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Changing of the guard on Hennepin County Board
Star Tribune - 10/23/2020
Opinion editor’s note: The Star Tribune Editorial Board operates separately from the newsroom, and no news editors or reporters were involved in the endorsement process.
When Hennepin County Board candidates campaign, they’re often asked, “What does the board do?” That’s because these races are among the most low-profile of elections on November ballots, especially in presidential election years.
Yet county government touches the lives of nearly all residents and can be a leading force in shaping the region’s quality of life. From setting and collecting taxes to funding libraries, parks, transit, roads and social and sheriff’s department services, Hennepin County’s $2.5 billion budget makes it the state’s second-largest government entity. The county is home to 1.2 million people who live and work in 45 communities in urban, suburban and rural areas.
Those services and programs are managed by a seven-member elected board, and at least three of the four seats on the ballot Nov. 3 will be filled by new commissioners because veteran Commissioners Jan Callison, Jeff Johnson and Mike Opat did not run for re-election. They represented the county’s northern and western suburbs.
Their departures will leave only one board member with more than one term of experience. So the county needs leadership with expertise in executive management, budgeting, governance and social service delivery. And the board needs a good balance of political perspectives and professional backgrounds to best represent the full range of Hennepin County residents.
Those best positioned to meet those requirements are Jeffrey Lunde, Debbie Goettel, Chris LaTondresse and Danny Nadeau.
Lunde, 53, has been the mayor of Brooklyn Park since 2011 and has a reputation for working well with his diverse city -- including its growing African immigrant community. He has helped the city attract more jobs to the Hwy. 610 corridor and lower its crime rates. Lunde serves on boards or committees of the League of Minnesota Cities, the national Cities United, the Blue Line Now! group and is actively involved in the Obama Foundation’s My Brothers Keeper program. In addition to working on criminal justice and housing for the homeless, he would bring business and technology expertise to the board.
Running against Lunde is De’Vonna Pittman, 48, a small-business owner and 18-year county employee. She started as a board committee clerk but went on to manage the Sentencing to Service program, which decreased recidivism rates for the incarcerated, and she now serves as the county’s disparity reduction coordinator.
Pittman is well-versed in how county government works and has a bright future as an elected official. Both candidates are smart and well-informed, but we give the edge to Lunde in this race because of his more extensive of business, community and government experience.
Incumbent Goettel, 62, is a former mayor of Richfield and environmental engineer who first joined the board in 2017. She deserves to be re-elected. She is currently the County Board’s budget committee chair and help shepherd through a 2021 budget that is reduced by more than $40 million.
Goettel helped make the tough financial decisions to get Richfield through the 2008 recession and is aptly applying those same skills to county and regional issues. She rightly supports the county’s work to provide a continuum of housing services, probation reforms and expanding diversion programs to seek justice without establishing a criminal record for minor offenses.
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Goettel believes that county resources should be used for “upstream” preventive activities so that individuals and families won’t need some of the social services the county offers.
Challenging Goettel is Boni Njenga, 37, a policy analyst and consultant who lives in Bloomington. A first-time candidate, he would use “evidence-based policy leadership to curb wasteful spending” and improve accountability. His interest in serving is commendable, but he does not make a strong enough case to unseat the incumbent.
A native and resident of Hopkins who serves on the city’s school board, LaTondresse, 38, has spent his entire career in public service. He currently works with a Washington, D.C.-based group that advocates for educational equity and is helping lead his school district through the COVID-related fiscal and educational challenges.
LaTondresse served in the Obama administration at USAID, building public-private partnerships around global food security and winning bipartisan support for that mission -- experience that would serve the county well as it develops similar coalitions to deliver service. He understands the nonpartisan nature of county government and the need to build relationships that don’t necessarily have “red or blue’’ answers.
Also running for the District 6 seat is former Republican state Rep. Dario Anselmo, 58, of Edina. He has a varied career as an entrepreneur, business owner, civic leader and elected official, including operating the Fine Line music venue for 20 years. He is currently in commercial real estate and has worked on mental health advocacy and supporting nonprofits. Anselmo is a strong candidate, but LaTondresse wins the endorsement based on social service experience.
Nadeau, 55, is chief of staff to Commissioner Jeff Johnson. He has worked at several levels of government including township governance, state agencies and in research with the Minnesota House. A longtime resident of rural Rogers, he has a history of building relationships and using innovative ideas to get things done.
Nadeau has been immersed in county issues and would ask the tough questions about budgeting that need to be considered. He says he’s learned that good leaders listen and engage, guide and make decisions that find balance. Like his current boss, he is a good fit for a district that includes the county’s northern and westernmost areas.
Also in the District 7 race is Kevin Anderson, 39, of Maple Grove. He’s spent 20 years working in IT and is currently a technical project architect for Xcel Energy. He has served in leadership and volunteer positions in his community, church and school district. He says he grew up with a “service mind-set with a family that valued common-sense solutions to problems, taking care of our neighbors, and preserving the environment.”
Nadeau is the best choice in this race because of his range of experience and the perspective he would bring to the board.
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Though the Hennepin County Board is nonpartisan, Goettel and LaTondresse have endorsements from the DFL and a variety of unions. Lunde is an independent but previously ran for office as a Republican. Nadeau is a Republican.
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