The three candidates running for mayor in Rochester diverged on issues such as the possibility of a city-wide public internet service, the funding of a veterans museum and term limits defined by the city's charter.
A standing-room-only crowd turned out for Wednesday's Rochester mayor candidate forum, showing that incumbent Mayor Ardell Brede has some strong competition for the seat he's held for 12 years.
Candidates Stephanie Kilen and Cindy Maves will challenge Brede in the Aug. 12 primary. The questions and answers had a common theme: Someone needs to lead Rochester through the growth brought by the Destination Medical Center.
"Leadership on the Destination Medical Center Corp. board, I think, is going to be critical for keeping equitability in mind (on DMC projects)," Kilen said.
Maves wants to see more oversight of DMC spending on public infrastructure projects and a dedication to serving the citizens with each big project, she said. She said the Mayo Civic Center expansion and renovation, which received $35 million from the state in this year's bonding bill, would host fewer small events and only larger conventions.
"I don't believe in that," Maves said. "I think the things that we're planning for Rochester have to be good for the citizens and for DMC."
The Rochester City Council ultimately holds a lot of control for the DMC projects and a final plan won't be ready until early 2015, but Brede said he's been focused on gathering community input.
"I think there's plenty of opportunity for that (community input), but it is a huge, huge process and project," he said.
The League of Women Voters Rochester hosted the candidate forum, co-sponsored by the Post-Bulletin and the Chamber of Commerce, and moderator Enid Weichselbaum asked questions from audience members at the Rochester Public Library auditorium.
Brede continued to highlight his work as mayor throughout the evening, saying he's served the city with "pride and professionalism."
Kilen, who's worked on neighborhood issues in Kutzky Park, did not answer questions that she didn't know enough information about, saying she would like to do more research on those issues.
Maves, a school bus driver who's the founder of the Rochester Tea Party Patriots, stressed a need for diversified business involvement in city issues and watching where the city is spending its money.
Brede and Kilen said they wouldn't see anything wrong with a public internet option, though Kilen said she would want to do more research on it. Maves did have a problem with that idea.
"I believe in free markets, so I am interested in having competition in Internet companies, but I would not want that to be something our city gets involved in," Maves said.
A potential veterans museum has been attempting to gather support and funds, but was denied any space in Soldiers Field park. An audience member asked the mayoral candidates if they would support getting a museum built to honor veterans.
"If the group was able to get funding for that from the Legislature or some major funding source, Rochester could partner with that," Kilen said. But Kilen said she would need more information on the museum's cost details before deciding what kind of support the city could offer.
Brede said there still were too many question marks related to the museum, including the sustainability of the project over time and how the city could even be involved.
Maves said she would work with the group on regulations and permits and that the overall idea is important to the community, but money shouldn't come from the city's coffers.
"I want to see that funded privately, and that would not have a lot of public funding in it," Maves said.
Another divisive issue was term limits set for the city's mayor. According to the city's charter, the mayor office is limited to 12 years, though a state ruling found term limits unconstitutional for elected officials. Kilen and Maves said they still would abide by the charter's 12-year limit; Brede now is in his 12th year as mayor.
"The citizens of Rochester voted that in. That's what they want, and that's the way it should be," Maves said.
Brede said he is not abiding by that rule in the charter.
"If it would ever come back that the state would change their ruling, of course we have to abide by state law," he said.
Kilen said the charter should be updated to reflect when state and city laws aren't compatible, and she also would like to see another charter change.
"(The mayor office) is referred to exclusively as 'he,'" Kilen said. "It's 2014, and I think it's time for an update."
Primary election facts:
When: August 12
Where: Find polling places online at sos.state.mn.us