EDITORIAL: We endorse these 5 for Olmsted County Board

Oct. 29—We speculate with some degree of confidence that the roughly 46,000 Olmsted County residents who live outside of Rochester are more likely to know their Olmsted County commissioner than are Rochester's 117,000 residents, who probably are more familiar with their city council member.

So, in the spirit of a Minnesota Twins marketing scheme from the early 2000s, we urge Olmsted County residents to "Get to Know 'Em" before casting a vote for your next county commissioner.

Our editorial board has already done that, and we offer these endorsements in five races for the Olmsted County Board.

This contest pits Loring Stead against Laurel Podulke-Smith. They are vying to replace Stephanie Podulke, who is retiring after serving on the board since 2011. The district encompasses much of the city core of Rochester.

Podulke-Smith, a JM graduate and the daughter of the retiring Podulke, has a master's degree in organizational leadership and cites her 20 years of experience in education, health care and small business as good training for the county board.

The nearly lifelong Kutzky Park resident chose her words deliberately during the League of Women Voters candidate forum. She strikes us as someone who isn't eager to weigh in on a topic until she's done her homework, but she also came across as deeply concerned for the welfare of others.

Stead, who spent 35 years as a doctor at Olmsted Medical Center, is a relentless optimist who exuded energy and enthusiasm as he repeated truisms like "No money, no mission." He clearly loves Rochester and Olmsted County, and his extensive experience on local task forces and committees would serve the county well.

There is no bad choice in this race, but the Post Bulletin endorses Podulke-Smith. She already is building upon the network of contacts and expertise that she inherited from her parents, each of which served on the board.

She told the forum audience that she spent the past several years preparing to run for this office, and we have no doubt that she is deeply familiar with the needs and opportunities that exist in District 1.

Commissioner Ken Brown is stepping down after 20 years representing District 2. His departure opens the door for residents of this northwest Rochester district to choose between former Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem and Gabe Perkins.

Perkins is a jack-of-all-trades whose resume includes stints with the American Cancer Society, experience as a staff assistant in the United States Senate and 13 years with the Minnesota Department of Transportation, his current employer.

Senjem served 10 years on the Rochester City Council before his two-decade run in the Legislature, where he had a reputation as a gregarious bridge-builder, a defender of the environment and advocate for mental health.

Senjem would do a good job as commissioner, but we'd prefer a commissioner who is ascending. Therefore, while we thank Senjem for his decades of public service, the Post Bulletin endorses Gabe Perkins.

In their debate/forum at the Rochester Public Library, Perkins spoke conversationally and intelligently about climate change, development regulations, child care, racism and the county's capital needs if and when the Legislature manages to deliver a capital investment package — something Senjem and the Legislature didn't get done in May.

Perkins' wide-ranging leadership experience would let him easily take on a commissioner's duties, and his upbringing in Chatfield as the son of former Mayor Marget Perkins gives him an edge in understanding the needs of small-town residents in Olmsted County.

This race, to represent a district that encompasses most of eastern Rochester, pits incumbent Gregg Wright against challenger Karl Johnson.

In such a race, we ask these questions: Has Wright done anything to warrant removal from office? Is Johnson an equally qualified alternative?

The answer to both of those questions is no, so the Post Bulletin's editorial board endorses Gregg Wright for another term.

Johnson, who became a caregiver at a young age after his father was diagnosed with M.S., has first-hand knowledge of the various challenges disabled people face. He also has experience in the hospitality business and wholesale groceries, and in the League of Women voters forum he cited his "people skills, customer service, talent recruiting and training, working through bid processes ... fleet management, property management, working with union and non-union labor groups."

But Wright brings far more to the table. During the forum, when asked about topics such as social services, green energy, soil and water conservation and creating opportunities for the county's BIPOC population, Wright was an encyclopedia of information and ideas.

Johnson, on the other hand, often gave a one-sentence answer, then said "And I'll leave it at that." To his credit, he didn't try to hide the gaps in his knowledge, but the gaps were simply too big and too numerous.

Wright is an experienced, forward-thinking county board member at the top of his game. We'll leave it at that.

Matt Flynn is stepping down after 25 years representing District 4, which encompasses the towns of Dover, Eyota and Stewartville, part of Chatfield and roughly two-thirds of the county's rural area. The race to replace him pits Kindra Ramaker against Brian Mueller.

Ramaker is a Spring Valley native who grew up in a family that raised its own food on a hobby farm. She then worked at Mayo Clinic for 20 years, gaining experience in human resources, accounting, finance and supply-chain-management.

Mueller has been a Rochester Township supervisor for 18 years, and he operates what he describes as a "one-man heavy-equipment repair service."

Mueller is a go-to guy if the gravel road that leads to your farm needs to be re-graded or plowed, or if you need to know how much it costs to replace a culvert or repave three miles of blacktop.

The Post Bulletin, however, endorses Kindra Ramaker.

The opening statements made by each candidate in their League of Women voters forum spoke volumes.

"People misunderstand the position of county commissioner," Ramaker said. "County government is about more than just roads and development and land use. If you don't have a perspective of all of the other scope of what's involved in the county, and you're not ready to be innovative and forward-thinking ... our county won't thrive."

Mueller didn't exactly offer much of a rebuttal when, in his own opening statement, he said "I may not be completely versed on what comes out here."

That prediction was accurate. Mueller was not well-versed about affordable housing, social services and long-term care, while Ramaker showed extensive knowledge on nearly every topic the moderators raised.

Of the two candidates, Ramaker is far more prepared to hit the ground running for Olmsted County.

This district encompasses Byron and part of northwest Rochester, and candidates Catherine Davis and Michelle Rossman are vying to replace Jim Bier, who is stepping down after 20 years on the board.

We expect this to be a tight race. Neither woman has held elected office before, and both have skills and experience that could serve the county well.

Davis, a Mankato native who has lived in Olmsted County for 30 years, has a wealth of experience on boards, committees and organizations, including Leadership Greater Rochester, Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce, the United Way, Rochester Civic Theatre, and the Rochester Public Library Foundation. She has a bachelor's degree in music education and master's degrees in organizational management and business administration.

Her opponent, Michelle Rossman, is decidedly rural. She has a B.A. in animal science from Penn State University and a master's degree in meat science from Colorado State, and she is co-owner of Rossman Farms.

The Post Bulletin endorses Rossman.

While Mayo Clinic is our region's largest employer, agriculture is a huge component in the local economy. The county needs a commissioner or two with firsthand knowledge of cover crops, erosion, buffer strips, manure management, permitting for new feedlots, organic farming, land valuations and dozens of other topics that farmers deal with on a regular basis.

Davis, we should note, owns land in another county, and she has some credibility on ag-related issues. But Rossman offers more. "My entire life has been a learning journey as a steward of the natural resources that are available to me as a farmer," she said. "My husband and I are currently instilling those same values and learning to our sons, who are fourth-generation on our farm."

Rossman also is a fiscal conservative who wants to see strong data before she spends taxpayer dollars on things like a social worker at the library or programs for the homeless that don't work toward a long-term solution.

There's always room on the county board for someone who wants to measure twice and cut once.