between the city, Dakota Wesleyan University and Avera Queen of Peace Health Services might be the best way to fund a better pool and wellness facility, though more questions remain to be answered.
Moon disagreed. “To have the city fund two centers is out of the question at this point,” he said, referring to the city’s existing Recreation Center and a potential new facility. Doing so would raise taxes, he said, and the location and cost of the center is still unknown. “I’m not for it,” he said. A better option would be to expand the current center, Moon added.
Bernard also nixed a center “if it raises taxes,” and he said any public-private venture such as an Avera/Wesleyan wellness center would have to be carefully considered, as would the center’s administrative authority.
“Would it have three bosses?” he asked.
McCurry supports a three-way cooperative venture, saying it would be beneficial to all parties and would make the city attractive to young families.
Skibsrud-Bueber prefers to maintain the status quo at the city Rec Center. “We don’t have the money for it,” she said, adding that “for a town of 15,000 people,” Mitchell has good facilities. She does favor a possible remodel of the Corn Palace for additional public space.
The idea of improving the Corn Palace with a business improvement district, or BID, which would be funded by charging a hotel room tax to visitors, met with mixed reviews.
Allen said such an idea would require a buy-in from business owners. Moon approached the concept cautiously and favored first discussing it with businesses.
“The Corn Palace needs to be our events center,” McCurry said. “It is the anchor of our city.” But he stopped short of asking taxpayers to pay for an expansion. He said he’s spoken to some hotel owners about a BID, but he thinks the conversation must continue.
Skibsrud-Bueber saw no reason hotels should be singled out to generate funds through the imposition of a special tax.
When asked about his vision for the Corn Palace, Bernard said he favors the development of hands-on farming exhibits at the Corn Palace that could tell the story of agriculture.
McCurry expanded on the agri-tourism idea and said the Palace needs better activities to entertain small children. He said the Palace lacks things to interest the 5-and-under set.
Skibsrud-Bueber favors more educational opportunities and using older, more seasoned guides at the Palace to explain the region’s agricultural industry. She said the young tour guides are good but sometimes lack the depth of knowledge needed to inform visitors.
All nixed the idea of charging a $1 entrance fee to tourists at the Corn Palace, which was proposed by an audience member.
The fee would result in cutting visitation to the Corn Palace in half, predicted Allen.
There was also general agreement with the council’s use of public funds to support the Mitchell Aquatic Club swim team, at least until the club can get back on its feet following the school district’s closure of the indoor pool that the club used.
The election is Tuesday. The polling place is Gertie Belle Rogers Elementary, which will be open to voters from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.More from around the web