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Farmington City Council candidates outline platforms

Candidates vying for one of two open seats on Farmington City Council spoke during the Sept. 19 candidate forum while a packed audience listened in the council chamber.

Maureen Scallen Failor, president of Dakota County Regional Chamber of Commerce that sponsored the forum, served as moderator.

Incumbent council member Katie Bernhjelm joined four new candidates — Nick Gessell, Joel Pritchett and Phil Windschitl, along with write-in candidate Joshua Hoyt. Hoyt was initially not able to participate in the forum, but the chamber deliberated and approved his participation.

The other candidates include Jason Lamberson, Trina Greene and Brett Wilson who did not participate. Greene withdrew from the race due to unexpected medical issues.

Candidate introductions

Each candidate made introductions and opening statements about their merits for the job of city council member.

Bernhjelm said she has worked for six seasons with the Minnesota Vikings in the area of partnership activation and special projects. She has served on the Eden Prairie Chamber of Commerce and has been activity involved in Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce for six years as part of the Leadership Twin Cities program.

"I think critically and set realistic goals and I don't make any false promises — our taxes are too high, we have poor communication, we need more businesses in our community," Bernhjelm said. "As a council member, I strived to find ways to make Farmington a city of fiscal excellence and I have been supportive of being conservative in our spending, paying off debt and working with city staff prioritize important projects."

Gessell works in the industry of private investigation. He is running because he wants to make the city better for residents and his family.

"I come with an open mindset and an investigative eye, and I think that is what we need within our organization today being there are so many issues of transparency and communication," Gessell said. "I think it comes down to promise keeping."

Write-in candidate Hoyt, a U.S. Marine Corp veteran, is self-employed as a general contractor. He holds 15 years of retail and automotive sales along with financial sales and operations management experience.

"I work hard and love the city and am very passionate about what we have been able to do, and what we can ultimately do it together as a community moving forward," Hoyt said.

Pritchett, a Gulf War veteran, said he works for a communications company in Burnsville. He is running to help lower taxes within the city, saying he has professional experience in the aircraft industry juggling large budgets and contracts.

"I was raised in the restaurant business and so I have small-business experience and I have made Farmington my home because I saw Farmington as one of the nicest cities around the area," Pritchett said.

Windschitl is a police officer with more than 17 years working in public safety.

"I have gained valuable knowledge not only on city politics but on budgets," Windschitl said. "I am devoted to Farmington and want to see more development and affordable housing for seniors and veterans and lower property taxes."

Working to unite

The Farmington Independent newspaper asked "If elected, how would you bring City Council together if there was a divisive issue?"

Bernhjelm said communication starts with City Council and department heads.

"You have to find a way to communicate with each other before you can with the public, and that is really important if we are going to move Farmington forward and heal from the divide that we have created over the last month," Bernhjelm added.

In the past month, there was a highly contested decision in which the council voted 3-2 to approve a separation agreement with the city and former police chief Brian Lindquist.

"We all come to this with different lenses and different perspectives, and despite the public perception, I think our council does work well together and we have a lot of respect for the opinions and ideas that are brought to it," Bernhjelm said.

"I personally don't think we can do anything by ourselves, but we have to do everything as a group," Pritchett said. "I would probably be the most honest guy up here and I am brutally honest to a fault sometimes and I wouldn't let things get out of hand like in the past."

"We are all humans and we are not all going to get along and see the same way, but what I think is key is to sit down and communicate and discuss your feelings about a project or a decision that is being made within the city," Windschitl added. "We all have to put our personal agendas aside because this is all about the residents of Farmington, and we can't let our personality and our personal issues engage in these types of conversations and decisions."

Gessell said communication must be key along with transparency, along with the ability to discuss issues openly.

"You are going to disagree and you have to be respectful of the opinions of others if you expect them to be respectful of you," Hoyt said. "If you cannot collectively work through these issues regardless of what they are, what would you expect the public perception to be — you have to tact with facts."

Top priorities

In summary, each candidate was asked to state their top three platform priorities.

Gessell said his top three priorities would be to work toward greater transparency, lowering taxes and public safety.

"We have an issue that is going to be on the plate for any new council member and that is selecting a new police chief and that is going to be highest on our priority list," Gessell added.

Hoyt said his top priorities would be to work on open communication, economic development and fiscal responsibility.

"I think we need our community to pull together and be actively involved and become educated, aware and involved overall with all situations and not just the negative ones but be proactive," Hoyt said.

Pritchett said his top priorities would be need to attract more business to the city like big business and hotels, along with draw more foot traffic into the community.

Windschitl said his top priorities would be to improve communication, development and public safety.

"We need to let residents know what is happening, when it is happening and I think as a community we need to unite as one and sit down and have discussions," Windschitl said. "We need more retail and industrial but we need to realize we have downtown businesses, and we have to keep those businesses thriving and we have to support those businesses."

Bernhjelm noted her top priorities would be to work to make Farmington the employer of choice, meeting with business owners to understand their own challenges in terms of hiring and retention. Her third priority would continue the work to find ways to fund city projects like parks, trails and roads.

"Sometimes you have to take risks and sometimes you have to stand for something and get a little uncomfortable in the process, but I am excited about the ideas and visions shared tonight and I think meaningful change happens when you come together with open arms, open hearts and open minds," Bernhjelm said.

Farmington residents will be voting Tuesday, Nov. 6 to fill two open seats that are four-year terms from January 2019 to the end of 2022. The two open seats are one held by incumbent Bernhjelm and one being vacated by council member Jason Bartholomay.