Cloquet mayor, city council candidates tackle questions during forum

Candidates included Mayor Roger Maki and challenger David Bjerkness; Ward 1 Councilor Warren "Bun" Carlson and challenger Erik Blesener; and Ward 3 write-in candidates Peter Erickson and Iris Keller.

Cloquet mayor and city council candidates participate in a candidate forum at Cloquet City Hall on Tuesday, Oct. 25.
Dylan Sherman / Cloquet Pine Journal
We are part of The Trust Project.

CLOQUET — Three pairs of candidates — those running for mayor, Ward 1 and Ward 3 city council positions in Cloquet — answered questions about development, broadband and project labor agreements during a forum on Tuesday, Oct. 25.

The forum, hosted by the Cloquet Area Chamber of Commerce, featured Mayor Roger Maki and challenger David Bjerkness; candidates for Ward 1 city council, incumbent Warren "Bun" Carlson and Erik Blesener; and Ward 3 write-in candidates Peter Erickson and Iris Keller.


Roger Maki
Roger Maki
Contributed / Roger Maki

When asked about business development on the city's riverfront, candidates were in agreement it would be beneficial.

Carlson said he would like to keep the riverfront more natural and use the funds the city recently received for signage to promote local culture.

Maki agreed with Carlson about signage and said he wants the riverfront to be a destination for people and not economic development in terms of another mill.


Blesener said the city should develop it, but not for light industry. Instead, Blesener said he would like to see more recreational or tourist options like a cafe.

David Bjerkness
David Bjerkness
Contributed / David Bjerkness

"It is a great place to show off our town's beauty," he said.

Bjerkness said the riverfront should be visitor-focused and officials should think about what kinds of things visitors would like to see.

Keller said she would like to see a more kayak-friendly area or even a beach on the river. There really is only one easy spot for kayaks to currently enter the river, she said.

"We have some beautiful hidden spots along the river there," she said.

Erickson said he would be for all kinds of development, including housing, restaurants and hotels. One thing he noted was the area is tight and the city would have to figure out how to move people through it smoothly.

"We've got to find ways to make it more accessible and worth their time to stop," he said.


Broadband was another topic that candidates agreed was an issue, but they had slight differences on how they would approach it.


Warren "Bun" Carlson
Contributed / Warren "Bun" Carlson

Bjerkness commended the city on applying for and receiving grant funding to improve broadband in the community, but he hadded that the city needs to continue the work and be a partner with private carriers.

Erik Blesener
Erik Blesener
Contributed / Erik Blesener

"It's those kinds of services that make us attractive as a community if they are adequately provided," he said.

Maki agreed that it needs to be privately driven, but the city has a role to play in its development and can help.

"Things are moving rapidly and we need to keep up," he said.

Erickson said broadband is infrastructure and likened it to sewer or water lines.

"It is the responsibility of the city to provide services — broadband is a service," he said. "We as a city need to find a way to fund it, whether that be through tax dollars or grants, it is on us to figure it out."

The pandemic brought the issue to the forefront with people starting to work from home and children doing online schooling, Keller said.

"It made us aware with how necessary broadband is to our community," she said.


One problem is the private companies that can help are all busy until 2025, Carlson said.

Blesener said the city has a role, but not the exclusive responsibility on funding broadband.

He added that the school district really needs broadband improvement and a partnership between the city and district could be something to look into.

Labor topics

Candidates also answered a question about whether they support project labor agreements or prevailing wage.

Peter Erickson
Contributed / Peter Erickson

Maki said he was in support of the agreements, but sometimes there are court challenges that the city has to deal with.

"We want high-paying jobs doing the job," he said.

Iris Keller.
Dylan Sherman / Cloquet Pine Journal

Bjerkness was on the record years ago for not being in support of the agreements.

"I think what we need, as representatives of the taxpayer, is the best value," Bjerkness said.

Keller and Erickson said they understood both points on the topic and would want to get the best value and be the best stewards with the public's money.

Blesener will always look at the issue as carefully, but he said he would back the unions 99% of the time.

Carlson said the topic is a tough one, and the city council has voted for and against them in the past couple of years.

"I don't think anybody can knock the unions in this town, the unions have been phenomenal," he said.

However, he said the prevailing wage law is good, and any major job in the city is going to be a union job and require an agreement, as it would meet the current $175,000 project threshold.

The city of Carlton held a meeting to start the discussion on changes to the Carlton Ambulance Service and possibly increasing funding from the municipalities it serves.

Dylan covers the local governments of Cloquet and Carlton County, as well as the Esko and Wrenshall school boards for the Cloquet Pine Journal.
What To Read Next
As reported by Carlton County District Court.
Read the latest news in the Carlton County, Dontcha Know newsletter published every Friday.
You might see the great-great-granddaughter of John Beargrease collecting banners at Billy’s or at the big finish in Grand Portage.
The Forum Communications newspapers received accolades in the 2022 Better Newspaper Contest.