Olmsted County District 5 candidates seek to define their potential as commissioners
League of Women Voters forum features candidates in primary election.
ROCHESTER — Candidates for the District 5 seat on the Olmsted County Board of Commissioners leaned on their personal experiences to define themselves as potential elected leaders.
“I think with my contracting and plumbing experience it will be right down my line,” candidate Mike Macken said when discussing the need to find new paths to affordable housing.
During Tuesday’s League of Women Voters candidate forum, he also pointed to his experience in coaching and working to create new softball fields at Rochester Community and Technical College as evidence of his ability to lead and work with local government requirements
Fellow candidate Catherine Davis pointed to her wide range of experience as a training and development professional, as well as her activity in local organizations, as potential benefits for the county.
“Both my professional and volunteer experience means I have kept a pulse on the issues individuals and families are facing,” she said, citing leadership work with businesses and diverse communities.
She said she sees working at policy level to create needed change and provide oversight as the next step related to the work she’s done in the past.
The third candidate, Michelle Rossman, was unable to attend the forum, due to a previous commitment with the Olmsted County 4-H blue ribbon auction.
However, she sent a written opening statement that highlighted her experience with the youth program, as well as her career a vice president of environmental stewardship for Dairy Management Inc. and a local farmer to highlight the qualities she’d bring to the job.
“My extensive experience in working with diverse stakeholders to improve safety and environmental sustainability programs will be helpful as I interact with community members to understand their needs and bring that information to county government decisions and represent District 5 residents,” she wrote, pointing to experience with managing large budgets, developing project management skills and leading teams.
The three first-time candidates are seeking to replace Commissioner Jim Bier, who has opted not to seek another term representing the district that covers portions of western Rochester and the section of the county extending west of the city, including Byron.
Responding to questions from the league, Post Bulletin, Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce and the audience, Davis and Macken were able to find areas that defined their potential approaches to the position during Thursday’s forum at the Rochester Public Library.
Davis said accessing funding to provide needed services will be key in the coming years, pointing to current challenges related to meeting needs due to workforce shortage, which she said is at a “crisis level.”
“On the flip side, I think times of challenge also provide us with the opportunity to do even more innovative things,” she said, pointing to a desire to find efficiencies and work with partners to achieve county goals.
Macken said he’d rely on staff experience in many cases to determine the best approach to meeting county goals and responding to state requirements, adding that many programs are already seeing success when it comes to helping residents.
“We can address some of these problems, but some of these things are always going to linger and be out here,” he said, pointing to the potential outcome of success.
“Once we take care of these people, I think other counties will know what we are doing, and some of those people are going to migrate to Rochester,” he said. “It’s kind of going to be never ending.”
When it came to defining the role of a county commissioner, Macken and Davis said they believe many residents don’t know what the job entails.
Macken said he sees the position as a judge or referee, determining how to respond to the requests of county agencies and residents when setting the county’s annual budget,
“At the end of the day, we have a budget we have to deal with,” he said. “Not everyone can have their wish list, and we have to kind of rotate it around so everyone is happy.”
When it comes to setting policy for the county, he said a commissioner needs to have team building skills and be able to make decisions that matter. He said his experience in local sports, as well as running a plumbing business for 30 years gives him experience in both.
“I really think this is right up my alley,” he said.
Davis also pointed to the need to make decisions, adding that the key roles of a commissioner are allocating state dollars in the county and setting policy.
Additionally, she said a commissioner must be able to find balance between county needs and what local taxpayers can support when setting the county’s property tax levy.
“Most importantly, we are representatives of the people that elect us and make sure we represent them well,” she said.
The three candidates will appear on the Aug. 9 primary ballot in District 5 to narrow the number of candidates to two for the Nov. 8 general election.
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