City council candidates make final push for votes; Four seats up for grabs in Tuesday election

Published 9:27 am Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The 2018 election is next week, and with the at-large seat and one seat in each ward open, Austin City Council candidates are pushing harder than ever to appeal to voters.

The Herald reached out to the seven candidates and gave them the opportunity to address issues and make one more appeal to voters.

In their own words, here are their responses.

Council Member At-Large

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The At-Large seat is currently held by Councilwoman Janet Anderson, who is retiring at the end of her term. Running for her seat are candidates Jeff Austin and Susan Fell Johnson.


Jeff Austin

Background information

I have been serving the residents of the First Ward since first being elected in 2006. I decided to run for the At-Large council position when Janet Anderson did not seek re-election. I feel that the At-Large position is best served by someone with experience on the council. It is the final vote on all matters and serves as the acting mayor when the mayor is not able to be in attendance. I am a lifelong resident of Austin and have managed businesses most of my adult life; currently, I am an assistant store leader for Kwik Trip, a position I’ve held for six years.

What, in your opinion, are the three most significant issues facing Austin? Why do you believe that and how would you address them?

1. We need to increase and improve our housing stock. Studies have shown the need for a variety of additional housing needs in town. By offering tax abatements, we have spurred new housing projects. We need to look at extending this program. The rental housing inspection program will soon begin, and we need to monitor and strengthen this program as it grows to ensure that our rental properties are maintained in a livable and proper manner. We also will need to look for programs that will help educate and finance property owners on how to maintain and improve their property.

2. We need to attract more jobs and workers to Austin. We can do this by working with the Austin Port Authority, Development Corporation of Austin, Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development and Austin Utilities to put together incentive packages and provide “shovel ready” projects. We need to make sure we have the necessary space and infrastructure in place to entice businesses to locate and expand here.

3. We need to provide “quality of life” and services the citizens desire in an efficient and affordable manner. These are the “little things” that make a city a place you enjoy and want to live in, such as the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center and city parks, arenas, swimming pools, recreation centers, and library.

These things are enjoyed by many of our residents; however, these are also the types of amenities that cost money to maintain but provide little revenue to offset these costs. Keeping the tax levy in check while providing for these is ever the challenge for the council. I will continue to encourage staff to pursue grants, work with outside agencies and look for any efficiencies they can so their departments can continue to provide the amenities and quality of life our residents desire.

What changes in current law would you like to see (if any)?


Why should people vote for you?

Experience! I have spent the last 12 years serving the residents of the First Ward and Austin, trying to make Austin THE place people want to work, live and raise a family. If elected, I will continue to work to make Austin the BEST community it can be!


Susan Fell Johnson

Background information

I’m a third generation Austinite and graduated from Austin High School, Riverland Community College, and Mankato State University. We moved away from Austin 12 years ago and returned about a year ago to be closer to family and friends. I’m employed as a Study Developer at the Cancer Research Center, Mayo Clinic in Rochester, where I build computer systems that capture patient data for cancer clinical trials. Before I moved home to Austin, I was a computer instructor at Alexandria Technical and Community College. I’ve been married to Andy Johnson for 31 years and we have two adult children and one grandson.

I chose to run because I know I will do a good job. I have prior experience serving the Austin community as an elected official of the Austin School Board and I’m currently a member of several community organizations, including the Austin Area Arts as a board member and a musician with the Austin Symphony Orchestra.

What, in your opinion, are the three most significant issues facing Austin? Why do you believe that and how would you address them?

1. I believe our current property taxes are too high. I will work hard to cut taxes and keep taxes low and aligned with communities similar to Austin.

2. I am campaigning to fight crime, increase community safety, and push out the drug-dealers. Every community I’ve lived in has seen a spike in crime over the past decade due in part to the abuse of methamphetamine and opioids. Austin is no exception. If elected, I will work with my constituents and listen to their concerns and ideas. I propose using technology to increase safety in neighborhoods; specifically, we will write grants to secure funding to install video cameras and establish an Austin Real Time Crime Center to monitor the live video feeds. We will enhance exterior lighting and develop neighborhood watch systems. I propose working with community foundations to secure funding to develop additional low-cost mental health counseling programs and additional free programming/activities for everyone. We need to keep people active and engaged in the community and off the streets.

3. I am campaigning on bringing in higher paying jobs to boost our economy and bringing in affordable, safe, reliable day care. I know what it’s like to be a working mother.

What changes in current law would you like to see (if any)?

None listed.

Why should people vote for you?

I’m honest about my views and I listen to others. I don’t have all the answers and I don’t have any special interest groups. I fight hard for progress for the benefit of my grandson and all children. I want to leave this world a better place than I found it.

First Ward

The First Ward seat up for grabs is currently held by Councilman Jeff Austin, who is running for the At-Large seat. Competing for the seat are candidates Jeff Arneson and Rebecca Waller.


Jeff Arneson

Background information

I am running for alderman because I am committed to making a difference in the quality of life in Austin. My family has been in Austin since 1959. I’ve taken it to heart that truly, if I am not part of the solution, than I am part of the problem. I will encourage my constituents to also be more involved in our democracy, a democracy that is under attack by Republicans doing all they can to suppress the vote while sheepishly supporting an un-American President bent on dividing us all.

What, in your opinion, are the three most significant issues facing Austin? Why do you believe that and how would you address them?

I believe the three most significant issues facing Austin include:

1. The lack of good paying jobs for high school graduates, the underemployed and the middle class (which has become almost extinct!)

2. The ongoing degradation and disappearance of shopping and recreational opportunities

3. Affordable housing and neighborhood restoration

All of these challenges are related to the same problem that is seriously affecting not only Austin, but most of America: income inequality. I support any business that pays a minimum wage of $15 an hour. The Walmart heirs own about 44 percent of all the capital and money in America. Seventy-four percent of the benefits of the Republican controlled Congress “tax reform” went to the top one percent of the population. If you make less than $10 hourly, the compensation is less than $20,000 a year. With both parents having to work to qualify for a mortgage, parenting becomes challenging. Social security income for our seniors, including me, barely budged the last few years. Health care costs continue to skyrocket while health insurance CEOs make millions.

So what are the solutions? A living minimum wage. Single payer health insurance. Electing Democrats to state and national offices.

What changes in current law would you like to see (if any)?

At the forum for county candidates, I heard a similar refrain: costs and service requests going up and less money coming in. Solution? Let’s walk into the 21st century and decriminalize or legalize cannabis (marijuana). Let’s look at what Minneapolis has done in this area. Taxing and regulating “pot” would pay for the schools operating expenses. Ask Colorado or the other six states… and Canada. Thirty states now have legal medical cannabis. The only reason it is still illegal at all is because Big Pharma cannot patent it. Free the police and courts to focus on the real criminals. Slaughtering animals is a dying business. Encourage Hormel to become the largest health food company in the world.

Why should people vote for you?

People should vote for me because I will listen to their ideas, complaints and questions. Being retired, I have the time to do so. I have spent over 25 years in the real estate and mortgage business serving people from all income and cultural backgrounds in four different states. I have owned businesses, worked for others and joined unions. Ever wonder why the people of Austin seemingly always pay higher gas prices? Ask my opponent. Finally, as being the people’s candidate, I look forward to serving my constituents to the best of my ability.


Rebecca Waller

Background information

My name is Rebecca Waller and I’m running for First Ward Representative on the Austin City Council. I’ve been married to my husband, Bernard, who is a deputy, for over 11 years. We have two beautiful daughters, Isabelle (9) and Sydney(6). As a family, we enjoy spending time outdoors biking the trails throughout Austin. I received a bachelors degree in marketing from Winona State University in 2005.  I work for Kwik Trip, where I have been a store leader for more than 11 years and one of the area’s certified training store leaders. That role gives me an opportunity to help other managers develop their leadership skills.

What, in your opinion, are the three most significant issues facing Austin? Why do you believe that and how would you address them?

I believe three significant issues we need to address as a community are juvenile crime, business development, and ensuring all Austinites have access to quality housing.

During my time living, working, and raising my children in Austin, I have become increasingly concerned about juvenile delinquency and the problems it creates within our community. As we all know, the fundamental issue is an absence of parental supervision and a lack of role models. We need to responsibly develop programs to encourage and demand parental responsibility. 

In addition, I believe it is important to continue to pursue new business growth through diversified intensive programs. This new and continued growth will increase our communities appeal and show potential business partners that we are growing community with many opportunities for success.

Finally, it is important everyone living in or thinking of moving to Austin to have opportunities to find affordable quality housing. We need to educate current and potential homeowners on programs already available to assist them. We need to insure renters have access to information regarding their rights as tenants and verify landlords are living up to their responsibilities.

What changes in current law would you like to see (if any)?

None listed.

Why should people vote for you?

On Nov. 6, I encourage all citizens of Austin to get out and VOTE, regardless of whom you are voting for. Let your voice be heard. If you choose to vote for me as your First Ward Representative, I will work tirelessly to ensure Austin continues to be a family friendly community with opportunities for all members of our city.

Second Ward

The Second Ward seat to be filled is currently occupied by Councilman David Hagen, who is retiring at the end of his term. Candidate Jason Baskin is running unopposed for the seat.


Jason Baskin

Background information

I’m an Austin native and community leader who’s running because I care deeply about our city and want to make it the best possible place for my daughters, and all Austinites, to live. I graduated from AHS and earned an undergraduate degree from the University of Minnesota and MBA from UMD. I’m actively involved in our community as Chair of the Human Rights Commission and a member of APEX Austin, Austin ASPIRES, and as a volunteer youth soccer coach. I work in marketing and my wife, Katie, is the principal of Southgate Elementary School. We have two young daughters, Ava and Olivia.

What, in your opinion, are the three most significant issues facing Austin? Why do you believe that and how would you address them?

The first significant issue is building a strong and safe community. We must continue to make Austin a place where people want to live. This starts with leveraging our unique assets to build a thriving downtown, great parks and entertainment, and an inclusive community where everyone can succeed.

The second significant issue is improving the housing supply. Austin’s biggest growth barrier is that there isn’t enough available housing, with a recent third party Maxfield Research study showing that we need 1,000 new housing units by 2025, across multiple market ranges, to keep up with demand. We must work collaboratively with local and regional partners to increase and improve our available housing supply.

The third significant issue is enhancing economic opportunity. We must expand our local tax base by attracting more high-paying jobs and ensuring our employers have access to a local workforce with the skills needed to thrive in today’s economy. The key is to identify what sets Austin apart from other competitive cities and fully invest in building those differentiating capabilities.

What changes in current law would you like to see (if any)?

Local government needs to strategically prioritize what it wants to do. Property taxes have increased nearly 60 percent over the past four years (in addition to increases at the county and state level), which is putting tremendous pressure on our local homeowners and businesses. We need to take a hard look at every dollar we’re spending, prioritize what is truly important, and then allocate resources to support those priorities.

Why should people vote for you?

I’m an Austin native and community leader who will work tirelessly to make our city flourish. I care deeply about Austin and want to make this the best possible place for my daughters to grow up and all Austinites to live. I’ve been actively involved in our community and will bring the insights I’ve gained to the city council to create pragmatic, common sense solutions. I’m proud to call Austin home, and I ask for your vote on Nov. 6.

Third Ward

The Third Ward seat up for election is currently held by Councilwoman Judy Enright, who is retiring at the end of her term. Candidates Brian Heimer and Joyce Poshusta are vying for the seat.


Brian Heimer

Background information

As an Austin native, Marine Corps Iraq War Veteran, and Pacelli Catholic School teacher, I see this as another opportunity to serve and give back to the town of Austin, which has given me so much. As a child, I always wanted to serve my country, and I was given that opportunity with the United States Marine Corps after September 11th. Now, as an adult, I am grateful for seeing the world and the greater perspective and appreciation it has given me to lead, teach, and live in the community of Austin we call home.

What, in your opinion, are the three most significant issues facing Austin? Why do you believe that and how would you address them?

Austin is a great community, but no community is perfect. The three biggest issues facing Austin today are economic development, housing, and the safety of our community.  I believe that Austin is a great community headed in the right direction. All communities have their issues and we certainly do as well. However, what we need are the right people, in the right positions, to be able to continue the momentum we have created, and I recognize that I can be one of those people.

What changes in current law would you like to see (if any)?

One thing that I’ve never appreciated as a citizen is when there are “closed door” discussions or agreements, meaning no one but the elected officials are present. One change I would like to see is to have all government meetings be open to the public unless sensitive public safety issues are being discussed or arranged (this may include reaction planning in response to terrorism or other coordinated events).

Why should people vote for you? 

This campaign has always been about the people of Austin that have developed me into the person I am today. The countless teachers, community leaders, and mentors along the way. Without them, and you, as citizens of Austin, I wouldn’t be as fortunate, and I want that for the future of our community. The reason you should vote for me is because I will continue to develop Austin into a community for the future while maintaining the rich heritage Austin has created. Thank you so much for your time and remember to vote Tuesday, Nov. 6.


Joyce Poshusta

Background information

I am running for city council because I want to serve my community, provide good leadership, and help plan and build for the future. For most of my career, I have been in leadership roles and am tasked with managing budgets, prioritizing, multi-tasking, researching, implementing and overseeing. I have ideas to be shared, a passion that won’t waiver, and a commitment to do the right thing.  I want a better future for our children, our grandchildren, and our grandchildren’s grandchildren.

What, in your opinion, are the three most significant issues facing Austin? Why do  you believe that and how would you address them?

Austin has made great strides in the housing issues and I would like to see us continue to move in this direction. The current tax abatement program has generated a lot of interest and has provided new housing opportunities. I would like to keep this momentum going and extend this program, chase all funding possibilities and review revenue versus expenses to see what cuts might be possible to avoid making high tax increases.

Austin is suffering a wage issue with a lack of median income jobs. Austin’s average income of $46,000 is well below the national average. People who work full-time should not have to rely on government assistance to help make ends meet. As a city, we need to make it a priority that businesses interested in the Austin area will bring with them competitive wages to help fill the middle-class gap.

Daycare is still an issue in Austin, and will continue to be at our current growth rate.  We need to help existing daycare providers stay in business by providing them with grants that can be used to make necessary repairs or provide additional space to allow for additional children. The HRA of Austin recently partnered with Catherwood Child Care, and this partnership will allow them to operate 24 hours per day. More partnerships like this are needed.

What changes in current law would you like to see (if any)?

I feel that it is important for the council to regularly review the ordinances and to propose changes as needed as changes occur within Austin. With the movement we are seeing, and to continue this movement, the land use and zoning ordinances should be revisited to make development feasible and attractive to developers.

Why should people vote for you?

As your council member, I will work hard to balance division and build bridges. I’m not afraid to speak up and will always have an open-door policy. I encourage comments, question and opinions at any time. If you are looking for a candidate who does their homework, listens to all sides, asks tough questions, rises to challenges and supports what is right, then I humbly ask for your vote on Nov. 6.