Lakeville mayoral candidates face off

Chamber forum becomes heated

Before a packed house, Lakeville mayoral candidates faced off at a Lakeville Area Chamber of Commerce-sponsored forum at City Hall on Oct. 9.

Mark Bellows

Mayor Mark Bellows and Council Member Matt Little sparred back-and-forth for much of the debate with Council Member Laurie Rieb making her case for her candidacy in the middle, mostly outside of the fight.

Chamber forums typically are not full-on debates, but instead focus on exposing to an audience and cable viewers candidates’ positions on various topics.

Executive Director Todd Bornhauser emphasized to the candidates before air-time and to the audience that “this is not a debate.”

However, Little and Bellows – foes on the council since early 2011’s swearing in of the current term – took to calling each other out on alleged fallacies and misrepresentations.

Matt Little
Matt Little

Bellows, pastor of Hope Community Church in Lakeville, accused Little of being a liberal, big-government candidate who uses special interest groups for political gain. He said that Little’s vote against outsourcing the city’s electrical inspection – a $90,000 savings – is evidence of this.

Little, a U of M law student, countered that he is “not worried about saving the city money. I’m worried about saving the taxpayer money. Wait times are increased now and service is reduced.”

He said that a public/private compromise he supported would have retained revenue at a time when “permitting is on the rise” while saving taxpayers money.

One of the questions asked centered on the three top challenges Lakeville faces.

Laurie Rieb

Rieb, development director for 360 Communities, said aging infrastructure and the tax consequences on residents and businesses was a major challenge.

As the city’s streets age, they need to be replaced or reconstructed. This puts a burden on “residents assessed 40 percent of the project cost and is also a burden to taxpayers who shoulder the other 60 percent.”

Bellows agreed that roads are an issue, whether it is their maintenance, replacement or easing excessive traffic loads thus ensuring better, safer roads.

“It’s a significant price tag,” he said.

Balancing people’s expectations with financial constraints is a huge challenge, he said.

“The council is forced to make choices where it can’t make everyone happy,” he said. “We have to differentiate between wants and needs.”

He said another challenge is making the city more competitive.

“We’re trying to attract new businesses and industries to the city, but so is every other city,” he said. “We have to take a hard look at developers’ fees, (city) policies and (the city’s) marketing strategies.”

Little said public safety needs will only grow as the city adds thousands of more people over the coming decades. Public safety is the city’s largest expense.

In addition to infrastructure needs, Little said that the economic recession taught Lakeville that diversified commercial and industrial sectors are important. Lakeville’s primarily manufacturing-based sector left it vulnerable, he said.

Another question asked candidates to define and prove their fiscal conservatism.

Little, first elected to the council in 2010, said it is about “spending our money smart in a way that doesn’t just save money tomorrow, but saves money long into the future.”

He referred to his 2011 advocacy for the return of a police records technician – to take the burden off police officers and keep them on the streets – as an example.

“It was wasted money,” he said. “A records technician costs much less than a police officer.”

Bellows, who first was elected to the City Council in 2000, referred to his opening remarks from the night, when he said, quoting former Mayor Bob Johnson, that he is “a reflection of Lakeville’s values and principles.”

“I believe in smaller, more efficient and less intrusive government,” Bellows said. “I believe the private sector takes precedence over the public sector.”

He said his vote for outsourcing the electrical inspector is an example of his fiscal conservatism. He then pointed out that Police Chief Tom Vonhof had budgeted a full-time records technician for 2013.

He then wondered why “Little attempted to bring (the position) on six months” before the police even wanted it.

Rieb, who has served on the council as long as Bellows, said it is about spending taxpayers’ money wisely and efficiently.

Collaboration with other governments was evidence of her fiscally conservative leanings, she said, referring to the Dakota County Communications Center and the joint ISD 194/city of Lakeville-owned Hasse Arena.

“I’m a fiscal conservative,” she said.

Another question asked about the city’s services and if any should be eliminated.

They all agreed that public safety, infrastructure and water and sewer were essential services.

Little and Rieb added that “youth and senior services” such as the parks, recreation and the Heritage Center are important parts of the city and offer, as Rieb said, “a quality of life in all stages.”

She said that Lakeville has managed to be a high- amenity city while having some of the lowest tax rates in the metro.

Little said in addition to the recreational elements, a city should attempt to attract businesses within its borders.

He pointed to his recently-released 17-page policy document, inside which is a Four-Point Job Creation Plan that consists of a business competition package, leveraging a new marketing plan, encouraging small-business growth and streamlining the city’s development process.

Bellows said that businesses reacted to “the new economic normal” by becoming leaner and more efficient.

“Government is expected to be leaner, too,” he said.

In 2008, when the fiscal winds blew their stench into the mix, the city started to make preparations. Departments recommended cuts and efficiencies.

“(Finance Director) Dennis Feller and staff responded by downsizing the operation,” Bellows said. “We reduced the number of employees quite dramatically since 2008.”

In their closing remarks, the candidates defined themselves and Bellows and Little made some references to each other.

“Mayor Bellows and I trade back and forth … it’s a little ‘inside baseball,’ ” Little said. “But our job up here isn’t rocket science. It’s not about details, labels, old or young and certainly not about yard signs. It’s not about us up here. It’s about coming together to build a better city.”

“In the end, being a good leader in our community means working with people to solve problems and build a better city,” he said. “If elected mayor, that’s what I will do.”

Bellows said he is a “watchdog for the taxpayer. I will lead with principle and reflect Lakeville’s values. It has been an honor to be your mayor.”

He said that Little has made him out to be a “conservative who wants to push granny off the cliff, in typical liberal fashion” because he opposed the Heritage Center.

He opposed the Heritage Center, he said, because he thought selling the building to pay off debt incurred from building a new police station would have been a better option.

“The vacant building was a monument to government inefficiency,” Bellows said.

Also, the Heritage Center is not visionary enough, he said, referring to former Parks and Recreation Director Steve Michaud’s assessment that the Heritage Center would serve seniors for eight years.

Rieb said she is running for mayor “because I have a passion for Lakeville.”

“I have been involved in volunteering since I moved here 25 years ago,” she said. “I have no higher political aspirations.”

She then said she wants to “help lead Lakeville into the future. I believe I have the temperament, skills and leadership to do that.”

The forum in full is available to stream online at the city’s website or by tuning into the city’s cable channel.

The next chamber-sponsored forum focuses on City Council candidates Doug Anderson, Dave Bares and incumbent Kerrin Swecker, who are competing for two seats. It will be at 7 p.m. on Oct. 16 at City Hall.

As with the other forums, it will be broadcast live and recorded for later consumption.

  • Deborah Nelson

    I attended the mayoral debate. II was impressed with our two current council members and the way they conducted themselves during the debate. Professional and informative . I’m so excited to see where Lakeville will head in the future.

  • Diane

    I agree with Deborah, I look forward to where Lakeville will head in the future and Mr. Little’s Four-Point Job Creation Plan excited me. I was not in attendence but was at a local restaurant and over heard people that may have been. I decided to search for news on the debate and this is where it brought me. It seems that all three candidates are optimistic for Lakeville’s future but I think Matt Little’s plan is more detailed. In fact, in this article I never heard the author state any of the other candidates specific views. I really admire someone who takes the time to produce something so detailed and transparency in politics is important to me. I was able to find a copy of Mr. Little’s Four-Point Job Creation Plan by going to his webpage and I think that is very nice of him to show others who were unable to attend As my father as said, “details matter”. It is calming to be able to have that type of access and availability from a Mayor. I appreciate it. Let’s go Lakeville!

  • Love the Water

    Matt Little spoke about the burden of others using our city parks, the idea that we have too much manufacturing jobs in Lakeville and too many parks. Matt Little wants to rely on a Visionary Study from 1990 to guide us for the next expansion of the city. It was clear throughout the forum that Matt Little’s four point plan was developed through some text-book boiler plate. Laurie Reib and Mark Bellows ideas were very similar in many aspects, however, Mr. Bellows articulated it better. When it came to the business community of Lakeville, it was clear that Mr. Little lacks a tremendous amount of experience in this arena. We cannot and should not deny a company from locating to Lakeville because their are another manufacturing company. The tax levy was going to bring $3 to the average homeowner in Lakeville and hundreds of dollars in tax increases to business in Lakeville. Business are covering a huge amount of taxes and without them our taxes would climb dramatically. We need to open our doors to whoever wants to bring jobs(as long as it doesn’t have an adverse effect on the city – i.e. adult entertainment, environmental issues) Matt Little also has an issue with bus transit in Lakeville on Cedar Avenue saying it is underutilitzed and waste of money. That station was built in a forward-thinking manner…location will ultimately be ideal, the costs to acquire the land was reasonable and the cost to build it was reasonable as it was done during the heart of the recession. Matt Little is not here to build a better city. He is here to build a better place only for those who support him

  • Make this a better city

    Matt Little stated in the forum that too many people outside the city of lakeville use our parks and it is a burden on our city. Should we put up walls and make this a country club for Matt Little’s liberal buddies to enjoy? Heck no, we need to welcome people to Lakeville.

  • Love the water

    Matt Little was the only council member who opposed the $25,000 liquor store study. He and his supporters felt that $25,000 was being wasted for a “simple math” project. The report came back and said that the liquor stores are a benefit to the city – what we all expected. However, the report also stated that the City already had enough square footage space at this time and acquiring land for another location was not a good idea. Therefore, based on the report, the City removed $3,000,000 from the next budget which was going to be used to acquire land for another location. Thank you to Swecker, Bellows, La Beau and Reib for voting for the study. Shame on Matt Little for belittling the study. Following Matt Little’s inexperienced would have wasted us $3,000,000. The individuals who have benefited from Matt Little on the city council are the residents of the Northeast corner of the City where Matt Little grew up. Matt Little only works for the people who voted for him. Please open your eyes and understand that Matt Little at this time does not have the experience nor the respect from the business community to be the mayor of this city. We are the 19th rated city in the U.S. because our experienced leaders with a broaden background built an excellent city. Let’s not ruin this with a “shock the world” election of the 27 year old law school student whose long-term goals do not include Lakeville.