St. Louis County Board candidates meet at voters forumVoters in the eastern third of Duluth on Tuesday night got their first chance to query candidates for the Jan. 14 special election for the 2nd District St. Louis County Board seat.
By: John Myers, Duluth News Tribune
Voters in the eastern third of Duluth on Tuesday night got their first chance to query candidates for the Jan. 14 special election for the 2nd District St. Louis County Board seat.
The League of Women Voters Duluth held a candidates forum between current city councilors Patrick Boyle and Jim Stauber, who were the top vote-getters in November’s County Board primary.
About 25 people attended the forum held in the County Board chambers of the courthouse. The forum also will be shown on PACT TV.
Voters in the district have two well-known entities at opposite ends of the political spectrum to choose from in the special election to fill the opening created by the death of Steve O’Neil in July – Stauber has been among the more conservative members, Boyle among the most progressive.
There were no fireworks and ample accolades between the candidates Tuesday night on their ability to work together and get along. Both praised joint city/county efforts to join services to save taxpayers money, such as combining assessors offices and building a joint law enforcement center.
“I think we can even do more, with (sharing) health care and information technology,” Boyle said.
Stauber said he’d like to see the county and city share more buildings and work on a joint purchasing effort for supplies.
Both candidates said they would pick public safety as their key County Board committee assignment (although they don’t get to pick, that’s up to the board chairman) and both said they’d like to see more living wage jobs and more county effort to spur economic development.
The candidates differed, however, on whether they would support the county’s currently proposed 1.5 percent property tax increase for 2014.
Stauber said no. “Even a 1.5 percent increase, probably not ... I’m a conservative guy,” Stauber said. Boyle countered that the county has a strong track record of keeping levy increases below the rate of inflation and that the proposed increase might be needed to keep county roads, bridges and law enforcements efforts up to par.
Asked if they would support privatization of county health and human services, Boyle said flat-out no, that the county is required to carry out services mandated by the state and federal governments. Stauber generally agreed that human services probably can’t privatized, but he also noted that some services may be more efficiently offered by the private sector. Stauber noted, for example, that Douglas County saved taxpayers $600,000 annually by moving from a public to private ambulance service.
Stauber offered unqualified support for the proposed PolyMet copper mine project, asserting that environmental protection and economic development don’t have to be exclusive.
“They are not in conflict. This is 2013. We’ve seen huge changes in how we do industry in this country,” Stauber said.
Boyle offered more qualified support, agreeing that iron ore mining has been and continues to be a major part of the county’s economy but saying the environmental review process needs to conclude before decisions are made. He also noted the county plays no regulatory role in deciding whether the project goes forward.
“This type of mining is new to the state of Minnesota,” Boyle added.
Stauber is running for the open seat after deciding not to run for another term on the council. But Boyle did run again for the council, also winning in November in an unopposed race for his 2nd District council seat. Election officials wouldn’t allow him to remove his name from the ballot because the deadline had passed. If Boyle wins Jan. 14, he said he would resign from the council, setting up a special city election. If he loses in the county race, he can continue to serve on the City Council.
Boyle, 39, was elected to the City Council in 2009. He serves as council president, as vice president last year and served more than two years on the city Public Utilities Commission.
Stauber, 60, was first elected as an At Large city councilor in November 2001. He was elected council president in 2004 and served four times as president of the Duluth Economic Development Authority. Stauber retired in 2001 from the Minnesota Air National Guard as a lieutenant colonel after 25 years of service and from Mayo Clinic Medical Transportation (Gold Cross) in 2010.
O’Neil’s wife, Angie Miller, was appointed to temporarily fill her husband’s position until the special election.