PROGRESS 2021: Goals of Service

Published 11:00 am Wednesday, March 3, 2021

First time holders of public office tell us of their goals in their words

 

Patricia Mueller

Minnesota House District 27B

Mueller

On Jan. 5, 2021, I took the oath of office on the Minnesota House floor.  That one act started me on this new journey of representing you in St. Paul. It is was thrilling and humbling.  While my job includes balancing the budget and engaging in debate or discussion about bills for the state of Minnesota, nothing is more important than being accountable and accessible to you.  We are a unique area with generational farmers and brand-new Americans from countries around the world.  We have small businesses and large corporations that invest in our communities and lead the way in scientific research, which puts our district on the global map.  It is an honor to represent this unique area.

As a local official it is important to listen to your needs, concerns, and ideas.  My commitment to the district is evident through involvement in the community.  It has been a joy to listen to community members discuss alternative education/career paths for adults and to listen to local school boards talk about needing flexibility and more local control that will provide quality education that fits our area.  I heard from farmers and businessmen and women who want to see our area thrive.  Thank you to all of you who continue to share ideas and dreams with me.

During the next biennium, I have been assigned to three committees: education policy, education finance, and the public safety and criminal justice reform committee. As a member of the education policy and finance committees, I am committed to encourage innovative solutions that address the disparities we see in education.  It is also my goal to promote critical thinking and curriculum that prepares students for the employment realities in the 21st century. As a member of the public safety committee, it is important to promote law and order along with community development programs.  When communities are working together, crime is lower.  How can we invest in our communities and support healthy relationships with law enforcement?

I am committed to listening to ideas.

I am optimistic.  Never before has there been such engagement in the political process.  It is important to know your local and state officials so that you can be heard.  As we emerge from a trying 2020, it’s more vital now to work together.  There will always be differences and frustrations, but Minnesotans are resilient people who desire to be better.  We want to leave a legacy for our children.  I look forward to providing a brave and transparent government that is accountable to you.  Thank you for your support.  God bless you.  God bless Minnesota.  And God Bless the United States of America.

Gene Dornink

Minnesota Senate District 27      

Friends and neighbors,

2020 was a difficult year for many Minnesotans, but I had the honor of being elected to represent my community as a Minnesota State Senator for the first time.

 Since the 2021 Legislative Session began at the start of January, I have been keeping busy in Saint Paul. I was joined by my wife as I was sworn in to officially begin my journey as a Minnesota State Senator. My days have been filled with connecting with other members of the legislature, meeting my colleagues, and working on your behalf here at the Capitol. Things are just getting started and I look forward to making true change as session moves forward.

 Serving on committees is where the big change happens and I am honored to be Vice Chair of Labor and Industry Policy while also serving on three others that I value – Agriculture and Rural Development, Capital Investment, and Human Services Licensing.

I have already joined my colleagues in co-authoring two bills that are important to me. The first increases penalties for individuals charged with the attempted murder of a police officer or other law official. It is a priority to keep our community safe from violence in any way and I believe this is an important piece of legislation. The second is known as the Paid Youth Trades Employment Opportunity Act, which will allow individuals age 16 and 17 to lawfully work in or around construction or building projects. The trades are very important to me and making this career path more accessible for our  youth is a high priority for me as a legislator.

 I am also committed to helping rebuild our business community who have been impacted by COVID. I am working hard to get government to conform with federal guidelines regarding tax relief and PPP, I encourage businesses who need help to take advantage of the PPP and other COVID relief programs.

 My constituents are and will always come first. I have had Zoom calls with constituents, received dozens of emails, and talked to some wonderful people expressing concerns over legislative issues. The best way for me to know what is important to you is to tell me and I do love hearing from you.

 It is truly an honor and so very humbling to be in Saint Paul to represent the amazing people of District 27. I am certain I will create the change we need to make our community shine. I am here for you, my constituents. I am always available, so please set up a time to meet in the district or at the capitol, via zoom or phone, or you can send me an email. I want to hear from you and do what you put me here to do.

Steve King

Austin Mayor

King

I’m grateful and honored to have recently been elected as Austin’s 34th mayor. I can tell you with certainty since taking the oath of office that I don’t have all the answers. Much like I don’t have all the answers when it comes to being a husband, a father or an employee. And I certainly didn’t have all the answers, at least the right ones, when I was in school. What I do have is ambition and a passion for serving the people of this wonderful community who gave so much to me.  

I was blessed to have had a healthy, happy and enriching upbringing guided by my parents, teachers, coaches and so many memorable folks in town. I’m a firm believer of the following quote: “To those whom much is given much is required.”

I have a sneaking suspicion that I live among so many residents of Austin who feel the same way. The city of Austin has always been a place where people can and do get involved and give of their time and talents to volunteer in an effort to make our city shine. This hunch has been reinforced by the positive responses I’ve gotten when I’ve asked people to fill a seat on a city board or commission. The enthusiasm and willingness to serve is omnipresent.

Armed with ambition and not a lot of answers, I, along with a strong city council and extremely professional city staff, are off and running to continue to grow Austin and move forward.

During the next four years, I have a vision of Austin being the place of choice to live, work and recreate. To accomplish this vision I will work to grow our tax base through new business development that will expand our workforce with good paying jobs.

I also pledge to accommodate our existing businesses who wish to expand as needed. 

I plan to focus on continuing to grow our city’s core. I envision more housing options being built downtown or on the edge of downtown. The trends reflect that people of all ages are interested in living in a more urban environment. Austin’s downtown has proven itself to be a destination spot.

The addition of our spectacular recreation center, the entertaining programs at the Paramount Theater and the many events at the Hormel Historic Home tell me so. These venues, along with our unique stores, bars and restaurants in downtown, energize me to seek and encourage developers to choose downtown Austin as a place to build market rate apartment units.

Over the past several years, Austin has been intentional in creating more opportunities to be pedestrian-friendly by expanding our bike/walking paths. I hope to expand our opportunities to enjoy our natural resources in a way that allows accessibility while still honoring and respecting the very essence of the natural environment. We are already home to a world-class nature destination in our Jay C. Hormel Nature Center, which is celebrating its 50th year.

Last year, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, in cooperation with the Mower County Soil and Water District, chose Wolf’s Creek in Austin’s Todd Park as a naturally accommodating stream to stock trout. The environment where trout can survive all year round is rare and we are blessed to have such an area in our city. Continuing to work collaboratively to improve our waterways for canoeing, kayaking and fishing is something I wish to focus on during the coming years.

With this vision as a backdrop, I and the council will continue to be responsive, communicative and take on issues as they arise.

A lot of good things are happening in Austin!

Oballa Oballa

Austin City Council First Ward      

Oballa

Quality of life offerings in and around Austin need to be a priority; these include retail availability and entertainment. Encouraging entrepreneurs to innovate with new retail and entertainment businesses is a win-win for the community and continuing advocating for affordable housing and daycare will be the biggest issues in the next four years. As a new councilman, I will work and bring a fresh voice and listen to the residents of Austin as they bring more concerns or issues.

It’s vital that government listens to and serves the community it represents. Moving forward as a new councilman, I will be highly responsive and approachable, working tirelessly to ensure that all residents have their voice heard. Moreover, as a new father, I want to ensure that Austin thrives so that all children (including my baby girl) grow up proud of this amazing place we all call home.

The top issues I will focus on are:

• Reinvigorating our local economy: We need to reinvigorate our local economy and expand our local tax base by strengthening our small businesses, attracting more high-paying jobs, and ensuring that our residents have the workforce skills needed to thrive in today’s economy. We also need to limit the tax burden placed on our local businesses and residents. I will leverage my collaborative leadership skills to bring together local businesses, educational institutions, and community members to find fresh and innovative ways to help our local economy rebound and thrive.

• Expanding housing: We need to improve Austin’s housing supply. Austin’s biggest growth barrier is that there isn’t enough available housing. We need at least 1,000 new housing units by 2025 to keep up with this demand. I will work with key stakeholders like the Housing Redevelopment Authority, local developers, and regional partners to leverage best practices from across our state to continue making progress on this vital issue. As a board member of the HRA, I will work to find creative ways to solve this problem, including looking at the best practices that other Greater Minnesota communities have found successful.

• Daycare: We need to come up with different approaches to address this growing issue to help our hard-working parents and single parents. I will work diligently with other council members to advocate for more grants to help the daycares we already have and expand them by hiring more childcare providers to take care of our kids when we need it. As parents, we all want our children to grow up to be responsible citizens and good people. We want them to learn, to feel, think and act with respect for themselves and for other people.

Mike Postma

Austin City Council Second Ward

Postma

My vision while I’m on the city council is to focus on growth opportunities for our city. Here’s a few areas I hope to focus on.

• Business Growth: I want to help the business community in Austin bounce back and thrive as we move out of this terrible COVID-19 era over the next year and support our long-time businesses who have all had a tough 2020, regardless of industry. I want to make Austin appealing for new businesses to open or expand their operations because they are drawn to our amenities and the world-class workforce that calls Austin home. When appropriate, I want to target any possible city incentives on businesses that have jobs that provide financial security through good pay and benefits.

• Housing Growth: As a new council member to the Austin Housing and Redevelopment Authority, I’m excited to continue to pursue more housing in Austin on all levels. Areas I hope to focus on are an increase in market rate apartments, both traditional and more urban oriented designs in the downtown zone, as well as the addition of more single-family housing through new home construction done by private developers using local contractors. I also want to place a bigger focus on updates and improvements to our existing core city neighborhood housing stock. We have homes that are well built with good bones, but over time have come to need new roofs, HVAC, electrical systems and more. I think more can be done to enable homeowners to make repairs in a way that they can afford, using local contractors. 

• Community Growth: I want to expand the amount of opportunities that we provide to the community and those who visit us. We have a Culture and Arts commission focused on expanding our city’s creative and culturally diverse community. We are exploring grant opportunities to develop an underutilized part of greenspace in downtown to enhance our Farmer’s Market. Destination Austin continues to promote Austin far and wide as a great place to visit and I’m confident that tourists and day trippers will be out in full force this summer after a 2020 that has all of us looking for ways to explore.

I think the city council and staff can work on all of this while continuing to provide excellent core city services though our Library, Police, Parks, Public Works and Fire departments. These departments are full of dedicated employees who are skilled at their jobs and have innovative ideas on how the council can support them in caring for our city.

I’m thankful for everyone that voted for me and excited to get to work over the next four years on all of this and more.

Katie Ulwelling

Austin Public Schools Board

Ulwelling

I want to say thank you again to all the community members who voted for me. When I ran for a position on the school board, my motto was “Listen, Learn and Lead.”  I am currently in the “listen and learn” phase, and it has been eye-opening and fascinating!  I have had the opportunity to listen to and learn from some incredibly knowledgeable people both at the state and district level.  Among other things, I have listened to webinars sponsored by the Minnesota School Board Association in order to learn how to be an effective school board member.  I have learned about the rules that apply to school board meetings, about where our educational funding comes from and how it is allocated.  I have learned about the dynamics and restrictions that apply to setting the school calendar each year.

One of the most important areas I continue to learn about is how to find the best superintendent to replace Mr. Krenz, who will be leaving Austin Public Schools at the end of this school year.  Educational staff and members of the community were given a chance to fill out a survey asking what sorts of qualities they most desired in a superintendent.  Those results were compiled and the search began.  Along with other board members, I have been given the opportunity to learn how to conduct an effective interview.  One of my goals this year is to help find the right person for the job.  I take this responsibility very seriously.  It is the goal of the Austin School Board to find a superintendent who will continue to lead Austin Public Schools toward a future where all students are treated equitably. Along with my fellow board members, it is my goal that all students will finds themselves prepared for a successful future in whatever endeavor they undertake after graduation.

Because we continue to face educational challenges related to the coronavirus pandemic, it is my hope that restrictions will ease in the coming months so that we can return to a more “normal” instructional model.  Teachers’ workloads have increased during “distance learning” and “hybrid learning.”  Planning and preparation look different for each model; new technology must be learned and navigated; students who are not attending remotely must be followed up on; activities to promote social and emotion well-being must be developed.  It is my goal to work together with community members, central office staff, and my fellow board members to make sure that our administrators, teachers, and support staff get what they need to continue to provide the best possible learning experience for all of our students during this trying time.  Considerations might include a review of which curriculum materials seem to work best for online instruction and whether there are staff members who enjoy designing and delivering remote lessons; would they feel comfortable coaching their colleagues?

Thank goodness the craziness that was 2020 is behind us.  Hopefully, 2021 will soon see an end to the pandemic that has cost America so many precious lives and has cost all of us precious time with our family and friends.

Cece Kroc

Austin Public Schools Board

Kroc

The year 2020 has proven to be a challenging one with a pandemic that wreaked havoc on our communities.  It has also provided us with an awareness of a resilience that we may not have known we possessed.   Personally, I have been encouraged and motivated by the display of generosity, flexibility, and empathy I have seen demonstrated all around me. 

 In my short tenure as a new school board member, I have become more aware of and impressed by the knowledge and commitment of those who are involved in the education of Austin’s children.  I, too, will prioritize the children and continue to ask myself, “But how are the children?”  I have been provided the opportunity for continued improvement in a system l am passionate about and for this I feel much gratitude.  As an educator, I expected and knew that the well-being of our students was paramount in the decision-making processes in place in the Austin Public Schools.  My perspective as a board member has provided me with a new lens, one that is broader and perhaps more able to focus on the details involved in those decisions.  Taxpayer, retired teacher, parent, senior citizen, and neighbor are all roles I bring to the table, so incorporating my diverse perspective has been a part of the process as every day brings new knowledge for me.  What I did come to the board knowing is that our “customers” are a diverse group with varied experiences and needs.  In order to optimize learning for all, we must see students in their entirety and do our work based on what we see.  Inclusion and equity must always be the umbrella we work under as a system.

Setting goals for myself as a board member has been and will continue to be a work in progress.  I look forward to being part of the next chapter in the Austin Public Schools, which will include the hiring of a new superintendent.  Preparation for interviews and selection has focused us, as a board, in having clear expectations for new leadership and looking for alignment in our visions for the future. Encouraging stakeholders to be a part of that vision and have a voice is something I will consistently work toward as a board member.  

As students return to school in whatever way is feasible, they may demonstrate stress from the effects of isolation and societal unrest. It is essential that our district prioritizes the social and emotional needs of students, always taking into consideration the well-being of the whole child. This is a priority for me as board member.

Our school board serves as a governing body, providing vision, accountability, and advocacy for the public education system in our community.  I take that elected responsibility seriously and hope to provide transparency in all the good work being done.

I attended the Minnesota School Board Association Leadership Conference last week and remember a quote that reminds me to always “validate, appreciate, and investigate”- good advice for the new school board member!

Evan Sorenson

Austin Public Schools Board

Sorenson

I have been asked to write an article outlining my hopes and goals for my upcoming term. The slogan for my campaign was “The Safety and Security of our Children and Staff is my No. 1 Priority.”

I plan on holding true to this promise when considering every decision I make going forward. I am committed to asking appropriate questions and I will encourage the rest of the School Board team to think outside the box when it comes to safety concerns within the district. Having children and family in the district will motivate me to make the best possible decisions. Making sure every child can attain high quality education in a safe comforting environment is my main goal.

At the board’ s first study session, I was appointed to serve on several district advisory committees. These include, building and grounds, district policy, The Minnesota State High School League, and the districts Gifted and Talented program. I plan on listening to input from the experts, stakeholders, and the community before making and proposing important decisions that will affect our children, parents, staff, and community.

I may not have all of the answers to your questions, but I will do my best to put you in touch with a district staff member who can. I encourage you to reach out to me via e-mail at evan.sorenson@austin.k12.mn.us with any questions or concerns

The board’s first order of business in 2021 is to hire a new district superintendent. This is one of the school board’s most important jobs as we are directly responsible for hiring and supervising the district’s superintendent. The superintendent is the CEO of the district and is responsible for executing the vision the board sets for the district. We have hired the services of the Minnesota School Board Association to assist us interviewing the most qualified candidates for the position. I am committed to listening to these experts and assist in hiring the most qualified applicant to lead our district  for years to come!

Thank you.