Sep. 9—NORTH MANKATO — None of the four candidates running for the open North Mankato mayor's seat have any major beef with the way the city operates or with the outgoing mayor or City Council members.
Criticism that is raised often focuses on the reign of former City Administrator John Harrenstein, who left in July for a different job, as well as some concerns about taxes and spending.
Warren Anderson, Scott Carlson, Kenny DeWitte and Ben Kaus all have long ties to North Mankato and say they would work to maintain the high quality of life in the city of 14,000. And each says he can bring unique perspectives in leading the community forward.
Mark Dehen, who has served as mayor for 12 years, is running for a Nicollet County Commissioner seat.
Kaus, lifelong resident, president of Vetter Stone Company and a 2006 graduate of Minnesota State University, doesn't see any urgent issues that need to be dealt with and is interested in helping lead long-term planning and progress.
"I can work with council members and residents and lay out a good collaborative plan for the city's future."
Former North Mankato City Councilman DeWitte has made several attempts for a city position. In 2004, he ran for mayor but was unable to campaign after a motorcycle crash left him in a coma until just days before the general election.
An Eagle Scout, DeWitte had a long career at Crown Cork & Seal, where he said he held leadership roles. He currently drives shuttles between Mankato and the MSP Airport for Landline.
"My platform is the common sense platform," DeWitte said of his campaign.
Carlson has long roots in the community, with his great grandparents being early settlers here and founders of the Swedish Mission Church in lower North Mankato.
He's been a physical education teacher for nearly three decades at Monroe Elementary as well as doing work at other local schools. And he's coached sports at local schools for even longer.
"I think all candidates think we're in a good spot and just want to make good decisions and help continue that," Carlson said of the race.
Anderson this year ran in the 1st District special election following the death of Congressman Jim Hagedorn.
After working for many years for the Happy Dan's convenience stores, mostly at the former location on Stadium Road near Minnesota State University, Anderson sold appliances for Lowe's, retiring after that store closed.
He describes himself as "a fiscal conservative but liberal on social issues."
Anderson said that while the city received a lot of federal money during the COVID pandemic to keep it financially stable, he doesn't think the city is ready for a similar situation.
"Something like that is likely to happen again and the city needs to be ready for that because I don't think the federal money will flow in again and the city wouldn't be ready financially."
"I've lived here my whole life and am very committed to the city and thought it was time to step up to move the city into the future," Kaus said of his reason for running.
He said he's learned more about the city while serving this year on the Port Authority board.
Kaus said he already has good relationships with business and civic leaders in the community that will help him as mayor.
He said the city has a long-range plan, "but it's a matter of sticking with our plans and visions and doing what can realistically be accomplished without unneeded tax increases."
Kaus said he believes he'd be able to work well with new City Administrator Kevin McCann. "He's definitely good with city employees and has a personality where we can collaborate and work together."
Married with two children, Kaus said things like parks and outdoor recreation opportunities are important to him.
"I live in the city and care about it and just want to collaborate with people to continue making North Mankato a great place to live."
As a busy teacher, husband and dad, Carlson said he never had much time to consider running for public office, but said he's always stayed up on local issues.
"I'm interested in everything from public safety to city development. I have a lot of ideas and thought it was time to share my ideas with the city. I think with my leadership is coaching and teaching and subbing for principals I have the experience to serve," he said.
"I want to continue that quality of life, adding light industrial, retail and being a nice bedroom community to Mankato. I want to keep improving sewers and streets and infrastructure. I feel like we still kind of have that Mayberry feel, and I like that."
Carlson said some want faster growth in the city and some want it to stay basically unchanged.
"I think modest growth is great. Growing keeps us healthy with a tax base for future costs in the community. Too fast of growth can cause problems."
He'd also like the city to pursue ideas to connect neighborhoods better to improve the sense of community.
"We have bike trails on streets and things but I'd like to see a more connected trail system from one development to another and kind of meandering through North Mankato without being on streets and in intersections."
He noted some cities have converted some traditional alleys into paths. "I have ideas on things like that to look at being an interconnected community going forward."
Carlson said that as someone who grew up in Lower North Mankato and now living in Upper North Mankato, he has a good understanding of the needs and concerns of the whole community.
"I want to see normalcy within the city," DeWitte said.
"You get the same group of people at the council meeting every week with the same agenda, and we need to move on to other issues. I served on the council in '06 for four years and there were a lot of the same people coming to the meetings then."
DeWitte said he wants to see more transparency on the council and thinks the city needs to be tighter with the purse strings.
"Let's stop borrowing so much money and tighten the reins a little."
He did say he does favor adequate funding for parks. "And I'm a strong supporter of the police department and if they need a little more funding, I'm fine with that."
One thing he's proud of during his stint on the council was helping get the city out of the Greater Mankato Growth partnership.
"As a council member I said why are we paying $38,000 to GMG and why are we doing it, and we got out of it."
"I'm a very fiscal conservative," Anderson said. "I do believe in a lot of programs but you have to look at how you are going to pay for things. A lot of people don't like to hear about how they're going to pay for things before they're put out there."
He said that while he doesn't have the depth of knowledge about city finances that the current council and mayor have, he wants to learn more.
"I don't know if the city has emergency funds to cover emergency situations. In case something happens you don't want to get so far in debt we can't dig out of it," he said.
"And one thing I've heard from people is that North Mankato's (property) taxes are higher than in Mankato, and I'd like to look at that."
Anderson is also concerned about the growing violence he sees spreading in Minnesota and the nation.
"We're seeing a lot of gun violence. North Mankato has good officers but are we really prepared if something like that happens here? We're seeing it spread out to smaller towns."
Despite fiscal concerns, Anderson thinks the city has been well run. "I think we've had stable policies and politics." And he said he's not the type to just say "no" to every new proposal or idea that comes up.
But one thing he'd like to see go away if he's mayor is the city's recently adopted slogan — "DNA or Darn Nice Area."
"It was (Harrenstein) who did that and everyone thinks it is the stupidest thing ever."