CROSBY — In what was intended to be a debate Tuesday, Sept. 15, between those seeking to represent southern Crow Wing County on the county board, one of two candidates appeared while the other declined.

Arlene Jones, who recently announced a write-in candidacy for District 1, spent three minutes explaining her background and what she plans to do as a commissioner if elected. Incumbent Commissioner Paul Koering, who Jones is challenging, was invited to participate in the event sponsored by the Cuyuna Lakes Chamber of Commerce and the League of Women Voters of the Brainerd Lakes Area, but declined to attend.

Jones offered a small crowd in the John Spalj Arena at Crosby’s Hallett Community Center insight into her background as a 35-year resident of Crow Wing County. The owner of The Farm on St. Mathias in Crow Wing Township and executive director of local foods hub Sprout MN said the focus of her work is economic development for the area.

“It was an economic development strategy to keep our dollars circulating locally, keep our farmers on their land and keep that ag land in ag production,” Jones said. “It’s also been a vehicle for me to use food as a catalyst for social change, developing programs to work in the fields of mental health, addiction and recovery, with our veterans and with families who are food insecure, using food to help folks get to better health through the use of food, better health and better nutrition.”

Jones said she worked for the state of Minnesota for 23 years, ending her career as a management analyst. These skills helped her in developing her small business and in building effective systems, she said.

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The first-time candidate said with District 1 representing the largest agricultural area in the county, her work as a farmer means she’s connected to the community there. She said developing that community starts with ensuring those affected by decisions have the opportunity to participate.

RELATED: Jones to challenge Koering in write-in campaign

“In order to meet the needs of the entire community, you start with the poorest members of the community and you ensure that they have a place at the table, a voice in structure of the work, and that is community development,” Jones said. “I am running because I deeply care about my neighbors and my community. And I believe as well, as my supporters, that I have the work, moral and character ethics to lead effectively with respect and focus, even when there are disagreements.”

During a phone conversation last week, Koering said he feels the voters of District 1 know him by now after he’s represented the area for 16 years between his time on the county board and on the Minnesota Legislature as a state senator. During the call, Koering offered this as an explanation for declining to take part in the Brainerd Dispatch’s 2020 Voter’s Guide and said he wouldn’t attend the event in Crosby for the same reason.

“If they don’t know how I’m going to serve them for four more years, then I deserve to lose,” Koering said. “They know me, they know how I’m going to vote. I don’t think I need to prove anything to them.”

CHELSEY PERKINS may be reached at 218-855-5874 or chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at twitter.com/DispatchChelsey.