Finances on the minds of Winona County Board candidates

By John Weiss

Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN

Two Winona County Board seats are being contested in the Tuesday election.

District 3

A woman is touting her experience in operating a farm as a reason to be elected to the Winona County Board’s district 3 seat, while her opponent points to his efforts in cleaning up the Whitewater River and his work with legislators.


The candidates, both of rural St. Charles, are Mena Kaehler, 47, a farmer, businesswoman and high school math teacher, and Rudie Spitzer, 69, a retired dairy farmer. They are running to take the place of Jerry Heim, who is not running again.

Kaehler said she is "actively involved, and financially invested, in the two economic pillars of our county — business and farming. Plus, I have raised a family in a family business. This brings an understanding of the ramifications of county and state decisions."

She sees a need for more budget cuts because the state is going to be cutting its aid. The county needs to prioritize what it spends money on, and find new ways to get things done.

"It is imperative that we look to the future to plan logically now, rather than react with emotion later," she said. She has visited with every department and staff, and current board members, to learn what they are doing.

She is calling for zoning that promotes a favorable climate for business, agriculture and residential areas, a improved working relationships with other governmental bodies.

Spitzer’s top issue is the environment, continuing to work on cleaning up the Whitewater River system. He is on the joint powers board that is trying to improve land use in the watershed. He could continue that work on the county board, he said, making sure there is enough staff and money to do the work. And because he’s worked with local legislators in the past, he thinks he has more influence with them.

The second big issue is roads, though he’s not sure what he can do to speed up improvement, except to make the highway department more efficient.

Spitzer wants to work with the budget that is going to be tight due to unfunded mandates from the state, such as having to house prisoners who had been in state prisons when they have a certain amount of time left in their sentence.


"We have our jails full already," Spitzer said. "It really puts a burden on the counties."

Another thing he’d like to look at is combining departments or at least getting them to work together more efficiently.

District 4

A veteran Winona County commissioner says he’s the one District 4 needs because of his experience, while his challenger says he has experience needed now and that his opponent has abused his office by taking an unneeded trip to Hawaii.

Greg Olson, 44, of Winona is trying to unseat David Stoltman, 58, of Winona, who has been the District 4 commissioner for 10 years. Olson is a building inspector, and Stoltman is president of UniquE Communications.

While both talked about the need to cut costs and be efficient, it was Stoltman’s travel to Hawaii for a meeting of the National Association of Counties that split them.

Olson said he can’t support Stoltman because of "his abuse of the county dollar in traveling and going to conferences on the county dime," he said. "I think that was an abuse of the taxpayers’ money."

Other commissioners chose not to go, and one paid his own way, Olson said.


But Stoltman said going to that conference was no different than any other one he’s attended. It’s important to learn at the meetings and meet with other commissioners.

If that trip was the only thing Olson can complain about in Stoltman’s 10 years in office, that’s not bad, he said. "That is probably the only thing he can find against me," he said.

In matters of county government, both said they need to look twice at expenses, including whether to build a new jail and expand the county building across from the courthouse in Winona.

Olson said he has been trained in running water and sewer systems and is familiar with the county’s terrain because he’s a licensed building inspector. That is a "perfect storm" of experience that the county needs, he said.

But Stoltman said he has the experience in the budget that will be a big deal due to the faltering economy. "Right now, experience is very important," he said. "We need somebody who has been there for a while. … It’s not a good time to train somebody new."

What To Read Next
Get Local