Watertown mayoral candidate Q&A
Watertown residents Charlotte Johnson and Rick Mann are battling to become the city’s next mayor after K.J. McDonald’s death earlier this month.
Mann, a local business owner and a current city council member since 2004, is serving as acting mayor until the Nov. 6 election. Johnson is a retired college teacher and an avid local historian.
Both candidates recently submitted responses to a series of questions from the Carver County News. Here are their responses.
1. Why do you want to be the mayor of Watertown? 100 words.
Rick Mann: I believe in Watertown. It is a great community, an excellent place to raise a family, and an attractive location to own and run a business. I want to serve this community and make it even better than it is now. Being a long time resident and business owner, I am dedicated to Watertown. With my 8 years of experience on the council and other commissions, I’ve developed a passion for serving for the good of the citizens of Watertown. I would like to continue this service, as mayor.
Charlotte Johnson: As a citizen in three different cities, I have been actively involved in making a difference for the better in each of those cities. Serving a city where I have lived has been one of my missions.
In Moorhead, Minn., I worked with the Moorhead Chamber of Commerce to encourage citizens to live and stay in Moorhead instead of moving to the larger city, Fargo, N.D. In Glenville, Minn., I was recovery chair after the 2001 tornado. In Watertown, I wrote its 150-year history. These experiences and many more will enable me to better serve Watertown citizens as their mayor.
2. In order to balance a budget, would you be more willing to support tax increases or service cuts? More specifically, are there any areas of the city budget that you feel receive too much or too little funding? 250 words.
Johnson: The only control the City has is over our portion of the tax rate, which I will try to keep level. I will do my best to maintain services, not raise taxes/fees, and limit our expenditures to our budget.
In these economic hard times, I learned from some Watertown citizens, while door knocking, that they are just barely meeting their house payments and sometimes are late in paying their water and sewage fees. Paying higher taxes might make it impossible for them to stay in their Watertown homes.
As a close observer of City Council finance decisions, I think some decisions by the City Council might have been more fiscally responsible. For example, I’m not sure that the decision to spend a good portion of the Park Board fund on a small piece of property that will be added on to Highland Park was handled correctly. I am told by some people that we don’t need any more parks and that the parks that we have are not being maintained to their expectations.
Also, past decisions to put in more infrastructures did not produce the expected revenues. The City needs to be more careful in their decisions to add more infrastructures for developments in the future.
Finally, the City’s operating revenues consist primarily of property taxes— about 65.2 percent! We must add industry and businesses to help offset the high taxes that Watertown citizens pay now.
Mann: No, I do not support tax increases or service cuts. By sharing the cost of service and equipment with surrounding communities, we can provide a high level of service without tax increases. Listening and talking to residents in the community gives direction to the city council and helps us understand the issues of the tax payers. Listening and serving are the essential ingredients of a successful city council tenure.
3. Numerous issues in the past several years have led to discussions regarding residents’ vision for the city’s future, and more specifically, how and where the city’s retail and commercial growth should occur (i.e. downtown or along highways). What is your stance on this issue, and what should the city do to promote this type of growth? 250 words.
Mann: Our unique downtown district with the Crow River, Luce Line Trail, and boardwalk must be maintained and promoted. The 2030 comp plan is a road map for growth. It reflects commercial development to the east and south of town and industrial/commercial park to the west. Watertown is a place of destination; it doesn’t contain a major highway. We must provide and promote opportunities in our growth area, which is reflected on the comp plan. If elected mayor, I will promote planned growth in the community.
To sum it up, Watertown is a delightful community with the river, boardwalk, trails, small businesses, friendly neighborhoods, and is in close proximity to the Twin Cities. All these are things to be proud of and make Watertown a great place to live.
Johnson: The issue is not where the city’s retail and commercial growth should occur, but where is the space for business growth? In downtown Watertown, there are three empty buildings. Along highway 25, there is land space and a large building that is two-thirds empty where growth could occur. The Industrial Park has very few businesses and plenty of space.
I am told by some businesses that the City has not been as supportive and accommodating for expansion and growth. For example, to zone a large portion of a building as storage because it has been empty in these economic hard times is unreasonable. I have also been told that there were businesses interested in moving into the Watertown Industrial Park, but the City imposed “high hurdles” that caused these businesses to walk away. I believe that the City needs to be more flexible in zoning and planning requirements in order to increase business growth and homes. Finally, we need business/industry growth to provide good-paying jobs for our Watertown citizens.
As mayor, I would like to form a coalition of the Retail Association, Industrial Park, Chamber, City Council and City staff, the Lions, School District, local land developers, local realtors, and other Watertown organizations to create a marketing plan to investigate what Watertown needs to do to attract new home owners and new businesses. Once the research is done, then the above coalition needs to market the information that Watertown is a great place to live and to do business.
4. What is the most pressing issue facing the city right now, and how should it be addressed? 250 words.
Johnson: The most immediate problem is the replacement of the bridge, which has been declared structurally deficient. Related to the replacement of the bridge is how to resolve the backup traffic on Lewis Avenue and Territorial Street (County Road 10).
The City and County need to work together to replace the bridge as quickly as possible so the downtown stores can retain good business and the citizens will not be inconvenienced for a long time. Early completion incentives should be applied; and the present bridge should remain open as long as possible. The County engineers might investigate how the City of Hastings built their bridge off site; thereby, keeping the old bridge open until the new bridge was placed on its foundation.
The County engineer and the present City Council members recommended that a roundabout be built with the new bridge to resolve the present traffic backup and future predicted traffic. The negative effects of this action will be first, the present NAPA building would be removed and the City might lose a prosperous Watertown business, and second, many Watertown citizens have indicated that they do not want another roundabout in Watertown as they predict that there would then be backup traffic on Highway 25.
As mayor, I would provide information about the bridge and roundabout issue to the citizens and give them plenty of opportunity to give input. I will ask the involved engineers to “think outside of the box” and try to come up with some other options.
Mann: The most pressing issue Watertown is facing right now is keeping the city affordable and competitive in the downturn of the economy with decreasing taxable market values. We must maintain an affordable and manageable budget and debt. We must maintain a high bond rating, so when opportunities are available the city can respond in a solid fiscal manner.
5. Why should the residents of Watertown give you their vote? 100 words.
Mann: I am committed to Watertown. I have 8 years of experience on the city council. I have been appointed by my peers as acting mayor and I have served in the trenches whether it be flooding issues, storm disasters, or troubled businesses. I am available locally, to work with staff and citizens to provide logical and common sense input on a daily basis. I am motivated and self-disciplined. I ask you for support. Thank you.
Johnson: My motives for asking the citizens for their votes are pure. There’s no personal gain for me to be mayor, other than to serve. I’ve been told that I am a “giver” not a “taker.”
I don’t own a business and I’m not involved in any of the present issues that would lead to conflicts of interest. My decisions, therefore, will be made with an open mind and will be fair. Plus, I have the education, proven leadership skills, commitment, and work ethic to lead the City.
Most important, I promise to be honest and to earn the citizens’ trust.
6. Please tell us about your background. 100 words.
Johnson: My family moved to Watertown when I was 7 years old; grew up on a farm; graduated from Watertown-Mayer High School and college; earned Master’s Degree in Business; taught for 35 years; came back to Watertown often to visit parents and sister, Mary Lou Jirik. My husband and I moved back to Watertown in 2004.
Retired college professor; Watertown history book author; business leadership consultant; was Minnesota Vocational Association president and Midwestern Higher Education Coordinating Commissioner. Presently, Watertown Area Historical Society president; member of the Watertown Fine Arts Council, Watertown Lions, and Watertown Catholic Church; a mother and grandmother.
Mann: My wife, Laurie, and I have resided in Watertown for 35 years. We’ve raised three daughters and have two grandchildren, and two sons-in-law living in the community. We are very appreciative of the support that fellow Watertown citizens give to us, being that we both manage and own small businesses in town.