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Former city councilor squares off against 32-year incumbent

For the latest installment in the Budgeteer's election coverage, we look at the highly contested race between Chris Dahlberg and Bill Kron. They are competing for the St. Louis County Board's Third District seat, which Commissioner Kron has held ...

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For the latest installment in the Budgeteer's election coverage, we look at the highly contested race between Chris Dahlberg and Bill Kron.

They are competing for the St. Louis County Board's Third District seat, which Commissioner Kron has held for more than 30 years.

Both candidates were gracious enough to answer our questions about their campaign platforms.

Bill Kron

Kron is a lifelong resident of the Zenith City, a Denfeld High School graduate who went on to serve in the Armed Forces during the Vietnam era before earning a degree at the University of Minnesota Duluth. He and his wife, Pat, reside in the Lincoln Park neighborhood. They have seven children (four adopted) and seven grandchildren. He has served on the county board for 32 years.

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Budgeteer: What are the top issues facing the county?

Soaring costs in the criminal justice system, including jail overcrowding and a $5 million meth problem -- [as well as] dealing with state and federal cutbacks, unfunded mandates and preserving core services.

Are there any issues you deal with on the board that Duluthians might not think about -- ones that pertain to other areas of St. Louis County?

The management of 900,000 acres of tax-forfeited land, septic systems, maintaining 3,000 miles of county road and issues with off-road vehicles in forest lands.

How do you think the public perceives the board?

Harassment charges against two board members and the ensuing fallout damaged the image of the board. However, the citizen group that monitored the board's behavior (We Are Watching) gave credit to Steve O'Neil, Peg Sweeney and myself for standing strong and pushing for a code of conduct for elected officials. The citizen watch group gave me a standing ovation for my leadership during this troubled time, and things are back to normal.

What have been your biggest accomplishments on the board?

Seven areas of major reform: Restructuring the form of county government, developing a policy of professional land management, drug and gang prevention initiatives, creating the St. Louis County Task Force for Children and Youth, developing the Incredible Exchange Program for kids, proposing the county's economic development policy and incorporating hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings to taxpayers for energy conservation initiatives.

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Do you have a job outside of the board?

No, and I've maintained a record of perfect attendance at county board meetings for many years. This is where my vote has counted for those I represent.

Are you in support of splitting St. Louis County in two?

No, all studies have shown it to be a costly proposition. And now the Duluth area stands to gain property tax relief and economic stimulus because of the boom on the Range.

When all is said and done, why should someone reading this vote for you?

I have established a proven record of positive change, reform and accomplishment. I have developed a reputation of integrity and trust. With the experience I have gained over the years, and considering the serious and uncertain times we're living in, I believe I am in the right place at the right time.

Finally, on a lighter note, how do you spend your free time?

I like to walk, garden, read and write poetry.

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Visit www.keepkron.com for more information on this candidate's campaign.

Chris Dahlberg

Like Kron, former Duluth City Councilor Chris Dahlberg is also a veteran (of the Iraq War), with more than 20 years of military experience under his belt. He is an attorney at law and lives in Morgan Park with his wife and 4-year-old daughter.

Budgeteer: What do you feel are the top issues facing the county?

Dahlberg: I've hit about 3,000 doors ... and one of the issues I'm hearing about is property taxes. That's a big one. Just the burden of the tough economic times, they're just really feeling bad. Especially now with the city with the light increase, on the light rates; I know it's small, but people are feeling like they're being nickel-and-dimed as far as the property taxes. I think that distinguishes the incumbent from myself on that issue. And then the other one is roads and bridges. Roads are just in terrible shape -- not only in the city, but in the county. I'm actually an Army engineer by training, in road and bridge construction -- I can also blow them up, but I won't do that [Laughs]. There is also a little bit of crime issues or concern under the surface. I'm finding that there are some small pockets, and more so in some sections in Duluth, various neighborhoods. I'd like to try and work with the neighborhood to see if there are any ways I can help.

What were the main reasons you jumped into the race?

I've always enjoyed public policy, I really like it. ... I thought I would get back into public service in some area. It was a matter of waiting for the right time.

I saw that there was a lot of dysfunction on the county board -- they had really gone through a pretty tough time -- and I wasn't happy with how it was handled. During the time that most of this happened, the incumbent was actually chairing the board. They had the sex scandal, issues of throwing of books, comments about how one commissioner, under the right circumstances, might support slavery -- which is what you'd call a "low blow" in boxing. I just thought this was a time to get some new leadership in there.

And it's not only for me -- I'm a new person, and that's good, that's what democracy is about ... too many times you have people that are career politicians, they're in there forever. It's good to get new people in there, and new ideas.

Not only do I bring new ideas, it's experience. I feel good about the experience I can bring to the county board. I'm a former Duluth city councilor, so I know all about a lot of the issues that the county is facing: economic development, setting of the budget -- various issues I've worked with constituents on before. I'm a business attorney, so I know about business law, and I also know about regulations, so I can help on that. I'm an Army engineer, so I think that helps with the county. I've even licensed to drive a scraper, a bulldozer, a five-ton -- I'm not going to go out there and do that, but the nice thing is I have an appreciation for what the guys and gals out there are doing. And I don't think that's insignificant.

The other thing you probably see me doing is actually going out and visiting the toolhouses, which I don't think has been done frequently since Lloyd Shannon. He was a commissioner known for dropping off fruit baskets to the workers. I just think going in there ... I kind of believe in management by walking around. Or, as Crocodile Dundee would say, "I'm gonna go about and do a walkabout." [Laughs] It's just getting out there and talking to people.

I think, a lot of times, there are good solutions on the ground level with the employees, and elected officials don't always listen to them. So that's another reason why I think I'd be qualified to do that. Then, you know, of course I'm a father, a husband, a son -- and I think just having the connections in the city, it especially ties into my concerns for crime.

What were your biggest accomplishments on the city council?

One thing I was known for was standing up for the taxpayer. I was kind of a watchdog. A couple issues that came up, that I can think of ... well, the biggest one was they wanted to bring in a new city administrator. Way back at that time, it was a new administration, they wanted to bring him over from the county and increase his salary significantly. So, at that point, there was a comparison between our city, Rochester and a couple other cities that said it wasn't unusual to hire someone this high-paying. Well, I did a little bit of research and said, "Actually, you're comparing apples to oranges because, down in Rochester, the mayor was more of a ceremonial head." So, for example, if a city councilor got $7,000 a year, he might've gotten $10,000. Whereas up here I raised the fact that we had a fairly well-paid mayor -- I think it was $85,000 at the time -- and I questioned the idea of if we needed a super-paid city administrator at that point. I'll look at spending from the top down. And I'm able to be a problem solver and tackle problems that can sometimes benefit in a couple ways.

One example was that we had vacant lots in the hillside, and they were just running rampant. This was a constituent problem; they were complaining about it because there were issues of skunks, potential rabies -- also just a nuisance, bringing down [home] values. So what I said was, "Let's do a massive, comprehensive vacant lot sale."

... Dick Larson said it brought in about $100,000 clear to the city, but the nice thing is it got these vacant lots back on the tax rolls. So, then, that was helping the overall burden on the taxpayers, and the other thing is that people were taking care of [the lots]. So it was a solution that hit a couple of problems.

I was also very good on the council about constituent services, and that's something that I've found when I've been door knocking. ... For example, the new president of the Western Area Business and Civic Club, Maryellen Kervina, she's out there -- she has Twin Ports Amusement -- and she'll tell you that the current commissioner, unless it's election time, won't come out there on some big issues when they ask him. It's kind of like she's saying, "Well, why are you showing up now? Oh, yeah, it's election time." When I was on the council, I was always out to the community clubs ... and they would acknowledge that I was always showing up. And then I would have Coffee Party once a month, where I would invite people to come in and talk at a restaurant. Sometimes we would have six, seven people; sometimes no one would show. But at least it would make me accessible. There were so many issues, but tax accountability was one I questioned when I first got in there. I was questioning non-profits as far as high-paying salaries and money we were giving to them. They were kind of saying, "How dare you ask us this question." I was applauded in an editorial in the local paper for saying, "This is the job of a city councilor."

And I think the same thing with a county commissioner ... I'm going into the county saying, "With a $335 million budget, I think there's room for cutting." Rather than getting into crisis management, let's start small. It's like eating an elephant: one bite at a time. ... We each have a cell phone today; they're $40, $45 a month. The county has a lot of cell phone usage, so: What is their cell phone plan? What happens if they go over their minutes? What happens if you go outside their coverage area and get charged for roaming? It can be a pretty high rate. ... You can call the provider and ask for extended network coverage, but, if you don't, they'll really zap ya. Another one is motor pool. I think they're doing a good job; I just think as an Army engineer, we talk about issues like time matrixes, critical paths -- as far as usage -- and perhaps we could even look a little further on vehicle usage.

Are you in favor of splitting the county?

... I'd look into it. Any issue that would come to me, I'd look into it. But I think I'd have a hard time doing that. Right now, we've already built in the system that's worked well with all of the counties, and I just think that it's worked fairly well. This issue routinely comes up, but it seems to me that I think you're going to get into some duplication of services. There's probably some cost benefit to doing it this way, and probably issues such as purchasing ... so I would have a real question about that.

Why should our readers vote for you?

If you vote for me, you're going to get a couple things: You're going to get new vision and energy. It's just human nature; if you're in office long enough, you're going to get complacent. Thirty-two years is enough for anybody to do the job. I think it's time to let new people go in. The same thing is, I hope somebody comes to me in years down the road, if I'm lucky enough to get in, and says, "OK, let us come in." And hopefully I'll know that it's time to move on. An elected official should either move up in office or move aside and let somebody else take over. It's the new ideas and the energy, and also the experience [you'd get from me].

Finally, on a lighter note, how do you spend your free time?

Well, lately there hasn't been free time. [Laughs] I like going up into the Boundary Waters. I love spending time with my family. The days go by so fast, so usually at the end of the day the wife and I cook supper together. I usually have the job of reading to my daughter -- it's not a job, it's kind of a pleasure. We read at the end of the night and I put her to bed. She's 4, so this is kind of a nice time. So I enjoy that part. And just being together with the family is a big thing. I also like running, fishing, canoeing -- just getting outside.

Visit www.dahlbergnow.com for more information on this candidate's campaign.

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