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Ward 3 race is wide-open

Dakota Koski1 / 3
Randy Flynn2 / 3
Richard Colsen3 / 3

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When Roger Maki declared his intentions to run for mayor of Cloquet earlier this year, it meant the Ward 3 City Council seat he won in 2010 and 2014 was now without an incumbent in the race. Three residents of Ward 3 have stepped up: Richard Colsen, Randy Flynn and Dakota Koski.

A map of the city's five wards shows Ward 3 as the smallest ward — a small irregular rectangle lying in the heart of Cloquet, bordered by Avenue B on the north, 14th Street on the east, Prospect on the south and Minnesota Highway 33/Park Drive on the east.

Ward 3 candidate: Dakota Koski

Koski, 29, was born and raised in Cloquet, and says he stays here because he loves the community. Koski, the executive director of the REACH mentoring program, said he is running for several reasons: to be a voice for youth and bring a younger person's perspective to the council, to be a voice for people and to act as a mediator in difficult situations.

"Mediation is a skill that I have developed in my job, working with parents and kids and mentors, trying to get people to come to common ground," he said. "I don't get too worked up over things. Even if I'm passionate about things, I can still relay information respectfully and not belittle people if we don't agree."

Ward 3 candidate: Richard Colsen

Colsen wasn't born in Cloquet, but he and his wife, Shelly, raised three kids there.

An "Army brat," Colsen said they've lived in Cloquet 18 years — about six times more than any other place he's ever lived.

Colsen, a coordinator for the Fond du Lac Human Services Substance Use Disorder Department, oversees all of the Band's treatment programs in Cloquet, Duluth and Minneapolis, and supervises about 50 employees. Battling the opioid crisis is his passion.

Colsen is running because he has wants to be more involved in watching the city grow and helping direct it.

"I think we have a lot to offer and I think can do some things differently," he said, adding that he has a lot of experience with capital projects, grant writing and grant management, as well as working with state, federal and tribal government.

Ward 3 candidate: Randy Flynn

Flynn was born and raised in Carlton County and worked as a deputy for the Carlton County Sheriff's Office for 30 years. He retired 15 years ago. He and his wife, Robin, raised three kids in Esko. They have owned and operated three businesses in Cloquet, including A-NU-DU Hair Salon, the Golden Token gas station and the Pickled Pirate liquor store. They live in a nine-plex in downtown Cloquet that they also own.

Candidate Q&A

The three Ward 3 city council candidates met with the Pine Journal earlier this week. Following are highlights of two of those conversations.

PJ: What do you think are the two biggest issues facing the city of Cloquet? How would you work to resolve those?

Flynn: The opioid problem is huge. It's silent for a lot of people, but it's costing the city lots of money between overtime at the police department and health issues. It's been a growing problem for a while. We need to explore different avenues, anything we can help with, add to, be a part of. I believe in prevention more than anything.

I taught the DARE program in the city and the county for 10 years. f there are ways to get more resources involved, I would explore that. I used to write grants; I was successful at that a number of years ago.

Housing is the second biggest issue. For families, there is not enough housing and apartments for lower income. My apartments are nice and full all the time. What they're doing with the middle school is a good thing, I think. It should help solve some of the problem.

Koski: Definitely the two biggest issues are Friends of Animals and the middle school, which is in my ward.

As far as resolving it, I'd like to help be a part of the FOA negotiations with the city, sit down with FOA and city. Being the director of a nonprofit, I understand the nonprofit world and how things work. I also see the city's side of budgeting and what makes sense on that level.

Regarding the old middle school, I think being able to to sit down with those who have opinions about that school is important. The developer said they are leaving the auditorium and the gym. I think it would be great to sit down with them with a committee of other people in the community and discuss ideas about what could happen with that to bring more community activity and involvement.

Colsen: The housing issue is huge. In my job, it can take me six to nine months to find someone housing. That's one of the things we really try to focus on in helping an individual's recovery: to make sure someone's basic needs met. I think we need to add housing, but we need to spread that housing out, not just put it all in one ward. I think there are options, and grants available.

I also think we've got to look at how spending and do it in a smart way. I'm very pleased with the revitalization efforts I'm seeing downtown and in the parks, but there are other things we can work on like roads and other infrastructure. I've watched my property taxes increase year after year, but I'm only recently seeing some payback on that. And I know a lot of the infrastructure funding came from the half-cent sales tax.

PJ: Do you think the city council acted appropriately when it hired a new police chief without following the city's usual hiring process for department heads?

Colsen: Did we violate the hiring practices in policy — that's a more important question. I would want to see the policy.

Did I think it was appropriately? I think that it definitely could have been done differently. I also think it was done in one of the most transparent ways, in a City Hall room full of people. There was no back-door business going on. I think we should have gone through candidates and reviewed them and our current chief could have risen to the top and probably would have.

Flynn: It seems like there should have been more of a process. I know these folks, obviously, but even with that I would have said we need more of a process. I think you should have looked at more senior officers — they're there for a reason.

Like most people, I just know what happens through the paper. I tried to go to a meeting. I was in the hallway and couldn't hear, standing five deep from the door. I really wanted to hear the process, what was going on and how they were going to explain.

Koski: I think it's important to follow the rules and guidelines of how things should be done. I understand at times when it could be appropriate to not follow a guideline in special circumstances, but don't know if this circumstance was one of them. I know some things were public and some were not — I don't have the full story. But I think it definitely tarnished their reputation and those procedures on that particular issue should have taken place because it was such an important topic here in the community and there was a lot of controversy.

Editor's note: Find unedited versions of the interviews at pinejournal.com.

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Vote absentee

The Carlton County Auditor's Office will be open for absentee voting for the primary election during regular office hours and additionally 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 11, and until 5 p.m. Monday, Aug. 13.

The Auditor's Office is in the Carlton County Courthouse, 301 Walnut Ave., Carlton.

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