Election primer: Carlton County District 5

Early voting is underway for the Aug. 11 primary.

The Carlton County Community Services Center. (File / Pine Journal)

Only one of the three open Carlton County Board of Commissioners seats will require a primary Aug. 11.

Three candidates have filed to run for Carlton County Board of Commissioners District 5: Alex French, Marci Moreland and incumbent Gary Peterson. Their responses have been edited for grammar and clarity.

Early voting is underway from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday at the Carlton County Courthouse. In addition, early voting at the courthouse will be available from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 8, and from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, Aug. 10.

The District 5 mail-in ballot precincts have had their ballots mailed to them, according to Carlton County Auditor Kathy Kortuem. If a resident in a mail-in ballot precinct needs to vote on Aug. 11, they need to go to the courthouse to vote. The courthouse will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

On Election Day, precincts with polling places must vote at those places.


  • Automba Township: Automba Town Hall, 6956 County Road 6, Kettle River.
  • Moose Lake City: Moose Lake Civic & Community Center, 313 Elm, Moose Lake.
  • Moose Lake Township: Moose Lake Civic & Community Center, 313 Elm, Moose Lake.
  • Silver Township: Kettle River Snowmobile Club, 5585 County Road 12, Kettle River.
  • Skelton Township: Skelton Town Hall, 3502 County Road 157 (intersection of Little Road and County Road 157), Barnum.

Candidate Alex French

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Alex French

Alex French, 37, works as an accountant for Alaspa & Murray LTD., a CPA firm in Cloquet that focuses primarily on individual and small business tax preparation. He is a Cromwell resident.

Why are you running for county board?

After nearly a decade in Fargo, Omaha and Duluth, I moved back to Cromwell. I realized the people around me matter more than the buildings. This was, is and will be home.

That said, Carlton County has incredible opportunities for improvement. I would like to be a driving force behind that positive change. Being from a different generation than the current board members, I will provide a new perspective and fresh eyes on current issues.

The goal is to ensure Carlton County is ready for the imminent changes we face to protect our future while being guided by the values instilled by our past. Years from now, I hope my nieces and nephew can also proudly say “This was, is and will be home.”

Our board will likely see dramatic turnover either through retirement or by ballot relatively soon. Our county cannot be held hostage by the inevitable passing of the baton. A gradual transition will be more efficient than a complete overhaul executed in a short timeframe. It’s vital our county can operate effectively as new commissioners learn the processes and procedures. I embrace the opportunity to be mentored by our longstanding commissioners and the challenge of educating future members.


What experience do you have that qualifies you for a position on the board?

Given the nature of my career, I meet face-to-face with a variety of county residents. I’m able to engage with clients with a range of views and circumstances. Relating to them and discussing their situations requires excellent communication skills. People do business with someone they know, like and trust. The amount of repeat and referral business I bring in is indicative that clients appreciate my demeanor, knowledge and approach. There are times when difficult conversations must be had, for example when a taxpayer’s tax liability changes drastically. I do not run from those and will not hide when constituents engage me.

This is not merely a leadership role; this is a service position. I owe it to voters to be available, transparent, selfless and accountable. While I lack experience in government, the tax code is complex and ever changing. “I don’t know, but I will find out” is the best response to unique tax situations. I have developed the ability to research, interpret and apply the law and explain my findings in simple terms to educate clients. That skillset will ensure I am well informed on county matters and can act in the best interest of the district and county.

What do you believe are the two biggest issues facing the county right now? How do you believe they should be addressed and why?

The jail continues to be one of the biggest issues and the urgency to do something grows every day. I address how to approach this in a separate question. The second issue is slowing the “talent drain.” I support those that want the college experience and want to move away, but we need to do a better job of retaining homegrown talent or attracting new. Providing modern convenience, economic opportunity and entertainment options are essential to that.

One major step is fully connecting our residents to the world. The COVID-19 pandemic we are in should be eye opening. An internet connection is no longer a luxury, it is a necessity. People should not have to drive miles to a school parking lot to send in an assignment or shop online. Fortune 500 companies are not going to build their headquarters here, but with modern internet our talent can go to them and live here. Exploring federal and state funding options for infrastructure is a priority to me.

There are far too many vacant lots and overlooked opportunities for economic expansion to not address the issue by providing resources and financial assistance when able. Continuing to raise the visibility of our Department of Economic Development is a major step that will drive growth. Sweetly Kismet is a prime example of a new business flourishing, and they opened during the pandemic. The store now provides jobs and family entertainment in addition to increasing the county’s tax base. In speaking with the owners, their experience working with the county was positive. That must continue with other new and existing businesses.

Public safety is also important when people are deciding where to call home. I believe we need to make our sheriff’s office a priority. There has never been a more difficult time to be in law enforcement, and we must support them financially and otherwise. We need to make every effort to attract, train and retain the very best for our safety and theirs.


Lastly, we cannot allow property taxes to drive people out. Property taxes will always be a source of frustration, so the county must maximize technology, staffing and facilities to provide the largest return on investment. The board and county departments must be diligent in identifying waste while developing budgets, as they owe that to us all. Programs that result in revenue for the county are also crucial to easing the burden placed on homeowners.

What do you think of the county pursuing a regional offender program for female inmates and why?

The number of incarcerated females has grown in our area and nationally. Unfortunately, that trend will likely continue. I am in support of a regional offender program for females if it can be done in a fiscally responsible way. Minnesota law also requires parity between programs for men and women, which is currently not being met. It is my understanding that it would be similar to Northeast Regional Corrections Center, which only serves men. This program would address the lack of service in our region, as the only similar option is in Duluth and can only house 10 offenders. There is the potential for the programming to generate a new revenue stream for the county by housing females from across the state. Estimates of how large that may be are not available at this time.

This program was in the bonding bill for $2 million to aid in planning and design. Without state dollars, it is unlikely to be a part of the final jail project. The future of this programming is in limbo given the current climate of our state leaders in St. Paul.

What do you think is the best way for the county to move forward with the jail and why?

I support building a new facility. The decisions about where to build a jail and how large the facility will be must minimize costs while meeting future needs. The current facility is not safe for staff or inmates. Had the issue been addressed sooner, the price tag would have been significantly less as land, labor and material costs have gone up. Regardless of the court’s effort to minimize the length of time people are incarcerated pretrial, there will always be a need for housing inmates.

Over the past 13 years, total costs to house our inmates outside of the county facility totaled $2 million. Without a new jail, that number will increase and our opportunity to house outside inmates disappears, losing revenue. There is a study underway to determine the economic impact, but that will not be available until after the November election.

The ideal way to fund the project is through local-option sales tax as opposed to placing even more burden on property tax payers. The project will also create quality jobs during and after construction which is an added bonus.


Candidate Marci Moreland

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Marci Moreland

Marci Moreland, 62, is a Mahtowa resident who works as a realtor with Welcome Home Realty in Cloquet. Prior to that, she worked for Carlton County for 39 years, before she retired from the assessor's office.

Why are you running for county board?

It has been a goal of mine for quite some time. Issues such as spending, communication, respect, accountability and listening could be improved upon. I could bring new views and insights to the issues that we face today. Whether one person can make a difference on the board or not, I would like the opportunity to try.

When I was appointed county assessor of Carlton County, it was my goal to serve people, listen to them and help the best way I could. As a County Board member, I would continue to listen to the needs of the people, whether it be the public, employees or the general community.

More women should get involved in county government. Of the 87 counties in Minnesota, only 18% of county board members are women. Over the years, we have had three women commissioners. I think it is good to have a woman on our County Board to bring a different perspective. I enjoyed serving the people of Carlton County as an assessor and would like to serve again as your county commissioner.

What experience do you have that qualifies you for a position on the board?


Being the Carlton County assessor the last eight years of my employment, I have vast knowledge of how government works. I worked with budgets, taxes, levies, policies and spending. I know how they affect property taxes and have experience in how all of these items intertwine to make government work. I served on committees at the state level for the Minnesota Department of Revenue on special programs that affect our property taxes.

I have experience working with people from being a department head with the county, being a union steward and being involved with union negotiations, personnel issues (active in the hiring process of employees and discipline issues), working with township and city boards, working with Minnesota Department of Revenue and conducting informative meetings to the taxpayers concerning new programs governed by the state.

I have worked for years with the public sector including citizens, businesses, state agencies, other departments and the County Board with issues that concern them.

What do you believe are the two biggest issues facing the county right now? How do you believe they should be addressed and why?

Our jail, broadband internet and property taxes.

With the recent COVID outbreak, when Gov. Walz closed the schools, it left a lot of our students with no connection to the education system, relying on parents to do home schooling. Also, many employees were asked to work from home as their business or offices were closed and relied on the internet. Carlton County has been working on getting broadband internet for quite some time. We need to get this up and running now more than ever. If we want to continue to have our students distance learn and have employees work from home, our broadband internet should be a high priority for our county.

Our spending and property taxes go hand in hand. With continued increase in spending, property taxes will increase. We need to find a way to spend smarter and wiser without leaning on the taxpayers. With programs mandated by the state that result in loss of taxable value we need to find creative ways to cover that gap.

We need to look at resources we currently have within the county such as buildings and personnel and use those resources instead of looking to outside consultants at additional costs. We should have a contingency fund for tax court judgments or unplanned expenses. A fund would help with these types of matters.


As a County Board, we need to spend smarter and wiser. In doing this we increase our need for utilities, maintenance, insurance, upkeep and those buildings then are eliminated from the tax rolls, which in turn put more of the burden on our taxpayers.

What do you think of the county pursuing a regional offender program for female inmates and why?

This would be a good program to pursue, because there is only one facility locally that has any room for female offenders. There is obviously a need for such a program. Carlton County is already looking at building a new facility, why not incorporate this into the cost? The issue of female offenders will probably increase as time goes by, according to studies. Having the support of other local agencies, this would be a good time to pursue this.

What do you think is the best way for the county to move forward with the jail and why?

Our jail has been inadequate for quite some time and needs to be addressed. The jail has not had good marks during the past inspections and upgrades needed to be done several years ago.

The major hurdle is how to pay for such a large ticket item. Utilizing local option sales tax is probably the best solution. Working with the state Legislature to get the approval should be our number one objective. We need to research any type of grants to help with funding. This is an issue that needs to be addressed within a short period of time. If it comes to the point of having to close the jail due to inadequacy, it will cost Carlton County more to house our inmates out of county.

Candidate Gary Peterson

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Gary Peterson

Gary Peterson, 67, lives in Barnum. He has served on the board for eight years. Peterson retired as a social studies teacher and basketball coach in 2012. He continues to referee basketball in the winter and substitute teach in Moose Lake, Cromwell and Barnum.

Why are you running for county board?

I ran for commissioner out of a desire to be involved in my community. I want Carlton County to be a much better place when I leave office.

I want to make sure the tax dollars of our hard working citizens are being spent in a fiscally and socially responsible manner. Today that challenge, and my desire to meet it, is even greater with our current jail needs, broadband challenges, utility tax lawsuits and more, all under the shadow of COVID-19.

During my teaching career, I taught my students that citizen involvement is the foundation of our American democracy.

What experience do you have that qualifies you for a position on the board?

As a county commissioner, I already have a great understanding and knowledge of a wide variety of county topics. This includes criminal justice, human services, veterans issues, transportation, public health, public safety, zoning, property valuations and many others.

I was born and raised on a Carlton County farm where my parents instilled in me the value of hard work and treating others with respect.

My education in government, teaching, counseling, and coaching, together with my many years of work and life experiences have made me a thoughtful, compassionate and dedicated public servant.

As a recent retiree, I have enjoyed spending my time working and serving as a Carlton County Commissioner.

What do you believe are the two biggest issues facing the county right now? How do you believe they should be addressed and why?

I have always believed that property taxes are too high in Carlton County. We must continue to find a balance between providing excellent county services while holding the line on property taxes.

Carlton County does not have a huge tax base, so we must support existing businesses and encourage new developments. We are required (by the state of Minnesota) to deliver many mandated services, which are often under-funded or unfunded. We must control spending and be good stewards of county tax dollars.

As I travel around my district, I am keenly aware that there are many roads that need improvements. We need the state of Minnesota to pass a transportation bill to provide more money to upgrade our county aid roads. When I became commissioner, I was a big proponent of the sales tax to fund transportation projects not covered by our state aid money.

I pushed for these sales tax dollars, which are derived in part from out-of-county visitors and tourists, to be used to improve our many county roads in western Carlton County. We have made progress, but we still have much work to do.

I know from personal experience that we have a broadband problem. I work from home, and at times, it is frustrating and a struggle to complete my tasks. The pandemic has demonstrated our drastic need to improve broadband in the county. People working from home, people who use telemedicine, and our students need this to happen. We are working with the state Legislature, the governor, the Fond Du Lac Band and the federal government to explore every option and alternative to help fund these projects.

What do you think of the county pursuing a regional offender program for female inmates and why?

Pursuing a regional female offender program would be beneficial to female offenders from our county, especially since the number of local female offenders are increasing annually.

Second, the state of Minnesota has acknowledged that the level of programming for female offenders is not on par with programming for male offenders, even though equity is a statutory requirement. Therefore, they are willing to consider providing bonding dollars to Carlton County in the amount of $2 million or more to develop a viable female offender program. Moreover, this could end up being a revenue generator when other counties send their female offenders here.

Third, if we develop a regional female offender program, we will have a better chance to obtain legislative permission to pursue a local option sales tax to fund that program, which would be incorporated into any new jail space that might be built.

What do you think is the best way for the county to move forward with the jail and why?

The biggest challenge facing Carlton County today is what are we going to do with our jail. Jail projects are never popular. The board hired a professional consultant, Mike Griebel, to look at a half-dozen options for how the current jail might be replaced now that it is subject to a sunset letter from the Minnesota Department of Corrections. Mr. Griebel, in conjunction with the Jail Steering Committee, will prepare a number of recommendations for the board in the next few months which should provide a solid answer to this question.

Until those recommendations are received and the board is fully informed, it would be premature to suggest what might be the best jail solution, especially given the significance of the need.

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