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Three file for Brainerd council

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Three candidates filed Tuesday for positions on the Brainerd City Council but no races developed on the first day of filing.

Filing first, at around 7:30 a.m., was Jeff Czeczok, Ward 3. He was followed by Chip Borkenhagen, at-large; and Sue Hilgart, Ward 1.

Positions that will be decided this November are Ward 1, Ward 3 and at-large. Incumbent Ward 1 council member Lucy Nesheim and incumbent Ward 3 council member Kevin Goedker have both said they won’t run for re-election. At-large council members Bob Olson and Mary Koep have not yet announced their intentions.

Czeczok is a council appointee to the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport Commission, a post he has served in since January. He formerly served for more than nine years, off and on, on the Brainerd Transit Advisory Committee. In addition, he said he has attended numerous meetings of such bodies as the Brainerd Economic Development Authority, the Brainerd Parks and Recreation Department and the Brainerd City Council and its main committees.

“I think I’m very qualified to serve on the council,” he said. “I’m very in tune with our local government. I’ve devoted my last 10 to 15 years to public service.”

Czeczok, 49, said that as someone who knows the council and staff members and the ins and outs of government he feels as if he’s been serving the public in a non-elected post for many years. Now, he said, he’d like to represent them with a vote and not just a voice.

“I’ve been a voice for people whether they agree with me or not,” he said.

The airport commissioner said he would like to see Brainerd become a destination by working with tourism, golfing and fishing entities. He said he’ll take a hard look at government restrictions which get in the way of business opportunities.

“I’m looking to be a well balanced individual on the council who will listen to both sides of the issue,” he said.

If elected he said he would seek to be the council’s liaison to the airport commission, a role currently served by the outgoing Goedker. He also could be reappointed to the commission if he fails to win the election.

Borkenhagen is the first candidate to file for one of two at-large posts. The 2008 Brainerd Citizen of the Year, Borkenhagen has lived in the Brainerd area since the early 1970s. He and his wife moved into the former site of the Lake Country Journal on the west side of the Mississippi River at Laurel Street in September.

He was the founder and publisher of the Lake Country Journal and was also involved in design, photography and writing. Other business experience includes time with Studio 2, Borkenhagen/Russell & Herder, Evergreen Press/Lake Country Journal, Riverplace Communication Arts/Riverplace Press. He has also worked for Universal Pensions/Printing, Bang Printing and Central Lakes College.

Borkenhagen, 65, and his wife of 32 years, Jean, are working on a book of the history of the lake country. They are the parents of three children, Erin, Luke and Jessie; and the grandparents of two, Max and Megan.

“I just love this community,” he said. “I’d like to learn more about it and come to determine ways I can be helpful to enhance it. I’m not a politician and I don’t pretend to know everything there is to know about the workings of government.”

In his first bid for elective office, he said he hopes people will vote for him based on his reputation as a community-minded citizen. He said he’s a proponent of keeping money in local businesses rather than sending it to big box corporate offices.

“I think we should celebrate our community more, have a little more positive interaction,” he said. “Downtown has come a long ways but with the Wal-Marts and Targets and Costco and what have you, it’s going to make an even steeper incline for small businesses.”

He said he’d like to see downtown develop a variety of shopping alternatives and more culture and arts activities. He also pledged to encourage and enhance bike riding in the community.

A U.S. Navy veteran, Borkenhagen attended Brainerd Community College and the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. His past and present community involvement includes Blandin Community Leadership Development, Brainerd Chamber Community Leadership Development, Crow Wing County Historical Society board member and chair, Crossing Arts Alliance board member and chair, Central Lakes College Advisory Board member, Paul Bunyan Festival board member, Crow Wing Food Cooperative board member, Paul Bunyan Trail Association board member and Happy Dancing Turtle board member.

Hilgart, 52, said she thought that Nesheim’s announcement that she would not run for re-election presented an opportunity for new people to step forward. The Ward 1 candidate has been a team leader with Rural Minnesota Concentrated Employment Program and site manager of the Brainerd WorkForce Center since 2005. She previously worked in human resource management in the public, private and nonprofit sectors for nearly 20 years.

“I’d like the city to do what they can for a more favorable business climate so we can have more jobs in the community — jobs that can support a family.” she said. “We have an abundance of employment in our region that isn’t necessarily employment of a permanent nature and pays benefits.”

Hilgart has served on the Brainerd Police and Fire Civil Service Commission, the Brainerd Transit Advisory Committee, the Coalition to End Poverty and other church and civic volunteer activities.

She lives in south Brainerd with her husband, Jeff, and daughter, Emma, a student at Central Lakes College.

MIKE O’ROURKE, associate editor, may be reached at 855-5860 or He may be followed at

Mike O'Rourke
Mike O'Rourke began his career at the Brainerd Dispatch in 1978 as a general assignment reporter. He was named city editor in 1981 and associate editor in 1999. He covers politics and writes features and editorials.
(218) 855-5860