by CHRIS ROGERS and
This fall’s local elections are getting more competitive as new candidates throw their hats in the ring. There will be a primary election in August for Marcia Ward’s seat on the Winona County Board after challenger Lynn Carlson filed for election late last month. Ward and Bryce Lange are also running. Two experienced candidates are vying to replacing outgoing County Board member Jim Pomeroy: Winona County Planning Commission member Chris Meyer and former Winona City Council member Paul Double. Meanwhile, newcomers Jim Schul, John Larkie, and Kenneth Kersting all announced they will run for the Winona Area Public Schools Board. School Board member Jay Kohner announced he will not seek re-election, board member Steve Schild said he plans to file for another term, board member Karen Coleman will retire her seat, and fellow incumbent Ben Barrato has until Tuesday to decide.
Double and Meyer compete for Pomeroy’s seat
For the last 10 years, Jim Pomeroy has represented District One (eastern Winona) on the Winona County Board, often acting as a moderate voice and a swing vote on the sometimes-divided board. In late April, he announced he will not seek re-election, and now Meyer and Double are running for his seat.
Double is a local businessman who served a term on the Winona City Council before being defeated by Paul Schollmeier by a 17-point margin in 2016. Coincidentally, Schollmeier and Meyer are married. As a council member and candidate, Double opposed additional regulations on frac sand facilities, criticized the city’s use of stormwater fees to fund rain gardens, and proposed that the city swap land in Lake Park with the school district for the construction of a new public elementary school.
Meyer has spent the last two-and-a-half years serving on the county’s Planning Commission, where she voted for the frac sand ban, scrutinized feedlot expansions, and said that the government needs to do more to reduce nitrate pollution in drinking water. Prior to that, she served on the county’s Parks and Environment Committee. Meyer was a donor to County Board member Marie Kovecsi’s 2014 campaign.
Asked why she is running, Meyer pointed to Pomeroy’s example. “He’s been really even-handed and respectful and thoughtful and focused on the issues, and I would really like to follow in that sort of model of service,” she said. On policy, Meyer stated, “Sustainability and sustainable development is really the core of what I want for this county for the future.” She talked about how she left her hometown on the Iron Range because there was no economic opportunity. Winona County is fortunate to have both natural beauty and a diversified economy with jobs that can support people, she stated. Asked what the county should do about its jail, Meyer said she would need to learn more about the issue. She is sympathetic to investing in preventative criminal justice programs aimed at reducing incarceration and recidivism. “Are there things we should be doing that could reduce future costs if we were able to invest in them now?” Meyer asked, adding, “Reacting is a lot more expensive.”
“The main reason is that I think the county has some significant issues that are coming up,” Double said of his decision to run. He pointed to the county’s need for employee parking, adjusting to Fastenal’s planned riverfront office, and securing land for a new or expanded jail as examples of important, upcoming issues. Double stated that he could bring valuable insight to city-county relations on those issues.
On mining, Double said that, with tight regulations and tough penalties, frac sand mining can be done responsibly. “If they’re complying with all the codes, they should be allowed to operate,” he stated.
Double said he has a very open mind about what to do about the jail, and said that programs to reduce incarceration should be considered as well as options to export inmates long-term. Asked about taxes and funding, Double stated, “Sometimes you have to make some upfront investments in things in order to make money.” At the same time, he added, there needs to be “some meat in the argument” for investing in preventative programs.
Carlson joins three-way race for Ward’s seat
Wilson Township resident Lynn Carlson recently filed to run for election in Winona County’s District Five, which encompasses much of rural Winona County, from Lewiston to Dresbach. She is competing with longtime incumbent Marcia Ward, of New Hartford Township, and fellow challenger Bryce Lange, of Lewiston, for a seat on the County Board.
Carlson lives just outside Winona city limits in East Burns Valley. She is a fitness instructor in Winona, a former board member at the Bluff Country Co-op, and a former leader of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Cognitive Sciences. Carlson said that Donald Trump’s election galvanized her desire to get involved in community service and democracy. “It felt like it was any man’s game,” she said of Trump’s election. “And I’ve been working enough in community service where I’ve been able to take a global perspective of things, to not carry my personal wants or needs to the table but think abut the larger picture.”
Ward voted against the frac sand ban, supported possibly lifting the county’s cap on feedlot size, has refused to vote for property tax increases, and says that representing animal agriculture is one of the most important issues to her. Lange has described himself as a moderate alternative to Ward; he supports the frac sand ban.
Carlson said she is concerned about Minnesota Sands’ proposals to mine numerous acres in Winona County. Asked whether she would support repealing the frac sand ban or keeping it in place, she responded, “What I support is thorough investigation of the possible outcomes of any future project … We’re treading on new territory here, and the bedrock here is very porous.”
On nitrate pollution, Carlson said she was amazed at the amount of nitrogen fertilizer that is commonly applied to fields. “This is all about yield, but if we grow a bigger strawberry is it more nutritive? Is it better for our health? Maybe we need to be rethinking this,” she said. Carlson added that soil health is a larger, multi-faceted issue. “It’s a tough question. I know farmers need help. But we also need to keep the land arable instead of over-harvesting it and depleting it of all its nutrients,” she stated.
On taxes and funding, Carlson stated, “If we want to keep our society civilized it does require an investment into public works.”
New faces and few incumbents in WAPS’ races
Three candidates have filed so far for Winona Area Public Schools’ (WAPS) at-large seats thus far. Current board chair Ben Baratto said he is still undecided about whether he will file for re-election to his current at-large seat, and incumbent Jay Kohner has announced he won’t seek re-election for his at-large position. Board member Karen Coleman has stated she will give up her Second District board position, and board member Steve Schild said he plans to file for his First District seat.
Retired WAPS teacher Baratto said making up his mind about whether to run for re-election still has him torn. He’s served on the board for eight years. “Some people, I guess, don’t believe me when I say I’m really undecided. I know I have to make up my mind by Tuesday,” he said. The recent vote to close both Madison and Rollingstone elementary schools — for which Baratto voted — as well as the latest difficult round of budget cuts have been painful, he explained, and more budget reductions on the horizon and the need for funds for facility improvements means there is going to be hard work ahead. “If you would ask which way am I leaning, I would say I’m leaning toward running but I haven’t pulled the plug yet.” If fewer candidates had signed up, Baratto said he would be more swayed to put his name on the ballot in order to give voters more of a choice.
Goodview resident Kenneth Kersting has launched his fourth campaign to land an at-large seat on the board. The Cloquet, Minn., native has lived in the area for more than two decades, and he works as the head of maintenance at Saint Mary’s University. His children all graduated from Cotter, a choice his family made because of their Catholic faith, he said. “I think we need to stop the bleeding and fix the trust, get the community to trust the School Board again,” he said of the biggest issue facing the district. He said the board needed to really examine its facility needs and how it got to this point with deferred maintenance, adding, “There’s got to be a problem, why the buildings are falling apart and nothing has been done with them.” He said he had no comment about the board’s recent decision to close elementary buildings, but said he opposed the clause that wouldn’t allow the buildings to be operated as schoolhouses once they are sold. “Competition’s good,” he explained. “If they want to put a charter school in there, go for it — show the community, ‘Hey, we’re willing to work with you.’”
Rollingstone resident John (J.R.) Larkie has also filed for an at-large seat on the board, and said his background in finance would be a benefit to the district as it works to balance its budget in the coming years. He has three children and one on the way, all whom he plans to keep enrolled in WAPS’ schools. “One of the biggest things that concerns me is not having a long-term plan,” he said of WAPS’ future, adding he worried that the elementary school closure has left the remaining buildings too crowded. The Houston native moved to Winona at 18, then moved his family to Rollingstone, and he said the attractive elementary program there was a factor in that decision. Larkie said he’s paid close attention to the district’s study of deferred maintenance needs, and found $33 million in projects that don’t need to be done right away — such as $30,000 to replace clocks. “When you’re going through hard times, sometimes you have to eat mac and cheese and ramen until you get back on your feet,” he said. If elected, he said he would advocate on day one to reopen Rollingstone elementary, and that if the school were marketed correctly, it would attract more students.
School Board member Steve Schild said he plans on filing for re-election before Tuesday’s deadline for his First District position. “I would like to be part of continuing the work of addressing the facilities situation,” Schild stated. “We need to continue the work that the second iteration of this task force has done,” he added, referring to a recent Facilities Task Force recommendation for a $10-million referendum this fall to fund improvements to existing buildings. It is still too soon to say whether WAPS needs a new school building, but if a referendum passes this fall, the district needs to take a comprehensive look at what facility needs remain, Schild said. While they were difficult, the decisions the School Board made over the last year were important accomplishments, Schild continued. Going forward there will be more hard choices, he added. “The finances are in pretty tough shape … There aren’t any easy choices or easy decisions left,” he stated.
Winona State University professor of education and Ohio native Jim Schul has announced his candidacy for an at-large seat on the board. “First of all, I understand, a School Board member runs independently, but they operate as a team. What I envision — I can’t go rogue,” he said of his vision of district leadership. “I think the number-one thing that we have to do is build trust within the school and the community to make sure that the community and the school district have open lines of communication.” Teachers need to be adequately prepared to include individuals with disabilities into their classrooms, and teachers need to be empowered and have some control over who they select as their colleagues, he explained. When asked about the recent decision to close elementary buildings, Schul said he “wants to be pragmatic,” adding, “I’m not going to focus on water under the bridge, which seems to be what a lot of folks are doing … I’m going to focus on the problems at hand.” Schul has four children — three who currently attend Bluffview and one in preschool, and he said his family plans for them to attend Winona Senior High School. He’s been a professor of education for nine years, five at Winona State, and said his background in education means he has something to offer the district. As far as WAPS’ financial challenges, Schul said he believes that the district needs to further examine what can be done with state funding, and that the rise of concentrated poverty is a real problem when it comes to local funding sources.
To become a candidate, visit the appropriate local government clerk — Winona County Auditor-Treasurer’s Office at 177 Main Street in Winona, the Winona City Clerk at 207 Lafayette Street in Winona, or the Winona Area Public Schools District Office at 903 Gilmore Avenue — and submit an affidavit of candidacy before 5 p.m. on June 5. For more information, visit www.sos.state.mn.us and click “Election Administration & Campaigns.”