Oak Grove council candidates answer questions

Oak Grove voters will have five candidates to choose from for two open city council seats on the Nov. 6 ballot.

Running for office are incumbent Scott Lawrence, Renee Reece-Murray, incumbent Kevin Robinson, Weston Rolf and Sean Sullivan.

Candidates were requested to answer three questions to give voters more information about the candidates.

Reece-Murray did not respond to the questionnaire.

1.Biography.

Lawrence:A native Minnesotan, my family lived in Mounds View and I attended Totino-Grace High School, graduating with honors.

Scott Lawrence

Scott Lawrence

After pursuing my degree in criminal justice at St. Cloud State University, I married my sweetheart and started a family. Oak Grove has been our home for nine years and my wife and three children love the atmosphere, open spaces and sense of community that Oak Grove provides.

Fifteen years ago I pursued the American dream – taking risk head on and opening a business so that I could have more control in providing for my family. With strongly held convictions and common sense values instilled by my parents, I risked my own capital and opened a shop in Blaine. Shortly thereafter we relocated to Oak Grove to plant our roots in a place we call home. As my family grew, so did my business. Hard work, long hours, sacrifice. Success does not come easily.

For the past four years, I have proudly served our community as a member of the city council. During this period, we have focused our efforts on understanding the right role for city government and ways to better serve our community with the resources we had.

Robinson:My name is Kevin Robinson and I reside at 21570 Nightingale St. N.W.

Kevin Robinson

Kevin Robinson

I have been married to my wife, Carolyn, for 33 years and have lived in Oak Grove for 29 years with our two sons, Travis and Andy. It has been an honor and a privilege to be a current member of the Oak Grove City Council.

For the past six years, I have been the branch manager for a large plumbing supply wholesale company in the Twin Cities. I directly manage 12 sales employees, along with the day-to-day operations of the entire branch. Prior to my current position, I was the purchasing agent/fleet manager for a large mechanical contractor in the Twin Cities area for 18 years. I was responsible for the expenditures of $3.5 to $4 million annually. I served as a board member for St. Francis Gladiators Wrestling Club for four years, also as treasurer and vice president. I served three years as a board member for the St. Francis Wrestling Booster Club, two of those years as treasurer. While a member of the St. Francis United Methodist Church, I was head of the Trustees Committee and spent three years as the finance chairman.

Rolf:I have been married to my wife Sarah for eight years and we live at 1107 Sims Road N.W., Oak Grove.

Weston Rolf

Weston Rolf

Together we have three children; Weston II (6), Ashton (4) and Anniston (2). I have worked in law enforcement for a neighboring community for the past 12 years, eight of which I have been a licensed police officer. Sarah and I have also owned a small business, Agape Moments, for the past eight years. Together we have learned how to successfully budget, manage demanding workflow, employ full- and part-time employees and grow a successful business. I am also currently serving on the Planning Commission for the city of Oak Grove.

Sullivan:My name is Sean Sullivan.

Sean Sullivan

Sean Sullivan

I am 42 years old, married, father of two middle school age children, resident of Anoka County for 37 years and Oak Grove for 11. I live at 20160 Quapaw St. N.W. I coach youth baseball, am a proud dad and love living in Oak Grove. I, like many of you, moved to Oak Grove looking for a quality of life not offered in urban communities. Large lots, open spaces, farms, wildlife and room to roam make Oak Grove an excellent place to grow-up, work, raise a family and to retire. As your city council member I will work hard to preserve these characteristics of our community.

I currently serve as vice chairman of the Oak Grove Planning Commission and I work hard to preserve the property rights of all residents. I earned a bachelor of science in business administration, work full-time as an economic development professional and have served on the Anoka Conservation District Board of Supervisors for 10 years. I believe my unique experience makes me a great choice to serve on the Oak Grove City Council.

2. If elected, how will you balance the sometimes conflicting needs of constituents and/or the city’s best interest?

Lawrence: I disagree with the premise of the question – there should rarely be conflict between citizen needs and government. The city (government) exists to serve the citizens for without them there is no need for any city. Our nation is founded upon the principle that government, at all levels, has a specific and limited role. Citizen/government interaction should drive priorities. We elect citizens to lead government to provide the greatest good to the greatest audience within our limited ability to pay for it. Let government protect our freedoms, not constrain them. Citizens should not look to government to be the solution to all issues and where government is deemed to be good, it must also be efficient and accountable. As President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed at Gettysburg, our government must be “of the people, by the people, for the people…” Part of the for the people equation means efficiency and accountability to the citizenry. There should be no city interests beyond serving its citizens in providing essential services at the best possible value for the taxpayer dollar – which extends to regulation as well and the tendency to over-regulate. Government should not exist to further the cause of more government.

Robinson: I have always based my council votes on what is reasonable and unreasonable, with common sense, well grounded values and what is in the best interest for the city. For the last two years, the council and I have treated citizens who have attended council meetings with great respect and courtesy when they have approached us with matters of concern. We accomplished great strides in giving the citizens a much broader forum than past administrations. With that input we found common ground and workable solutions that had the future of the city in mind. Some of the qualities the city of Oak Grove has to offer include open spaces, quality city services, great parks and recreational areas and above average fire and police protection. I am committed to seeing our city keep the values that makes others want to move here and current residents want to stay. Upon re-election, I promise to ask the tough questions and get the most thorough answers. I can assure you that whatever decisions are made as your councilman, they will be made with the most thought and in the best interest for the city, its citizens and the future.

Rolf: It is very important to listen to all sides of a situation and then make the best educated decision you can. Not all decisions that are made are always the most popular but I do feel that if you can explain and educate other constituents they may understand the reason behind the decision better. Balancing during conflict can definitely be tricky; however, I do believe that if there is open communication where we can freely discuss all opinions, concerns and ideas the final decision making process will definitely go much smoother.

Sullivan: City government should be efficient, provide basic services and be a good steward to our tax dollars. As our city council member I will make budget decisions that keep us safe by supporting our fire chief and local law enforcement, keep our roads maintained and work to build community. My fiscally conservative values guide me when making tough budget decisions. Lake George is a valuable community and natural resource and I am committed to its preservation. It’s a shame that too often the one with the most signs or money wins local elections. I believe that the people that are willing to serve selflessly and have fresh ideas are the best candidates.

Oak Grove is made up of neighborhoods that vary in density, lot size and lifestyle. I will work hard to preserve the unique character found in each of our neighborhoods. I will always act in a manner that is respectful to all residents, responsive and fair. I do not see this position as a stepping stone to higher office, only as an opportunity to help preserve our way of life in Oak Grove. I will fight Met Council to keep sewer and water outside our borders as the current council did not vote to keep it out. As an elected official it is my job to do what is best for the majority of the residents and I will do just that.

3. Given today’s economic situation, what are your priorities when it comes to the city’s budget and property tax levy?

Lawrence: My priorities are now as they were when I was elected to city council four years ago. We as a city should focus on providing essential services at the best possible value for the taxpayer dollar. This ensures our tax levy stays low while still being able to provide good core services to which our residents are accustomed. I believe we have made great strides toward this goal. When I was elected, we the council looked for and examined ways to do things more efficiently and cost effectively, instead of business as usual. We have successfully renegotiated contracts, combined positions, privatized select operations and converted our financial software. Today, I am happy to report that all of these measures have contributed to a rare trend in a city’s tax levy. In 2012 our tax levy was reduced over 18 percent! In 2011 it was reduced over 5 percent. We are now on target to reduce the levy by 8 percent for 2013. Implementing these efficiencies has allowed us to offer the same services at the same or higher level than before with a substantial savings to the our residents. I look forward to continuing our successes for the people of Oak Grove.

Robinson: Two years ago, with a thorough understanding of our city’s expenses, the council and I started preparing for the future. With the cooperation of various departments including city hall employees, members of the council were able to reduce the 2012 tax levy by a historic 18 percent. This year, with careful thought and efficient operational changes, we are targeting an additional 5.9 percent tax levy reduction. This current council, along with my support, has made strategic but prudent changes to the way we run city finances.

As a result of these changes, the Oak Grove residents can actually see the difference on their property tax statements. Our actions have inspired other cities to take a closer look at their procedures as well.

Going forward, my job as a councilmember, will be to see that proper funding is available for quality law enforcement coverage, a well-staffed and readily equipped fire department, a public works department and city administration that will provide the service levels Oak Grove residents are accustomed to. As a council we are budgeting for the future with regards to the impact on the taxpayers we serve.

Rolf: It is obviously a difficult time for all levels of government; however, there are still areas in which are important to prioritize when it comes to a city budget. If elected, my goal as a member of our city council is to keep property taxes as low as possible, while still maintaining quality in our essential services such as police, fire and roads. I believe it is important to prioritize the safety of our community. As a police officer, I believe that the importance of community safety is critical in preserving the health and security of our residents. It is critical to the continued safety of Oak Grove residents to be provided with high quality public safety services.

Sullivan: Falling property values, foreclosures, reduced local government aid and the lack of commercial or residential development have led to tough budget choices for the city of Oak Grove. These factors have resulted in lower revenues being received by the city and the budget is tough to balance. In poor economic conditions, one needs to be responsible in how we balance the budget and to not raise taxes. It’s time to work together – not play politics.

I will not cut fire, police or road maintenance to levels that endanger residents. In my opinion, our current city council leadership has cut too much from police and fire service. It is a fact that Oak Grove only pays for 20 hours of committed police service per day, which in my opinion, is unacceptable. I will restore committed police service to 24 hours per day. I am dedicated to reducing the property tax burden for all of us but not at the expense of public safety. Requiring the maintenance of foreclosed lots, properties and houses and encouraging the redevelopment of the former Stock Lumber site will lead to increased property values and tax base which will ultimately reduce the tax burden on all residents.

Kelly Johnson is at kelly.johnson@ecm-inc.com

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