New Brighton city council candidates weigh in on issues

Five candidates are preparing for the Nov. 5 city council election in New Brighton.

Incumbents Char Samuelson and Gina Bauman and three other candidates are vying for two open council seats.

Longtime New Brighton resident and councilmember Char Samuelson was first elected to serve on the city council in 1994 and served two consecutive terms. She then served back-to-back terms in the Minnesota House of Representatives, a republican representing the communities of New Brighton, Arden Hills and Shoreview from 2003-2007. 

Samuelson had a lengthy career in health care and served on several health care-related committees while in the state legislature. She did not run for a third term in the house, and was reelected to the city council in 2009.

Samuelson, who has lived in New Brighton since 1987, said she decided to run again this year because she enjoys the connection with New Brighton citizens.  Beside serving on the council,

Samuelson said she likes working with church groups and several civic organizations in the community, such as the Rotary Club, Lion’s Club and the Eagles Club, which she said are all contributing to do great things in the city.

The councilwoman said part of her motivation to rerun was also due to her desire to see redevelopment in the New Brighton Exchange site come to fruition.

“It’s an exciting time to be on the council,” she said.

Councilmember Gina Bauman is also seeking reelection to the council. Bauman was first elected to serve on the five-member council in 2006.

Like Samuelson, Bauman wants to see the city’s work to promote growth in the New Brighton Exchange come to fruition.

She said she is excited about the APi Group’s expansion on the property, as well as Pulte Homes, which will be building 34 town homes and 86 single-family homes in the Exchange starting in 2014.

“I think it’s a great mix of housing. It will add to our tax base and help our schools and each other entity in the city,” she said.

Bauman said it is important to always look at things from a taxpayer’s standpoint.

The longtime New Brighton resident said she has always advocated for keeping property taxes low and has been instrumental in approving zero percent property tax levies for the last four years.

She said she made a flat out motion at the council’s Tuesday, Sept. 10 meeting to give back the $493,000 in Local Government Aid the city will receive in 2014. That motion was seconded and approved during preliminary budget discussions at the meeting.

“I’m pretty proud of what happened on Tuesday,” Bauman said. “The city’s [portion of the] property tax levy for 2014 could be a decrease of as much as six to seven percent from 2013.”

The councilmember said it is very important to have people on the council who know budgeting and finance, which she has a background in.

“I think I can stand on my record of making a difference in New Brighton,” she said.

Three new candidates seek spots on council

Mary Kunesh-Podein has been a commissioner on New Brighton’s Park Recreation and Environmental Commission for two years and wants the opportunity to work in municipal government. She sees the move to city council as a natural progression.

“I’ve grown up in a very civil-minded family,” she said.

Her father is a former St. Cloud City Attorney and was the Assistant County Attorney for Stearns County.

“My parents taught us a lot of empathy… when folks need help, you help them,” Kunesh-Podein said.

Kunesh-Podein was a public school teacher for more than 16 years. She and her husband Tim have lived in the city for over 14 years and have a blended family of six children. The first-time city council candidate grew up in a family with 13 children.

“I come from a large family where we learned early how to work together,” she explained. “We all had our different beliefs and political views in our family. When issues and problems arise, I’m not one to say no right away. I like to look at all sides of an issue.”

Kunesh-Podein said she believes overall the city is in good shape, but that she sees room for improvement.

“It’s time to start thinking and collaborating more with other communities and look to develop opportunities to maximize our potential,” she said. “I think it would be great to work with neighboring communities like Arden Hills, Shoreview and Roseville to plan together for our future.”

Brian Strub is another first-time city council candidate. He said he is one of the only candidates running with small children in local school districts.

“As I look to the future of New Brighton, I think it’s important to have the voices of young families represented in the city.”

Strub has served on the Mounds View Public Schools Education Foundation since 2008, and was the Board’s president for the past two years, until July.  The Education Foundation works to raise funds for Mounds View Schools.

Strub said he would bring energy, ideas and results to the council. He believes New Brighton’s greatest assets are its people and location.

“Do you know how many cities wish they had a location like New Brighton, next to two major freeways and in close proximity to two major cities?” he exclaimed. “I don’t know what our vision is to support those assets. I don’t see the vision. I would like to help create a new vision for New Brighton.”

Strub said he would like to see increased collaboration between the city and existing businesses and community members to find ways to expand businesses, bring new businesses in and maintain and grow them.

“We need to do more to maximize our city’s potentia,” Strub said. “We need to look at how we can help existing businesses expand and flourish… collectively we can come up with some great solutions.”

Graeme Allen is also hoping to get the chance to serve New Brighton on the council starting in January. Like Strub, Allen also volunteered on the Mounds View Public Schools Education Foundation for several years. He also volunteered for Minnesotans United for all Families, a group that campaigned in favor of the marriage equality bill that passed this past legislative session.

Allen first ran for city council four years ago, and said he is running again to add a new voice and fresh perspective to the issues that face the city.

He said the city needs a leader like him, who is willing to not just push the status quo, but broaden the conversation of what the city wants, not just three to five years from now, but 30 years from now.

“I’ve heard from folks in New Brighton who want stronger leaders and more outreach in the community,” he said.

He said he believes the next council will have to have the ability to focus and reevaluate options for redevelopment in the New Brighton Exchange and old Highway 8 corridor to improve the city’s tax base.

Allen would also like to see increased citizen input on key issues facing the city.

“I would like to create more opportunities for residents to help give input on what they would like to see in the city, what kinds of development,” Allen said. “There’s a lot of folks interested in getting involved in this city that need more opportunities,” he said.

Joshua Nielsen can be reached at jnielsen@lillienews.com or 651-748-7824.

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