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Write-in candidate running against mayor in Staples

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Write-in candidate running against mayor in Staples
Brainerd MN 506 James St. / PO Box 974 56401

Staples city residents will head to the polls Tuesday to fill the mayoral and three city council seats.

The city is the only municipality in the lakes area that will have a general election Tuesday.

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All four positions are uncontested, although a write-in candidate recently announced her intention to run for the mayoral seat.

Chris Etzler, Staples-Motley Community Education director, is finishing his second term as mayor of Staples and is seeking re-election to the two-year post.

Carrie Johnson, a part-time music teacher at Motley Staples Middle School, has announced her desire to run for mayor as a write-in candidate. Since she made the decision too late to get her name listed on the ballot, voters who wish to vote for Johnson will have to write her name correctly as a write-in candidate.

Council members Mike Isenberg, Kevin R. Jenkins and Mary Theurer are seeking re-election to the three open council seats.

Etzler, 42, said he’s seeking re-election to keep the momentum going with what he called the positive changes that have occurred in the city in recent years. This includes the $7.65 million overpass project that he’d like to see through to completion.

“We’ve tried to make improvements in our community and I want to keep the momentum going,” said Etzler. “We have to be ready for it when (the economy) turns around.”

Etzler has four children, ages 17-23, and is originally from Staples. He is a former high school teacher and served as transportation coordinator for St. Cloud Schools and also worked in Fargo before returning to Staples in 2003. He worked for Region 5 as a transportation planner before being named community education director in July 2010. Etzler was appointed to the city council in 2005 and ran for mayor in 2007.

“We have an awesome staff and city council right now,” Etzler said. “A really forward thinking, progressive city council and we as a group have put us in a position for the future. I look at our community five, six years ago and, honestly, who would have wanted to invest in our community? Lakewood Health System built its new facility and the highway move required us to update the old highway and we’ve made improvements to the downtown. And I’m proud to say we have a great facility in our city hall and library.”

Etzler said he doesn’t have a personal agenda.

“There’s no agenda. My agenda is to make this city something we can all be proud of,” Etzler explained. “I’m proud to call this home and I want to do what I can to try to make it better.”

Etzler said one of the issues that is of concern is the community center. He said the building is a major asset to the city but change is necessary.

“We’ve formed a group looking into how we can make that building viable again,” said Etzler. “Now it’s a drain, 17 percent of our tax levy is going to our community center. It’s an awesome facility, built in the early 70s, but the building needs some love.”

Etzler said the city receives about $15,000 in annual membership dues for the facility but cities like Perham, which has a more updated facility, receives about $400,000 in membership dues. He said the community center needs a new funding model and it’s a conversation that community members need to have.

Etzler said economic development is also a major issue. He said about $70 million has been spent in the last several years in the city in public investments. Then local businesses began investing back in the community with several remodeling projects. He said the third phase for the city needs to be attracting new money to the city.

“That’s got to be our focus, finding that and being poised and ready for the future,” Etzler explained, of new money invested in the community. “We’re in really good shape, our local businesses have done a fantastic job.”

Etzler, as mayor, also serves as president of the city economic development authority. He also is on the board for the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities and serves as chair of the organization’s Economic Development Committee. He is a board member for the Todd County Development Corp. and for Friendly Rider, the Wadena County transit system.

Johnson, 32, said she initially thought about running as mayor when she saw the posting about the vacancy but after finding out that no one was running against the current mayor, she felt she needed to throw her hat in the ring.

“My reason for running is that I feel there needs to be a voice for all people,” Johnson explained. “There are a lot of people in our community hurting because they don’t have someone who can speak for them.”

Johnson said one of her biggest goals as mayor is help combat poverty in the city.

While her husband, Dave, now works for Kinship Partners in Staples and she is a part-time music teacher, the couple and their young children were homeless for about eight months. Their son, now 4, was about 8 months old and they had just found out she was pregnant with their daughter when her husband lost his job, which included housing. She said their church, Lakewood Evangelical Free Church in Baxter, was a great support for them but it was a very stressful and emotional experience.

“We bounced from house to cabin to all these different places,” Johnson said. “I had a passion for people dealing with financial poverty way before, but I really saw the need and the lack of understanding that people have if they haven’t experienced it — and the emotional devastation. Being a college graduate, both my husband and I, totally educated and understanding how it works in society ... but you really have to be proactive and if you don’t have someone walking beside you through the process, it’s hard.”

Johnson has worked for more than 10 years in education and previously owned her own marketing business. She also served as treasurer of a townhome complex in the Twin Cities with an annual budget of more than $1 million. She said during her two-year term she hired contractors and was involved in working with the city on various street and sewer improvement projects.

For the last three years she’s served as a bookkeeper for a small occupational health consulting company. She also served on the Staples-Motley Early Childhood Coalition board, the Staples-Motley Poverty Coalition Committee and is involved with making meals for people struggling with chronic illness and the elderly. She is also a Kinship Partner mentor and volunteers with the Interfaith Hospitality Network. She is active in her church.

During the past year, Johnson has been attending Region 5 Development workgroup meetings in an attempt to try to find ways to increase the city’s chances of obtaining funding for projects and initiatives.

“I definitely don’t like to go to meetings just to go to meetings,” said Johnson. “I want to have a purpose and work to get it accomplished and find out the true needs of our community, not what it seems like they are. I don’t just suggest having a volunteer committee but will be part of that and leading that. I feel I can represent everyone, instead of just one or two people groups I’m a part of.”

Voting is open from noon to 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Staples Community Center.

JODIE TWEED may be reached at jodie.tweed@brainerddispatch.com or 855-5858.

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