Mayoral debate touches major city issues
A crowd of about 50 people gathered at City Hall on Thursday to listen to Dickinson's three mayoral candidates debate for the first time before the June 14 election.
A crowd of about 50 people gathered at City Hall on Thursday to listen to Dickinson’s three mayoral candidates debate for the first time before the June 14 election.
Questions submitted by the public to the Dickinson Area Chamber of Commerce, which hosted the event, tested the candidates -- current City Commission members Klayton Oltmanns and Scott Decker and longtime local business leader Rod Landblom -- on many of the issues of the day.
Debate moderator and state Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, a Dickinson Republican, prompted the candidates to express their views and differentiate themselves on such matters as public infrastructure, municipal debt, economic and community development, public safety measures and quality of life investments.
In the general sense, all three men agreed on the big items.
All spoke to the top prioritization of servicing the city’s $100 million-plus debt level and the need to compete in the state Legislature’s upcoming session to secure the necessary state funds.
The second-highest priority was equally agreed-upon.
In so many words, Oltmanns, Decker and Landblom agreed on the importance of a continued focus on quality-of-life improvements to preserve a family-centered community. All three indicated a belief that projects like the West River Community Center, the Crooked Crane Trail on Patterson Lake and the proposed Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library are conducive to attracting new residents and retaining those who are here.
However, despite the things they held in common, the candidates did part on some issues.
At one point, Wardner asked the candidates if they disagreed with the City Commission’s approach to any of the issues it handled in the last fiscal year.
Oltmanns said he found the reworking of the city’s contracts with the Chamber of Commerce and Stark Development Corp. to be flawed.
In that, he said the deals made with those organizations reduced the city’s commitment to them in the face of rising sales tax levels and full housing and hotel occupancy.
“Now we have 30 percent occupancy in our hotels and we have 4.2 percent unemployment,” Oltmanns said. “Now we are going to be forced to revitalize those two entities and bring the numbers back up so we have stable lodging and economic development.”
Landblom pointed out a budgetary issue, specifically what he saw as the late timing of the city’s budget reforecast that shaved about $6.5 million in light of revenue shortages.
“I think that we knew there was a downturn coming, or we could see the economic trend, and perhaps that would have been a time that we could have done something earlier and readjusted the budget and brought some of these issues ahead at that point,” he said.
Decker took the opportunity to question some of the expenses taken on by the city to complete municipal projects.
“I’m not a big fan of some of the costs that we incurred on some of our projects from the aspects of engineering and construction oversight,” he said. “I think that needs to be tightened a bit. … In the future, those engineering firms and construction firms are also going to need to come in line to the spending that we’re going to have.”
After the debate, some in attendance said they were pleased with what they’d heard.
Deb Dragseth, a professor of business at Dickinson State University who watched the debate, said she was “really impressed” with all three candidates.
“I think that I expected that -- but I got it to a higher level than I expected,” Dragseth said.
She added that she felt the men had sufficiently differentiated themselves for her on their views and experiences.
Deb Nelson, president of Dickinson-based DLN Consulting Inc., said she was interested in the debate and the mayoral race at large due to her business’ emphasis on economic diversification.
“That’s our major focus right now and I heard some of that here, which was good,” Nelson said.
After what she’d seen in the debate performances, Nelson said she was feeling good with the options presented to her.
“I think that we’d be fortunate if we had as many well-informed, well-spoken candidates in all of our races as these three were,” Nelson said. “I think it’s going to be difficult -- if the citizens listen to (the debate) -- to make a decision.”