There are only 44 days until the November 6 election. Both mayoral candidates and all six City Council candidates sat down Wednesday to participate in a debate sponsored by the League of Women Voters. Questions covered a range of subjects, such as their stances on infrastructure, tourism, and taxes.
Thirty percent rule
As the city's litigation with several Winona homeowners continues, the 30 percent rule remains a hot button issue. The forum opened with a question reminding candidates of the current legal standing and asking if they would support placing a limit on the amount of tax money the city could spend on legal fees defending the rule.
First Ward candidate Chris Sanchez said he would support placing a limit on the amount of money the city should spend on legal fees and said the rule is in place to protect community infrastructure and keep families in homes.
At-large candidate Paul Double agreed, saying anytime the city places legislation into city code, they must enforce and defend it. “Accepting legal responsibility is part of the job and I think when you write the rules, you write them right and then you defend them,” Double said.
Mayoral candidate Mark Peterson said he wasn’t sure how the city could limit the spending but said he believes defending the rule is what is best for the community.
“I’ve been hearing a lot of feedback from citizens and I know it’s being challenged in court, but I think enacting it was the right thing to do,” Peterson said. “I think it was done in a good faith effort and is trying to solve a problem. I think it’s working.”
Third Ward candidate Pamela Eyden expressed her reluctance to comment and said she would have to know more about the legal proceedings.
Third Ward candidate Don Salyards and At-large candidate Gabe Vargas said they were in favor of the rule.
At the request of Winona City Attorney Chris Hood, both mayoral candidate George Borzyskowski and and First Ward candidate Al Thurley declined to comment on the issue.
Highway 43 bridge plans
It has been a month since the Minnesota Department of Transportation officially announced that Winona would be getting a new bridge that will be built parallel with the existing bridge. Even though construction isn’t slated to begin until 2015, conceptual plans suggest businesses in the path of the new bridge may be demolished or moved. Concerns about displaced business was expressed and all candidates agreed to do whatever is in their power to help those displaced.
“We need to be there to support those businesses and help them find a new location if they chose to do so,” Vargas said. “Anytime Winona loses jobs, Winona loses as a whole. We need to be there to assist them in finding new locations.”
Borzyskowski and Thurley both suggested that the businesses work with the Community Development Department to create a plan of relocation, if a business is affected by the new bridge.
“It’s also important to understand that Winona depends on that bridge and the plans appear to be moving forward,” Double said. “We are the second largest port in the state of Minnesota, and we need to recognize that this bridge is an integral part of this community.”
Highway 61 upgrades
A section of Highway 61 near Gilmore Avenue has recently been labeled a high collision area, and concerned citizens are asking Minnesota Department of Transportation officials to fix it. Just last week, three plans were revealed that address the problem areas. While the options are just that, options, all candidates agreed the intersection needs to be fixed.
Thurley and Borzyskowski both agreed that the third option – erect a new traffic signal at what is referred to as No Name Drive, and rerouting all movements to that intersection – is the best option.
Sanchez and Eyden said they needed to study the options closer, but agreed the intersection is hazardous and needs to be upgraded.
“This intersection is really a mess. It’s just a huge problem,” Peterson said. “I’m really pleased that Mn/DOT is finally going to put a plan forward. It’s long overdue.”
Each candidate had a different issue at the top of a ‘to do’ list. Whether cleaning up Levee Park, updating downtown, or promoting tourism, answers varied among candidates.
“One of the first issues I would investigate is the frac sand moratorium and the study of all the issues,” Eyden said. “I believe we need to carefully consider the impact that it has on tourism, health and safety of our community.”
Double said revamping downtown is at the top of his list and said it is strongly related to the tourist draw of Winona.
“Winona is uniquely identifiable and I really think there needs to be a community forum and input to move this project forward,” Double said. “We have a lot of very confident people in the community drawing up decent plans, and we need to be creative and do it right.”
Salyards and Peterson both agreed that Levee Park is their main concern. Salyards said he has an individual in mind who is willing to put money into the project but declined to say who.
“We need to make Levee Park the pride of this community,” Peterson said. “I believe right now the park is an eyesore and it’s underutilized. It is some of the best real estate we have in Winona, and we need to make it an asset to be proud of.”
Borzyskowski and Vargas said working together to better the city’s infrastructure was at the top of their lists.
Thurley said moratorium and bridge issues are on his radar, and Sanchez said building good rapport with citizens and city staff is key.
“We all need to work together because every issue is equally important,” Sanchez said.
Mark Peterson has been the Executive Director of the Winona County Historical Society for 30 years and currently serves on the Winona Heritage Preservation Commission.
George Borzyskowski has worked at Peerless Chain for 38 years and currently serves as the City Council Fourth Ward representative.
First Ward City
Al Thurley is the incumbent, and is employed by Hiawatha Broadband Communications.
Chris Sanchez is a real estate broker and owner of Winona Listings. He also currently serves as the Chairman of the Winona Board of Adjustment.
Third Ward City Council candidates
Pamela Eyden is an adjunct instructor at Winona State University and writer and editor for Big River Magazine. She also currently serves on the Winona City Planning Commission.
Don Salyards is an economics professor at Winona State University and is the cofounder of Comfortex and Winona Pattern and Mold. His late wife, Deb, held this seat until her death.
At-large City Council candidates
Paul Double is the CEO of two Winona companies, Cinco USA and Medicharge HRA. Double also served as the Chairman for the State Municipal Board.
Gabe Vargas is a Winona State University alum and is a case manager for Winona County Mental Health Services.
The general election is November 6, 2012. Voting hours are from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. To register to vote or find your polling place, visit the Secretary of State’s website.