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City council, school board and state House candidates speak on various issues

Candidates for East Grand Forks school board, East Grand Forks city council and the State House of Representatives came to Good Samaritan Heritage Grove Thursday to discuss issues relative to both senior citizens and the community, including reno...




Candidates for East Grand Forks school board, East Grand Forks city council and the State House of Representatives came to Good Samaritan Heritage Grove Thursday to discuss issues relative to both senior citizens and the community, including renovations to the city’s high school, wastewater lagoon system and nursing homes and assisted living facilities in northwest Minnesota.

Candidates for school board and city council were each given five minutes to speak, and state representative candidates were given seven. After each respective group spoke, the audience was allowed to ask two questions, to which each candidate could then give a response.


School board

All three candidates for the East Grand Forks school board - incumbents Robert Simonson and Sue Black, as well as newcomer Tom Piche - are running uncontested.

Simonson spoke first and said his main two priorities for next term were increasing scores and performance of the district’s students, which have been below state averages. His second priority was renovating East Grand Forks senior high school to meet updated American with Disabilities Act compliance and also address maintenance concerns. He also wants to lobby for more money to boost the school’s vocational and technical classes, which he thinks are instrumental to the future of many students.

Black, who spoke second, echoed Simonson’s remarks, saying she believed student achievement was the top priority. She said focusing on increasing test scores and ability was dependent not only on instruction but also on having modern and updated facilities to help students succeed.

Piche, who has coached in the East Grand Forks school district and has seen his four children go through the district, said he wants to now get involved to help the district continue to succeed. He feels he can bring a good listening ear, as well as his experience working with students as a coach, to the current board

City council

Of the five candidates running for three council spots, only the three incumbents - Greg Leigh, Dale Helms and Henry Tweten - were present. Mike Pokrzywinski and Marc DeMers, both former council members, were away at long-scheduled family events and sent in statements regretting their inability to attend.

All three candidates brought up the importance of improvements to the city’s wastewater pond system, which will be the most costly project to the city over the next couple years. They spoke directly to state Rep. Deb Kiel about the need for funding and being able to work with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency in order to be able to do the job in the most efficient and cost-effective manner.


Both Dale Helms and Greg Leigh emphasized dealing with the Economic Development and Housing Authority’s issues from the past year, which began with the discovery of a $510,000 loan that has gone unpaid for more than 10 years. Helms said he wants to see more control of EDHA come under city council in order to make some projects - such as the girls’ locker room in the Civic Center and the Sherlock Park Swimming Pool - move more efficiently.

Leigh echoed Helms’ remarks about EDHA and reiterated his own belief that the EDHA ought to be split into separate economic and housing authorities, which the city is currently in the process of doing.

Leigh’s main selling point was that when he first ran for council nine years ago, he was advocating fiscal responsibility for the city, and that since then, the city has maintained a consistent budget and property tax.

Longtime council member Henry Tweten, who at 90 was familiar with many of the senior citizens in the crowd, is running unopposed, but still came to emphasize his important connections in state government. Tweten claims Gov. Mark Dayton as a personal friend and has plenty of experience leading delegations in front of the state government. Tweten emphasized his role in helping advocate more programming for the seniors in the area, including large print books at the library and various programs to help seniors prevent dementia and other age-related illnesses.

State house

Rounding out the forum were the two candidates running for District 1B in the Minnesota State House of Representatives: Republican incumbent Deb Kiel and Democratic challenger Eric Bergeson.

Kiel, who lives just south of Crookston, spoke first and addressed her past experience serving on school boards, which initially led her to run for the state House. She emphasized her bipartisan record by stating that 72 percent of the bills she either authored or co-authored also had Democrats on them.

For the next session, she said she hopes to bolster funds for career and technical classes such as those offered at Northland Community College, which Tweten was a large proponent of, as were school board candidates.


Then, to address the needs of seniors, Kiel emphasized training for more nurses and people in similar fields that could work in nursing homes and help the state’s seniors.

Bergeson started his speech off by talking about his roots in Fertile and his 103-year-old aunt Olive, who is in a nursing home in Fertile. Berguson emphasized the importance of increasing funding for nursing homes, as well as wages for nurses, so that these institutions can stay open to serve their ancestors.

In addition to this, he said he wants to help northwestern Minnesota communities remain optimistic about their futures so that the next generations will want to remain in the area and invest in them.



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