District 2┬ácandidates hold debate at Thumper Pond

Photo by Tom Hintgen
County Board of Commissioners District 2 incumbent Wayne Johnson, center, spoke Thursday evening, July 28, during a candidates debate at Thumper Pond in Ottertail. At right is candidate Tammy Ziegler.

By Tom Hintgen

Otter Tail County Correspondent

Four of the five candidates for the County Board of Commissioners District 2 seat, prior to the Aug. 9 primary, debated issues July 28 in Ottertail. One of the four was District 2 incumbent Wayne Johnson of Pelican Rapids.

The other three candidates at the evening debate, held at Thumper Pond, were Jeff Gontarek of Friberg Township (rural Erhard), David Helgerson of Dora Township (rural Dent) and Tammy Ziegler of Star Lake Township (rural Dent).

Not present was the fifth candidate, Dean Anderson of rural Fergus Falls.

The top two District 2 candidates with the most votes on Aug. 9 will advance to the general election on Nov. 8.

The other four county board seats, following redistricting with new maps, do not have primary elections this year.

District 1 incumbent Dan Buchholz of rural Perham and District 5 incumbent Lee Rogness of Fergus Falls are running unopposed in the general election. 

General election opponents Nov. 8 will be District 3 incumbent Kurt Mortenson of rural Underwood and Bradley Sunde. District 4 incumbent Betty Murphy of Maine Township will be opposed by Robert Lahman.

More about July 28 candidates debate

Starting out the District 2 candidates debate in Ottertail was discussion of the Pelican Rapids to Perham recreational trail, being done in phases, including passage through Maplewood State Park. 

When completed, the trail will be 10 feet wide and 32 miles long. Much of the $14.2 million needed for construction comes from the state of Minnesota. Included is money from the State Legacy Fund.

At issue July 28 was eminent domain for the trail, even though Otter Tail County officials stated previously that the county has made fair and reasonable offers to all property owners.

County roadway and bridge funding was raised at the debate, and it was pointed out that funding comes from three sources: the county, state and federal governments.

All four candidates at the debate agreed that open forum comments from the general public, before the start of meetings of the county board of commissioners, should be made public via zoom meetings, with audio and video.

The subject of a county board resolution on sanctuary counties came up. In 2021 the county board addressed this issue but said it had no authority on this subject, related to the Second Amendment.

County board members say it is the duty of the court system, not county government, to determine what is or what is not constitutional.

Two controversial issues are gun purchase waiting periods and red flag laws. Currently, those two measures have not been approved in either the U.S. Congress or the Minnesota State Legislature.

It was pointed out during the candidates debate that counties in Minnesota were given their authority by the State of Minnesota. Therefore, the state has the legal authority to direct each of the 87 counties to perform many state-mandated programs.

Three examples of state mandates include social services, health care services and feedlot hearings.

Lengthy debate took place July 28 regarding increasing the county tax base through a abatement of property taxes on newly constructed homes.

The five-member county board of commissioners, on the recommendation of the Community Development Agency (CDA), has the responsibility for final approval of all property tax abatements related to newly constructed homes.

The CDA was established by the Otter Tail County Board of Commissioners in 2018 after a statutory process that included recommendations from a committee of public and private sector stakeholders. The CDA is a local government agency that is governed by a 9-member board of directors.