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2022 Cloquet Mayoral race: Incumbent Maki faces challenge from Bjerkness

Finishing his first term as mayor, Roger Maki is running against David Bjerkness, who previously served on the Cloquet City Council.

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CLOQUET — Voters in the city of Cloquet will have a decision to make Nov. 8.

Incumbent Mayor Roger Maki is seeking reelection and is facing a challenge from David Bjerkness.

Here are the candidates' responses to a Cloquet Pine Journal questionnaire. The candidates are listed in alphabetical order. Their responses have been edited for style and grammar.

David Bjerkness

Age: 65

Family: Three children, five grandchildren.

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Occupation: Retired architect.

Community service involvement: Served on multiple Cloquet School District Facilities planning committees, Churchill School Parents in Education (PIE), Cloquet Planning Commission and Economic Development Authority.

Previous experience in elected office: Served 17 years as Cloquet Ward 2 City Councilor.

Why are you running for office?

David Bjerkness
David Bjerkness
Contributed / David Bjerkness

We enjoy a quality of life in Cloquet that many take for granted. It requires strong leadership to sustain our quality of life and for residents and businesses to prosper and grow. I have the business and political experience to provide the leadership required to make that happen with 17 years city council and economic development experience, as well as 30 years as an architect, partner and board member in a large architectural and engineering firm. As an architect, I’m a professional problem solver, listener and consensus builder.

I’m retired and can be a fully engaged mayor, always available to meet and work with residents, businesses and our political partners to resolve challenges.

The key to our future success — proven, experienced leadership

What are the big challenges you see facing the community?

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Responsible Fiscal Management — Carlton County has the highest property taxes of all northern Minnesota counties. The city of Cloquet has passed a 2023 preliminary tax rate increase of 6.5%; the school district, county and fire district are considering similar increases. Preliminary budget forecasts indicate similar or larger increases for the city of Cloquet in coming years.

My concern is property owner tolerance to these increases. At what point do we begin losing residents and businesses because they can no longer afford to live here, moving to locations with more favorable property tax rates?

Housing Shortage — The workforce of a thriving economy requires adequate and affordable housing. Cloquet struggles with the challenge of a housing shortage, this includes homes for first-time home buyers, step-up buyers, executive homes, as well as market rate and subsidized rentals. We aren’t unique — it’s a statewide and national problem — but solutions need to be driven locally.

Job Growth/Job Retention — For generations, we have been fortunate to have large employers that we rely on as our economic drivers. They employ the majority of our residents with stable, good-paying jobs. They have made significant capital investments. We have a strong service and hospitality sector to serve our large industries and residents.

I have a couple of concerns. First, is our reliance on our large industrial employers in a global and unpredictable economy. What would happen if the demand for paper, pulp or building products should diminish or foreign competitors became a more attractive option in the U.S. market? Are we diversified enough?

Additionally, we are challenged in our ability to provide a workforce trained in the required technical trades to sustain our employer’s needs and to fill the demand for unskilled labor in our service industries.

If elected, how would you work to address those issues?

Responsible Fiscal Management — During my tenure as a city councilor, I took a conservative approach to spending. We need to start by focusing budget development on the basic services that are essential to the health, safety and welfare of Cloquet residents. From there we can focus on larger picture expenditures.

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The strategic goals and action plan for the community have not been revisited since 2015, this needs to be addressed. How do you budget and plan for a future that doesn’t have a road map? Long term planning for capital improvements, based on our vision for the future, is critical to sound fiscal planning and management.

There was very little council discussion surrounding the 2023 budget. No serious questions, no challenges and no push back — where was the mayor?

Job Growth/Job Retention — We need a mayor willing to put in the time and effort to build relationships with businesses, not ignore them. If we don’t understand their challenges or plans for the future we can’t be in a position to anticipate, prepare and assist them. To engage the public and private resources necessary to assure their success. We can’t assume they will always be there — Jarden Brands is a painful example of the challenges faced when a business is lost.

Housing Shortage — We have made strides with some innovative projects and partnerships but the gap still exists. We need to continue to seek collaborative opportunities and funding with our state, county, tribal and private partners.

We need to review our land development policies, codes and strategies to assure we are not hindering any opportunities and encouraging higher density development in rural areas. Land availability served by utilities is a hurdle, we need to update the comprehensive plan and capital plan to accelerate these extensions.

What successes do you hope to build on, if elected?

Neighborhood safety and crime reduction are important. The police department has undergone significant change due to new leadership and the retirements of our most experienced officers. This change has been well planned and managed. Unlike most cities, we have remained fully staffed and seen a reduction in crime during what was a challenging time. I support funding continued training of our young officers and focusing on community policing and public engagement. The following will contribute to continued success.

Know Your Neighbors — This is up to us as individuals and increasingly challenging. Today, neighborhoods are dynamic, they are always changing. People are much more mobile, moving frequently. It’s difficult to develop relationships and look out for one another. With a little effort, we can get to know our neighbors, respect our differences and agree that our mutual safety is important.

Engage with Law Enforcement — I’m an advocate of a strong community policing program where law enforcement officers regularly interact with the public and neighborhoods to understand our concerns. This communication develops trust and helps to reduce our safety concerns. Events like National Night Out and other community engagement efforts also contribute to our sense of safety and well-being.

Monitor and Patrol — Visibility is important. A patrol car driving through your neighborhood on a regular basis reduces crime and raises your feeling of security. I would encourage the continuance of these escalated patrol efforts.

Roger Maki

Age: 73

Family: Married with three children and four grandchildren.

Occupation: Realtor with RE/MAX Cloquet (52+ years in the business) and mayor for the city of Cloquet.

Roger Maki
Roger Maki
Contributed / Roger Maki

Community Service Involvement: Junior bowling instructor (11 Yrs.), youth basketball coach (9 years), former member of Kiwanis Club, former member of Rotary Club, former member of Salvation Army Advisory Board.

Previous experience in elected office: I served two terms of four years each as the Cloquet Ward 3 Councilor, and I have almost completed four years as mayor.

Why are you running for office?

I have been interested in politics for as long as I can remember, and I have a Bachelor of Science degree from UMD in social science/political science. I am running because I believe in public service and I want to continue to serve as mayor of Cloquet. It is a challenging and rewarding position.

I ran for mayor in 2018 because the previous mayor and some councilors made some bad decisions, which resulted in Cloquet being in the news a lot, and not for good reasons. I promised that, if elected, I would change the culture of the mayor’s position to restore the trust in our government which had been lost and to bring more transparency for the public. I am proud that I have been able to make good on that promise, with help from our new City Council and our hard working staff. Most of these accomplishments came during the pandemic, when we have all needed to make adjustments to stay healthy and to recover rapidly if we got COVID-19.

What are the big challenges you see facing the community?

I believe that our biggest challenges are in the areas of public safety, housing and community development.

Our police force has changed greatly in the past four years. We chose a new chief of police, a long-time member of our force, but after a thorough search around the country. Our chief is working very hard to improve the image of the police in our community and to upgrade equipment as needed to be modern and to properly handle all calls for service. I feel much better now than I did four years ago about the quality of that department.

We, like most communities, lack the housing that would meet the demands of the marketplace. We could use many more units (apartments, condos and rental homes) than we currently have available. We need market-rate, as well as subsidized units. There have been people who have turned down good jobs, such as at Sappi Fine Papers, because they could not find suitable housing. The lack of good rental housing is causing some homeowners, many of them being senior citizens, to stay in their homes when they would like to downsize. This has caused a lack of homes for sale in the community also.

While we have made good progress in attracting new businesses to Cloquet, it continues to be a big challenge. The pandemic has caused some businesses not to expand to new areas as they have been working to get by through these times. Cloquet is a regional center for the people of Carlton County, for shopping and health care. More businesses would bring more people to Cloquet, so we need to continue to work hard to recruit new businesses and support our existing businesses.

If elected how would you work to address those issues?

If re-elected, I will continue to work with the City Council to improve our police force. Great strides have been made in that department, but there is always room for improvement. Spending more time in neighborhoods, listening to the concerns of those residents and taking every action that we can to solve the problems that exist are my goals. Of course, we need to use any tool available to battle the continuing problem of illegal drugs. I think that we should also see what policies are working in other cities to see whether they might be helpful for our city.

In regards to housing, we have been working hard to assist developers by giving them tax breaks and to aid in any way that we can with financing. Our assistance can make the difference in whether a project is built or not. The biggest difficulty we are facing is that there is not a lot of land available for new housing. I want to think outside the box to come up with more opportunities for developers.

Perhaps we should take a serious look at using some of the land in our business park as a possibility for multi-family construction. That property has city water and sewer available, which is a big advantage over working with wells and septic systems. There is some privately-owned land near the business park that could work, as it also has city utilities.

Regarding commercial development, we also need to be creative and always looking for opportunities.

Persistence pays, so we should never give up. Results come one step at a time.

What successes do you hope to build on, if elected?

In the past four years, we have succeeded in returning civility to our relationships between the mayor and the city councilors. We can agree to disagree sometimes, accept that the majority rules and move on without lingering bitterness. We all want to have a well-run city, but sometimes our ideas or opinions about accomplishing that will differ. That is human nature.

We are fortunate to have a city administrator who is experienced and energetic. He has been with us for about two and one-half years. If I am re-elected, I will always strive to have a very good relationship with the city administrator. I will not have to start from scratch on that because of the time I have worked with him already.

I am proud of all that we have been able to do during my time as mayor. We have excellent people who work for the city. Our department heads have lots of experience and are good at managing their areas of expertise.

I see a bright future for Cloquet!

Our newsroom occasionally reports stories under a byline of "staff." Often, the "staff" byline is used when rewriting basic news briefs that originate from official sources, such as a city press release about a road closure, and which require little or no reporting. At times, this byline is used when a news story includes numerous authors or when the story is formed by aggregating previously reported news from various sources. If outside sources are used, it is noted within the story.
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