Candidate Q&A: Barb Wyman, At Large Cloquet City Council candidate
Barb Wyman: I was on the City Council before, from 2009-2012, as the at-large councilor. Right after Erik Blesener and I were elected, the mayor and council passed an ordinance prohibiting city employees from holding public office as a condition of employment (city or county employees) Then the mayor went to his buddies at the League of Minnesota Cities and lobbied for the same law to be passed in April 2009 (?)
They can’t tell you that you can’t be elected because that’s a constitutional right, but as a condition of employment, they can do it. They argued it was conflict of interest.
My rebuttal is if you run in a small municipality or small county, the reason because you get involved because of an issue. That issue can always be turned back to you as a conflict of interest.
I don’t think it was a conflict. When I ran I told everyone I was a city employee it obviously wasn’t an issue because I was elected by huge majority.
Plus I’m now retired. I had every intention of running again. I think people that are involved in the inner workings of an organization are the best ones to come back and try to get things to change because they know what’s going on, they see things on a day-to-day basis.
Kind of cliche, I want to make a difference. But that is the reason.
The reason I ran the first time was the business park. The whole way it went down, from CDIC to city, 400 feet borders my property. I saw a couple people can make a big difference if they all get together and want things to change. … There are obviously things I think I can help with the city
I don’t like when people make decisions based on what they think the people want without going out and soliciting opinions and information from the public, I have always done that. People stop me in the store or on the street. I have always gotten a lot of feedback from people on what they want and what they think.What do you think are the two biggest issues facing the city of Cloquet? If elected, how would you work to resolve those?
Wyman: Obviously the divide we have in the town is huge and needs to be resolved somehow. The anti-police and pro-police is really disturbing. I think a lot of people are anti-police just to be anti-police -- they have no basis in fact. They don’t have any idea what really happened.
I’ve always supported police departments and will continue to do so. Just like I support any public safety. They’re the ones that help us when we need it, why would you not give them your support?
The next biggest issue is to fill the empty businesses we have. Change the economic development, make it easier and more friendly for people to come here and establish a business … I think the red tape they have to go through now is just ridiculous. There’s so much
There’s a lot I think we could streamline. Look at Lincoln Park in Duluth. Empty and run down a long time and now there’s a huge resurgence. Filling storefronts and fun places to stop.
We travel a lot. We love little towns you can go through, blocks of cool storefronts that you can walk by and stop in and look. Little cafes, shops, fudge factores, whatever. I think we could do that here in the West End for sure, and downtown too.
Economic development is huge. I’d like to find out why we spend tens of thousands of dollars on branding and marketing issues when supposedly we to have someone to do that. If we can make it simpler for businesses to come here and stay here, that would be huge.
Resolving those issues matter of looking at all the paperwork someone has to go through, figure out what we can get rid of and getting people on board willing to work with business owners than making it hard on them. I know someone who moved a business out of Cloquet, 20 employees, because of personality conflict. Know another developer who won’t work here because there’s too much red tape.What’s the best thing the city has done over the past year or two?
Wyman: The parks. Parks make people stop in a town and I think we can build off that. The city needs to do a better job of getting news out for half cent sales tax: a third for parks, a third for infrastructure, a third for Highway 33 development. The money for parks has been spent. Now onto other things.
I think is making Cloquet a more welcoming place to stop. Might seem foolish, but having flowers on light poles makes welcoming. Parks are huge. If we’re traveling and see a nice park, we stop. Being on the halfway point between cities and the North Shore and the Iron Range, we need welcoming places for people to stop and we need places for them to spend their money. Gordy’s is a given. But not much else. When this (old Chief Theater) was an antique store, they came here. Redoing parks has been huge. I’ve been on park commission since 2013 and I was on the Parks Task Force (for master plan).Name three character traits of yours that you think will make you a good public official.
Wyman: I’m really a good listener. People know they can talk to me
I’m very honest, some people have said blunt. I tell people what the real issue is.
I’m good at playing devil’s advocate. I have the bility to look at both sides of an issue, the good and bad.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? Why or why not?
Wyman: That’s really a loaded question. I was on the outside of the whole deal. I read the reports. The police study and the (Soldo) report. I know how the city hired Steve Stracek; they interviewed people all over the county and spent a lot of money on that. Something like $30,000? At the time I think it was probably the best and worst thing to do. I can see both sides.
I think Jeff did an excellent job as interim Police Chief. People need to remember he has a one-year probationary period (which ends in Oct), so if he’s not doing the right job he won’t keep it.
The process could have been done a little bit better. They could have gone through the usual application process and hired him; that would have answered a lot of questions.
But in hindsight, I think hiring him was a great thing to do. I know a lot of police officers, and I hear from others that they are doing a great job. Taking a lot of drugs off the streets. Doing a lot of community events: working hard to mend that bad PR they got. Do the chili feed, National Night Out, Fill the Squad for Christmas presents. I think they’re doing a great job and Jeff is a big part of that. Jeff’s personality is easy going, he encourages people to let him know if things are good or bad. I think hiring someone who came up through the ranks is always a good idea if they’re qualified.What do you see as the role of the mayor/city council?
Wyman: Obviously it’s to represent the people. I’ve heard from some councilors who say they were elected and they don’t have to go talk to the public because they’re representing them. I think that’s totally ridiculous.
You have to stay in contact with the public. If they’re not calling you, you need to solicit information. You need to be approachable, responsive, if someone calls you need to call back and find out what the issue is, good or bad, stay current on all events and do your research. A lot of people sit back and base all their information on staff report. That’s wrong. Do your own research and do as much as you can. I’m good at that, but that’s part of my engineering background. Asking questions and understand when something doesn’t seem right. Then do research and base your vote on what the public wants and what you think is the best for the city as a whole. I have voted for things not best for me, because what public wants.
The public needs to know sometimes they won’t get all the information because it’s a data privacy issue or something they won’t get and that’s a hard thing for public to realize. Sometimes they won’t get to know the whole story. I think city has done a good job of informing the public of everything they have a right to know.