Cloquet began a new era this week, when a new mayor took the oath of office. Dave Hallback replaced longtime mayor Bruce Ahlgren, who had presided over the city for the past 16 years.
Hallback, dressed in a suit and tie, took the gavel from Ward 4 Councilor Kerry Kolodge to run his first Cloquet City Council meeting Tuesday, after City Administrator Brian Fritsinger swore in three councilors - newly elected Jeff Rock and re-elected Roger Maki and David Bjerkness - and then the new mayor.
Hallback is no stranger to Cloquet. He was born and raised here by parents Donald and Shirley Hallback, and graduated from Cloquet High School in 1982. He studied law enforcement in Hibbing and found a job with the Cloquet Police Department after graduating.
He was a police officer for Cloquet from 1987 until he retired in May 2014.
Hallback said he thinks it takes a certain personality to be in public office, and it’s pretty similar to what is required of a police officer.
“You have to be a problem solver,” he said in a phone interview Monday evening. “I have a knack of dealing with people, getting things resolved and accomplished. And while I didn’t always have a lot of time when I was on call as a police officer, I will have time to consider both sides of the issues as mayor.”
A political newcomer, Hallback said he didn’t run for mayor because of any particular cause or issue. He wanted to be involved in the community and he certainly got that wish.
“I know from attending the meetings, I’ve got a really full plate,” he said.
Cloquet city staff, the mayor and councilors have been engaged for more than a year in debates over how to spend the rapidly accumulating funds from the local option sales tax approved by voters two years ago. As well, the city undertook and completed several studies over the past couple years, including a study of the police department, city facilities (including the police department), and local housing needs, including rental properties. Although some actions have been taken as a result of the studies, there is still a lot to be decided. Happily, the economy is turning around after the recession so cutting costs won’t be the big issue it was in many recent years.
New Ward 1 City Councilor Jeff Rock will also hit the ground running. Rock, a Cloquet High School graduate and a former hockey player turned coach and official, joined the Marine Corps when the Gulf War broke out and served for four years. Since his return to Cloquet, he has worked at Upper Lakes Food (12 years) and Sappi Fine Papers (almost eight years). He is also a union steward with United Steel Workers local 11-63.
Rock said his No. 1 reason for running was “the escalating crime problem.”
“While campaigning I asked the voters to be more vigilant and report suspicious activity,” Rock said. “We all need to be more proactive. We know our neighborhoods. We can tell if something is out of the ordinary. Now that I'm on the council I plan on supporting the police department as much as possible.”
A number of uniformed Cloquet police officers attended the swearing in ceremony Tuesday, as did numerous Hallback family members, among others.
To prepare for his new job, Hallback said he attended every City Council meeting since he was elected, plus other elected bodies including the Cloquet School Board and Carlton County Board of Commissioners. Rock said he’s been doing a lot of reading and research and attended every council meeting he could. Those he couldn’t attend, he watched on the CAT-7 YouTube channel. He also met with the police chief and the library director to tour their facilities and listen to some of their concerns.
On Friday, Hallback and Rock are headed to a conference for newly elected public officials in Minnesota.
“My goal is to get back to anyone who calls, emails or text messages me,” Hallback said.
Citizens who would like to contact Hallback may contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by cell phone at 218-391-8723.
Rock can be contacted via email at email@example.com.
Editor’s Note: Look for a cut-out list of contact information for City of Cloquet elected officials on Page A4 of this week’s Pine Journal.