Candidates speak out at Minot forum

Mayoral candidate Chuck Barney and his newly announced challenger, Kevin Mehrer, shared their campaign messages Tuesday at a candidate forum sponsored by the Minot Kiwanis.

The forum featured park board, school board and city council candidates who are running in contested races. The election is June 10. Early voting began Monday and runs through Thursday in the Ward County Courthouse from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Mehrer, who recently declared his write-in candidacy, addressed his late entry into the race by noting the importance of having ballot choices.

“Competition is a good thing. Competition creates a better product,” he said. “I am running today to create a better product for those in Minot.”

He thanked Barney for his past service to the city but noted that to address the issues facing Minot will require an effort of not one person or even a group of people but of everyone working together.

His priority issues are proactive leadership and taking advantage of existing flood control measures while building upon those to protect Minot in the future.

Barney stressed his experience, having served in leadership positions during his 12 years on the city council. He did not seek re-election to the council in 2010.

“Flood recovery absolutely is the number one issue for the city right now,” he said. Managing city growth and maintaining a quality of life also rank high on his list.

Barney added that he wants to bring frugality to government but also realizes the demands are greater on a city that has increased five times in physical size, particularly when it comes to providing and maintaining infrastructure. He said the city needs to persuade state lawmakers to take another look at oil money distribution to ensure local communities have the resources they need to address growth.

School board incumbents Laura Mihalick and Steve Velk spoke of the advances being made within the district to address a growing student population, including a new elementary school being built with voter passage of a bond issue.

“We are a topnotch education system,” said Mihalick, who has served six years on the board. “I just want to continue being a part of this board and to see the completion of the exciting progress that we have going on in our school system.”

Velk, who has served two years on the board, said the district and community are nearing the point where they can put flood recovery behind them.

“We are just about there. We are getting so close. I know there’s work to be done yet. There’s issues to be dealt with yet, and that’s what we are doing,” he said.

Lachelle Smith and Chris Baker are challenging Mihalick and Velk for the four-year terms on the board.

Smith said it is important to her as a parent to get involved. She brings experience in business and as a social worker who has worked with youth.

She said the public education system is doing a good job but she particularly wants to be involved in easing over-crowding in the schools, ensuring healthy snack choices and establishing safer drop-off and pick-up at elementary schools.

Smith said she prefers local to federal involvement in education.

“It’s best that we solve our local problems on a local level,” she said.

Baker voiced concern about various components of Common Core. One concern is the establishment of a database on each student, which could be hacked into by those who might harm children.

She said Common Core standards aren’t tougher than existing standards, just different. They stifle good teachers while failing to challenge students, she said. She suggested more input from parents and non-teaching professionals in developing curriculums and supported testing twice a year once for students and once for teachers. Teachers should be graded to determine raises, bonuses and job retention, she said.

Baker said the school district is growing, but the board needs to be careful.

“The base could close. It’s happened elsewhere. The oil field could be laid fallow. It’s happened before. We should prepare financially for either or both of those possibilities,” she said.

Baker supported more high school facilities but not necessarily a new school. She suggested budgeting less for sports and more for bolstering education in math, science, foreign language and practical career skills.

Also speaking at the forum were Ward 5 council candidates Scott Knudsvig and Miranda Schuler and Ward 1 council candidates Dave Lehner and Bob Timm. Voters will choose one candidate in each ward for four-year terms on the council.

Park board candidates represented at the forum were incumbents Connie Feist and Richard Sabol and newcomers Charles Emery and Nancy Beck. Three positions will be filled by voters.