Six vie for two seats on North Mankato Council

Six vie for two seats on North Mankato Council
By Brian Ojanpa
NORTH MANKATO — Six people are vying for two atlarge North Mankato City Council seats at a time when the city will soon be under new administrative leadership. Candidates include one incumbent, one repeat candidate, a former councilor trying to regain the position, and three newcomers to city elections. Both seats carry a four-year term. (The mayor, Mark Dehen, is running unopposed.) The council will work with the staff leadership of a new city administrator. Longtime City Administrator Wendell Sande retired during the summer. A search is being conducted for Sande’s replacement.

The six council candidates:

Billy Steiner

Steiner, who has served on the City Council since 1996, said his tenure on the panel will be an asset as the city continues to transition.
“In the past few months we’ve seen the retirements of several key city officials. My re- election would ensure some valuable continuity in our city government.
“I think I have a pretty good grasp of what’s going on and how to accomplish what needs to be done.”
In addition to the omnipresent fiscal challenges facing local governments, Steiner said another civic challenge continues to be ongoing efforts to complete a four-lane stretch of Highway 14 between North Mankato and New Ulm — and beyond.
“ We can’t be satisfied until it is complete, from New Ulm to Rochester.”
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COUNCIL: Unique perspectives
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Steiner said he wants to continue to be a responsive, responsible councilor — “something I take very seriously” — and to look at ways to continue making North Mankato a great place to live.

Kenny DeWitte

After losing his council seat to Bob Freyberg in the 2010 election, DeWitte is vying for a return to the panel he was first elected to in 2006.
“I was not ready to give up the council position. I was wellliked by city staff and most of the council members,” he said of his 2010 defeat.
DeWitte said his previous council tenure instilled knowledge of what it takes to run the city and keep it independent.
“I consider myself a common- sense individual,” said DeWitte, whose list of key challenges and issues facing North Mankato includes accommodating an aging population by keeping costs under control for retirees, dealing with “nonexistent” state-aid funding and receiving “more bang for our dollar” from Greater Mankato Growth.
Also: “I’m firmly against a merger with Mankato.”
If elected, he said he would help turn North Mankato into a leaner community while helping to maintain its independence.
He suggested that councilors past and present may have deserved to be called “ bobbleheads” for being in agreement on all council agenda items. “ We need to think long and hard about pet projects — for instance, the Benson Park project.”

Thomas Rieff

Rieff, owner of a Mankato lawn maintenance service, is a first-time candidate for elective office who sees North Mankato as being at a pivotal point in its history. He said hiring a new city administrator is an immediate city priority, and development of a long-term financial plan is a necessary goal.
“ Things may have been easier in the past. That is, the 2000s provided exceptional growth in housing and industry. This resulted in an increasing tax base and increased revenues to do the projects in the city without adverse effect on constituents.”
But now, he said, the tax base has shrunk, state aid to cities has been reduced and growth has stagnated.
“ The net effect is now the constituents are going to pay for some past decisions, whether good or bad.”
Rieff said North Mankato needs to continue to collaborate with other government entities and to explore further means of doing so.
He said the assumption in the past was that North Mankato provided excellent value and quality of service to its citizens.
“I do not think this is true today. Have we lost that edge, and if so, how do we get it back?”

Kim Spears

Spears, who ran unsuccessfully for North Mankato City Council two years ago, said he’s running again because he’s concerned that present leadership isn’t taking current and future conditions into account in their decision-making process.
The business- computer programmer said his understanding of accounting principles and his work performing cost/benefit analyses are skills that would benefit city governance.
The key challenges/issues facing North Mankato: “ The need to do more with less, unfunded mandates from the state and federal governments, and lack of a clear vision of what North Mankato is supposed to be.” He said if elected, he looks forward to delving into the workings of the intergovernmental committee, Port Authority and park management.
On current and past City Council workings: “I feel most of the current council is out of touch with the citizens that are living on Social Security and savings income.”

Pete Wachtel

Wachtel, a general contractor who has lived in North Mankato 36 years, is commander of the Sons of the American Legion in North Mankato.
“I have great leadership skills and work well with others, and that is very important,” he said. “I don’t believe that sitting on your hands and waiting for someone else to do it gets anything done.”
Wachtel said although North Mankato’s annual curbside pickups of residents’ unwanted items can be expensive for the city he thinks it’s a great community benefit.
“I believe we can figure out a way to resume this for our citizens.”
He also thinks the continuation of improvements to the 200 block of Belgrade Avenue is crucial for the city.
“I believe we need to continue to create space for new businesses and relocating businesses and try to make it appealing for them to come to North Mankato.”
He said the creation of the city’s industrial park is “ wonderful” as an enticement for businesses.

Kurt Richardson

First-time office-seeker Richardson said if elected, he would be an impassioned advocate for expanding to four lanes Highway 14 between North Mankato and New Ulm. “Losing a son to a car accident on Highway 14 has made it important to me to have no other family experience the death of a loved one.”
Richardson, a recent Corporate Graphics North retiree, said he’s running for City Council because he wants to play an active part in North Mankato’s continuous growth — “ to be part of a team that has the best interest of the city at heart.” He said one of his duties during his work career — supply-purchasing based on research to determine best quality at the most affordable price for the company — provided him with a transferable skill that would be an asset to City Council decision-making.
He said key challenges to North Mankato include bringing in more tourism, balancing the budget and continuance of the effort to bring in new businesses while ensuring that current businesses continue to thrive.
Copyright 2012 Mankato Free Press

What experience do you have for this position???

I have been involved in a management/leadership position since 1978.
Outside of work I have had the opportunity to lead and participate in numerous other organizations. This has given me the opportunity to work through difficult issues over the years. Please review my Resume for further information.
This experience should be of benefit to the Citizens, as a City Councilperson in North Mankato.

Why am I running for City Council???

I have seen a lot of changes in North Mankato over my 58 years. Every decade has brought significant changes to this community and its citizens. This has given me an overall perspective of where the community has been, where we are now, and where we need to be in the future.
North Mankato is at a pivotal point in its history and my perspective is that, now is the time to be a part of that.

North Mankato Candidate Forum

The North Mankato Candidate Forum was held on Wednesday October 10th.
Thank You to the Greater Mankato Growth for sponsoring this event. The forum was well attended and lively. Tom
The Mankato Free Press published an article on the 11th as follows:

By Brian Ojanpa

Generally, North Mankato forum finds
Curbside pickup is popular with all candidates

Photos by Pat Christman
North Mankato City Council candidate Tom Rieff (center) speaks during a candidate forum Wednesday at South Central College.

Office-seekers at the North Mankato City Council candidates forum Wednesday were in unanimous agreement that one of the city’s most popular amenities — annual curbside pickup of people’s junk — is a darn good thing that should continue despite the costs to the city.
Actually, consensus agreement was the rule of the evening on most of the issues raised at the Greater Mankato Growth/League of Women Voters forum at South Central College.
Mayor Dave Dehen, who is running unopposed, was joined by five of the candidates running for two at-large council seats.
Present were incumbent Billy Steiner, former councillor Kenny DeWitte, repeat candidate Kim Spears and first-time office-seekers Tom Rieff and Kurt Richardson. A sixth candidate, Peter Wachtel, was not present.
The forum format called for each candidate to answer a series of prepared questions.
To a query asking candidates what the city’s strategic plan for the future should be and what is their top priority, Richardson led off with a short but impassioned call for rapid safety improvements to accident- prone Highway 14, which claimed the life of his son.
“I want to see Highway 14 widened before too many more lives are lost there — the sooner the better,” he said.
Rieff said the city needs to develop a long-term financial plan in light of ongoing cuts in state aid. He also looks to further collaboration with other local government entities.
“What is the focus of the city? Where have we been and where are we going to go?” Rieff said.
Spears concurred: “Who are we? Are we a bedroom community or are we another Mankato?”
Steiner, running for his fifth term, noted that the city already has a strategic plan in place — its capital improvement plan. DeWitte cautioned that “we need to start focusing on where we’re going with our taxes” in view of the city’s growing number of retirees.
Another question, regarding the city’s renewed search for a new city administrator after eschewing the first batch of finalists, brought these responses: Rieff: “If someone isn’t viable after the second search I’d suggest hiring a headhunter because this is a job not to be taken lightly.”
DeWitte and Spears said the entire council rather than a couple of council members should be involved in the interview process.
To the question “what do you feel about the increased economic cooperation between North Mankato and Mankato?” all candidates favored full speed ahead, with Rieff taking that sentiment a step further.
“I think we’ve just hit the tip of the iceberg in some of the things that can be done,” he said, suggesting that the cities should also look into joint refuse and utilities ventures.

Lynn Solo, of the St. Peter Area League of Women Voters, sorts through questions from the audience during a North Mankato City Council can­didate forum Wednesday at South Central College.

Another question focused on the city’s economic development panel of non-elected officials, the North Mankato Port Authority. To wit: “How do you feel about the Port Authority and the money spent to improve the 200 block of Belgrade Avenue?”
DeWitte, Steiner and Richardson lauded the panel’s efforts in economic development. Said Steiner, “When bond people come down from the Cities they’re amazed as to the growth that’s gone on here. ”Rieff suggested looking into the feasibility of a joint
economic development authority involving North Mankato and Mankato, though he acknowledged that dismantling the Port Authority might be an “insurmountable task.”
Spears, a frequent critic of the Port Authority, suggested that it overreaches by enabling some people to open businesses even though they have no business experience.
Copyright 2012 Mankato Free Press

NM City Council GMG Questionaire Now Online

Greater Mankato Growth asked the North Mankato City Council Candidates to submit Biographical Information and answer a series of questions. The link to their website is… Click the check box to review and compare information. Click on Bio for the Biographical Information of each candidate and myself.  If you wish to see my resume, click on the  “About Me” tab at the top or the following link… Tom Rieff’s Resume

For all of Greater Mankato Growth‘s Election Information review the complete web page at

Remember to vote on November 6th. Tom



Tom Rieff Files for North Mankato City Council


Rieff joins N. Mankato council race
By Mark Fischenich
NORTH MANKATO — North Mankato voters will have at least four options for their two votes for City Council members Nov. 6 after lifelong North Mankato resident and business owner Tom Rieff entered the race Wednesday. Voters now have a first time candidate (Rieff), an incumbent (16-year Councilman Billy Steiner), a former councilman (Kenny DeWitte) and a former candidate (Kim Spears, who lost a council race in 2010 and is making a second attempt).
Two council seats — Steiner’s and the one held by 20-year Councilman Bill Schindle, who’s not seeking re- election — are on the ballot and each carries a fouryear term. Voters will be able to vote for up to two candidates with the top two vote-getters winning the seats. The office of mayor is on the ballot every two years in North Mankato. Mayor Mark Dehen is seeking a second term, but no other candidates have stepped forward to challenge him.
Rieff, who filed Wednesday, is owner of GreenCare, a Mankato business that provides lawn care and irrigation systems and employs 28 people.
He’s making his first run for elected office at the age of 58.
“I just think the time is right,” Rieff said. “… I’ve always lived in North Mankato, it’s a beautiful city, and I guess I’ve taken an interest.”
With the city preparing to hire its first new city administrator in 16 years, at least one new council member guaranteed in January and new staff in several positions, it’s a time of change.
“ We need to look at the future right now and plan for it,” he said.
Rieff said he offers a business- owner’s perspective to the council, saying he would take an approach to budgeting similar to businessman and Councilman Bob Freyberg who was elected in 2010.
“ We have a poster in our office that says, ‘If we don’t take care of our customers, somebody else will,’” Rieff said. “It’s the same with the city (and it’s citizens). …
We have to take care of our customers.”
He said he’s willing to accept inflationary increases in city property taxes but not anything approaching a double- digit levy hike.
“Can some people afford that? Yes,” he said of lofty tax increases. “ There’s many other people who can not.”