South St. Paul council candidates discuss development and city finances

Of the three council seats up for election in South St. Paul, two of them are wide open as their incumbents are not running for re-election.

Tom Seaberg is the only current council candidate running for re-election. The rest of the candidates are Bernie Beermann, Isaac Contreras, Sharon Dewey, Joe Kaliszewski and Joanne Rothecker-Woods.

The Review asked the candidates via email why there are running, what skills and experiences they will bring to the office, what they believe to be the top challenges the city faces, and what issues or projects they would prioritize if elected.

 

Bernie Beermann, 79, is a retiree who graduated from South St. Paul High School in 1956 and attended the University of Minnesota for engineering for three years. He said he spent eight years on the city council in Inver Grove Heights and six years on the “District Council of the City of South St. Paul.” 

He was the owner and operator of a rubbish and recycling company for 29 years, worked as a grief counselor for two years, and served on the board of directors for the St. Paul and Suburban Refuse Removal Association and the National Association.

Beermann said in 1965, when Inver Grove Heights was a newly formed village, he attended a meeting and found himself to be the only one in attendance.

“I was struck with the realization that very few people were willing or able to be involved with city government,” he said, adding that is when he decided to become involved with local government, staying involved ever since.

He said public safety has been the primary challenge for the city and will continue to be so. He added the city commits close to $7 million, almost 40 percent of the budget, for “making sure that the people of South St. Paul and their guests can feel safe 24/7.”

Another challenge is maintaining the community so it’s attractive to new business while still being supportive of existing businesses.

Beermann said much has been said about updating the library. He said the building on the corner of Third and Marie, which is for sale, should be acquired, and turned into additional parking for the library. The vacant building on 10th and Southview should be converted into a community center, he added.

 

Isaac Contreras, 45, is married to Bridget and is a realtor for Keller Williams Realty. He graduated from Humboldt High School in St. Paul.

Contreras said if elected, the skills he would bring to the council include leadership, problem solving, teamwork and communication.

He said the city is on the verge of becoming a destination in the southeast metro, versus a thruway. He added he has been engaged in the community since his return from the U.S. Navy, including through a variety of volunteer posts such as being a founding member of the St. Paul Police Foundation and serving on the St. Paul Capital Improvement Budget Committee. He is currently on the South St. Paul Planning Commission and the Dakota County Sheriff’s Citizens Advisory Council.

“I believe I can have the impact to continue the great work that has already been started and help stop playing catch up,” Contreras said.

He said additional support for appropriate public safety personnel and equipment is a challenge facing the city. When it comes to economic development, Contreras said “with the opportunity that presents itself from the reconstruction of the Concord Corridor, we are ‘on the verge’ of shedding the cow town image and being able to use words from 10-year-old planning documents like ‘rediscover’ and ‘renaissance.’”

He added the housing inventory in town is stunting growth, and developers need to be found to provide quality options for current and potential new residents.

If elected, Contreras said he would prioritize economic development. 

“It’s going to be critical that we prepare for and take advantage of the visible changes in landscape we are seeing over the next few years,” Contreras said, adding that multiplying efforts like the ones already seen around the city will help grow the tax base.

 

Sharon Dewey, 53, is married to Arthur and is a self-employed consultant. She has a bachelor’s of science degree in business administration. 

Dewey said she has almost 10 years of experience with the U.S. Small Business Administration, and is employed by local government as a self-governance and special projects coordinator. She has a certificate from the University of Minnesota-Duluth in an administration and governance course as well as a certificate from the National Drug Court Institute on planning initiatives for wellness courts. Dewey is an alumna of a Bush Foundation program for leadership development.

Dewey said in high school she campaigned for Marilyn Lantry, the former state senator, who became a role model and inspiration to her. Before graduating, she participated in programs designed to expose youth to the Legislature. 

“Serving versus governing remained apparent. Although I had a heart for serving, I knew I had to be asked to run,” Dewey said. ”I was asked, on many levels — and I answered the call.”

Dewey said the managed growth and development of the community is a challenge, adding growth is expected in the industrial area and along Concord. However, she said, “we want to keep that small town feel in our residential neighborhoods and preserve our history — we are the South St. Paul Packers.” Dewey said before additional residential buildings are made, the comfortable level of population density needs to be known.

If elected, she said she would prioritize managing construction projects appropriately and with quality in mind, and data analytics would be useful in creating a strategy for looking at crime in the city.  

“I cannot make campaign promises that cost money without also sharing where the money is coming from (increasing taxes or cutting programs). That is a process that requires careful planning,” she said.

 

Joe Kaliszewski, 61, is married to Anita and is a high school biology teacher at the Minnesota Math and Science Academy. He has a bachelor of science degree in agriculture from the University of Minnesota and a teaching licensure from the College of St. Scholastica. He previously served on the council from 1989 to 1997.

Kaliszewski said he is running for the council because he feels now is the time for new leadership in the city. 

“I want to help lead our city into a new era of stricter rental licensure requirements, hold engineering firms and contractors to stricter guidelines regarding large-scale projects, reduce odors from our local industries, and crack down on drug dealers and drug houses,” he said.

Kaliszewski added citizens choose to live in the city because it is a safe community, and thanks to excellent fire and police departments, that level of security can be maintained. 

He said as the city ages and populations change, there needs to be a watchful eye for signs of decay in socioeconomic status.  

“Housing becomes easier to obtain in our present financial institutions, and I hope we do not live through another recession where hard-working residents are forced to sell or face foreclosure on their hard-earned, well-kept housing stock. Small business retention is another challenge for our town,” Kaliszewski said. “While we can remember what used to be here or there in the buildings, new faces are needed to accommodate our population.”

Kaliszewski raised the question of whether parking and street redesigns are needed.

“Let’s keep our services up to the present excellent jobs they do, and let’s think of creative ways to change or add to or eliminate the way we do business, both internal and externally,” he said.

 

Tom Seaberg, 55, has been on the council since 1987. He is married to Jamie and works as a hotel and convention sales manager for Treasure Island Resort and Casino. He graduated from Brown Institute with a degree in radio/T.V. broadcasting. 

He said his skills include being a good listener, a team player, doing his research and homework on issues and being responsible and caring.

“I am running because I care deeply about the community of South St. Paul. I want to continue to help move our community forward and work together with all of the people that live and work in South St. Paul to make our community a great place to live, work and play,” he said.

Seaberg said the top challenges facing the city are retaining and supporting the businesses in town. He said the city and council must continue to attract new development and support redevelopment opportunities. In addition, the council must work together to provide core services at an affordable level to all citizens and businesses, and provide a safe environment by supporting public safety team members.

“The issue I will prioritize is to continue our efforts to keep our citizens and businesses informed and to listen to all of our citizens, so that we can represent everyone in South St. Paul,” Seaberg said.

 

Joanne Rothecker-Woods, 47, works for the South St. Paul School District. She is married to Preston and has a liberal arts degree from Inver Hills Community College. 

Rothecker-Woods said the skills she would bring to the council if elected include leadership, consensus building, patience, insights into issues and working in and with a diverse population. 

“I am running to take an active role in the continued growth of new businesses, homes and opportunities for the community. In the past few years, many new businesses have chosen South St. Paul to be their home,” Rothecker-Woods said, adding this is a trend she would like to see continue. 

She said strong economic development will make for a stronger city budget that will allow for additional programming and assets for the community.

The challenges facing the city are taxes and a workable budget, Rothecker-Woods said. She said a strong tax base, building on economic development, will benefit both residents and businesses.

“As a city council, we need to continue to support and invite new businesses and opportunities to build the tax base, which will allow for more programming including youth, police and code enforcement,” Rothecker-Woods said. 

She added if elected, taxes and the budget would be her No. 1 priorities to “make sure it is balanced, affordable for the residents and business, and that there is no frivolous spending.”

“I will strongly support a strong economic development plan for South St. Paul, bringing in additional taxes, making South St. Paul budget-stronger and a great place to live, learn, work and play,” Rothecker-Woods said.

 

Election Day is Nov. 6. To find your polling place visit www.pollfinder.sos.state.mn.us.

 

– Hannah Burlingame can be reached at 651-748-7824 or hburlingame@lillienews.com

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