All four election candidates at the Baldwin Township candidates forum on Saturday, March 1, told the approximately 15 attendees they oppose any move to incorporate the township to become a city.
That was one of a number of topics that the candidates declared their stance on during the forum put on by the Baldwin Volunteer Corps.
The forum took place at the Baldwin Town Hall 10 days before the March 11 township election. Baldwin Supervisor Kim Good is up for re-election and is being challenged by Tim Kane, former Baldwin Supervisor Jeff Holm, and Chuck Nagle, who is currently on the Princeton School Board. Nagle said at the forum that if he wins the Baldwin election, he would decide at that time if he would stay on the School Board or take the seat in Baldwin.
Volunteer Corps Chairperson Elaine Philippi conducted the forum, which she introduced by thanking the candidates for running and asked them to be “kind” to each other.
Most of the first half of the two-hour forum was taken up by the candidates responding to a handful of questions prepared by the Volunteers Corps. Volunteer Corps member Carol Swanson kept track of the candidates’ allotted two minutes answering time for each question.
Consolidation idea raised
After the Volunteer Corps’ questions, audience members quizzed the candidates. One of the questioners was former Baldwin Supervisor Jess Hall. He suggested the township “take a good hard look” at consolidating with the city of Princeton.
Doing that would bring more economy of scale, something that isn’t taking place in certain areas, such as Baldwin and the city each having a fire department, Hall said. With a merger, the consolidated unit would have a large enough municipal population to bring in state highway aid, Hall added. He then asked what the candidates what they thought about consolidation.
Nagle answered that he couldn’t say he favors it and explained that he doesn’t know enough about it.
“It’s an expensive process because everything (in the terms) is negotiated,” Nagle added. Nagle said it is something that should be discussed. He noted that Princeton has a rural tax district in which the taxes are less than other parts of the city that have reasonable access to city sewer and water.
Good called consolidation “an interesting concept that needs the cooperation of both communities.” She said she didn’t think that cooperation would happen between Princeton and Baldwin and that it was a lack of cooperation between the two that led to Baldwin forming its own fire department. (The department became operational in 2003.)
Kane opposed consolidation, explaining that he felt it would result in a “waterfall” of more required services and that he feels the taxes would go so high that he wouldn’t be able to afford to retire within the consolidated unit. Also, if Baldwin merged with the city, the current township confines would have more restrictions. The taxes and the rules “would absolutely destroy Baldwin,” Kane said.
Holm noted that consolidation had been brought up before in Baldwin. He said there are complexities and “hidden costs” in consolidating. Baldwin could potentially have more say in a consolidated unit because it has more population and there could be a clause where Baldwin wouldn’t inherit Princeton’s debt, he said. However, Princeton has a new wastewater plant to pay for “so I’m sure they’re looking out here to spread that cost,” he said.
Do candidates change when elected?
Audience member Bonnie Zurek made an observation that stirred responses from the candidates. She said she feels that a change comes over a candidate once they get elected and that “we see things like alignments on the board, or for lack of a better term, someone gets in someone else’s pocket.”
Zurek then asked the candidates if they are aware of that and if elected would they “have the courage of their convictions to first of all, not legislate based on your own self interests? But also, that you would stand on what you thought was right for the township, what was the right thing for the people and not what another board member had persuaded you?”
“I don’t know if I completely understand what you’re saying, but I do agree it does appear that you forget when you get up here (as an elected official) what it’s like out there,” Good responded. “I remember being there (in the audience) and having things that didn’t get done, that things would fall off the end of the table.
“During this administration, things are not falling off the end of the table. They are getting addressed. I do care about the people’s money and addressing people’s concerns. Any concern that’s ever brought to me, I do my utmost best to resolve it. I have a conviction. I am not swayed by what other board members think. I know what I want to accomplish and it’s always the goals of the people that approach me.”
“I see exactly what you’re saying; that’s exactly why I am here,” Kane’s responded to Zurek. “You can look at any of the minutes, and you can see there are two alliances on the board. You can watch the motions. Offered, seconded. Offered, seconded. …You can watch the alliances, in the pocket as you said, throughout the minutes. It’s almost infuriating.
“I know who I am. I am 47 years old. I am a hard core conservative. I stand for me. I don’t stand for in-the-pocket sort of stuff, the good old boys club that is constantly going on around here. … We need to represent someone like you.”
Kane added that when he ran for election to the Baldwin board three years ago, he went around most of the township talking to its residents, “and they’re like, ‘What’s going on? Why does this happen?’”
“I can see what you’re talking about,” Holm said as he responded to Zurek. “There’s a lot of body language happening, even when I was on the board, I know you could basically turn your eyes and look. … It may look like there are alliances.
“Maybe it’s just ideologies, the division line between two or three people, this is where they fall. Sometimes you have a board member who is always voted down four to one because they’re completely out in a different place. We had a supervisor who became a lame duck because the community and the board did not work behind his ideas at the time.
“Sometimes some people make that motion and are Johnny on the spot because it is something they do have convictions on, and somebody who likes to keep the meeting moving along. So you will have someone offer up, or even make the motion, and it gets seconded to get discussion on the issue. And maybe their minds are made up. You get to know the board members very well.”
Holm said when he was chair of the Baldwin board and no one seconded a motion, he would make the second, “and I wouldn’t put my word into it until after everybody’s got their word into it unless I had a really strong conviction and I felt like I need to make a point here so people understand the information that I’m trying to bring forward to this issue or bring light to.
“You really do get to know the people (on the board) pretty well and you can pretty much forget what the vote’s going to be you know them so well. And there’s not really any super alignment. There may be with a couple people who are really tight. Pockets, I don’t know if I would agree with the pockets. There’s not a whole lot here other than service. There’s not any big gains. It’s a lot of time and commitment. It’s for the better of the community.”
Nagle said he has heard Zurek give that analogy before. Nagle added that it “couldn’t be something in the chairs” that would change a person. Nagle joked that “the incumbent did not like the chairs” and they were changed.
“But to your point though: Will I vote my conscience?” Nagle continued. “I think that is self evident.” He added that if people read the coverage of the meetings of the Princeton School Board that he is a member of, they would see “that I always vote my conscience. I will not be in someone’s pocket, as you say. I acknowledge that is what we have going at the moment here (on the Baldwin board).
“If you have two situations like that, just go back and look at the vote count for the last three years and look at how many times you have a motion and a second and you have voting alliances. Absolutely, everybody in this room knows the situation we’re in.”
When the candidates were asked what made them reside in Baldwin, they most often cited the rural character.
Good said that was the case for her and said that to incorporate the township would not bring a return on the investment. She also said she is only in favor of the city annexing into Baldwin when a Baldwin property owner requests it.
Kane said the draw of a lower cost home drew him from Minneapolis to Baldwin and he came to love the township.
“At home I can see the stars, I can hear the cows, hear the roosters,” Kane said. “It is the best part of America that we have … very limited rules … not a lot of zoning.”
Regarding annexation, “some want it, some don’t,” Kane said. “I don’t. Incorporation would be horrible.”
Holm said it was agriculture that brought him to Baldwin. He told of growing up on the east side of Baldwin at a time when a kid could leave their bike at the end of the driveway and no one would steal it. Holm called Baldwin the best of both worlds, with its location less than an hour from downtown Minneapolis and about an hour to the Brainerd Lakes area.
Some things have changed in the area, such as Sherburne County losing some tax benefit through changes in the taxing of the Sherco III power plant and more farms sold to become developments, Holm added.
But regarding incorporation, “I’m not in favor of it,” Holm said.
Nagle said that he was drawn to live in Baldwin because it seemed like the area where he grew up in Wisconsin. Nagle then said he is not in favor of incorporation “under any circumstances.”
Nagle said he is in favor of annexation by the city when it is requested by a Baldwin property owner. Nagle, referring later to incorporation, said that if it happened, Baldwin’s entire district would go into the city of Princeton through a court order.
The other candidates also spoke out later as well against the idea of incorporating. One thing that Nagle said that was different from the other responses, was that he believes Baldwin should hire an administrator to help get more tasks done.
All four said that if elected, they would be available for residents to reach them.
The condition of the Baldwin’s roads were brought up and Holm mentioned the gradual deterioration of the roads that were put in for developments nearly two decades ago and how those roads and Baldwin’s original roads will need attention.
The candidates were asked how they could get more people involved in the township’s activities, but no one had an answer. Kane was critical of there being a “culture issue” with too many of the same people on Baldwin committees with a particular agenda. When new people come in and see that, they don’t return to consider being on a committee, Kane said.
Good said she thought the township has made some progress with events at Young Park. She also said she has worked to get more signs put up, such as in front of the town hall, and said she doesn’t know why there is so much “apathy.”
Kane voiced strong criticism of the Baldwin board spending money to make an asphalt parking lot at Young Park when residents are saying not enough is being spent to fix the roads. The roads and the Fire Department should be the top priorities, Kane said.
Nagle also weighed in on the question of resident involvement. He claimed the Baldwin board put out of business the health community partnership that was formed with grant money.
Holm said, from attending the last annual meeting for the township, that the residents want to see the board members have more of a plan for its budget.