Two four-year Oakdale City Council seats are up for grabs this November with five names on the ballot to choose from. Two are experienced dais members pursuing re-election. The other challengers – the current city treasurer, a known volunteer and small business owner, and a successful owner of a chain of extended care facilities – have hopes of guiding Oakdale for the next four years.
City event volunteer Ramona Howard feels she has the skills needed to help the city move forward through current economic conditions and is committed to helping the community. As a small business owner and manager for several years, Howard believes she can bring open dialogue to Oakdale and can talk with any person about concerns.
“I’ve seen some of these skills (of council members) lacking in a few years,” said Howard. “I’ve demonstrated by my work in the community I can work with anyone. It’s something that is really needed in that role.”
Howard said she would like to see the city get its budget under control and proposes more than a yearly review as one method for the council to stay on top of finances.
“It needs to be discussed all the time and broken down,” Howard said. “Citizens and the average person need to be able to understand it.”
Other budget concerns for Howard consist of not spending more than what is brought in and to stop the practice of taking funds from one account to pay for another account.
“We have to take control of our own destiny,” Howard said. “We can’t depend on the state to keep giving us money.”
Howard feels she is the one to bring the city together which is the key to recovery.
“We have to stop being a divided city and come together,” Howard said, “not only to make our city better, but to stop some of these problems.”
City Treasurer and 39-year resident J.R. McCarty has come out stating the city needs new direction and points to past problems of the sewer rate not properly funded, the morale effect of the outsourcing proposal, and the crime rate rise from cuts as errors from past councils.
“I’m the voice that represents the citizens of Oakdale,” said McCarty. “I feel my ideas will actually help Oakdale move forward. I’m not one to spin a question when asked.”
McCarty also stated that he will do what he promises and points to the issue of the treasurer reports when he assumed the treasurer position. The reports are now complete, timely, and ready once a month for council meetings. He said the same sense of duty would be portrayed on the council if elected.
One of McCarty’s priorities is to make the city more business friendly. He claims there are too many ordinances and hurdles for a prospective business owner to go through to open in Oakdale. He has seen the difficulties when a friend tried to open a store and his sister-in-law opened a salon in the city.
McCarty is against the privatization move of public works services.
“If we privatize (services), we’ll bankrupt the city,” said McCarty, who has said he’s seen cost overruns on treasurer reports as evidence why not to pursue outsourcing. “I cannot promote jobs, if I eliminate jobs in the city.”
Businessman Don Petersen believes he has unique qualities to contribute to the city with the financial difficulties it has been having. He owns Premier Care Assisted Living Centers, a company that generates $17 million in revenues and over 335 employees, and feels there is a parallel in overseeing both the budget and employees for Oakdale.
“Municipalities are now experiencing what private enterprise had to go through,” said Petersen about the city’s financial condition. “I don’t think the council is receiving quality information about its budget to properly guide them. They have to have accurate info, and that’s not happening especially going 16 months without treasurer reports during financial difficulties.”
Petersen also identifies faulty risk management decisions to properly insure the city that were not sound.
“To make a decision to go without liability insurance is extremely risky,” said Petersen regarding a 2010 audit. “Had I been on the council at that time, I would have suggested the city have some sort of general liability (insurance).”
Regarding privatization, Petersen commends the current council for looking at the possibility, but doubts the city would see any real savings in outsourcing.
The 10-year resident sees himself as a set of “fresh eyes” brought to the council if he is elected.
“It you total three of the candidates running, they have 28 years there,” said Petersen. “Someone from outside can bring different perspective and unity.”
Current councilman Tom Dunlop said the reason he is seeking re-election is that he still has more to offer and has ideas he would like to push through for the city’s betterment and long run.
Dunlop stated that he is the only agricultural person actually pursuing a council seat. (Dunlop acknowledged that 2-year council candidate Cherilyn Bairos comes from a dairy farm family but now works in insurance.)
“Agriculture is still the base of Oakdale economy,” said Dunlop. “It was the original reason I ran for council in 2004.”
Dunlop wants the city to harden its budget and hire a city manager, which he believes should already be in place by now, with experience that can work with the council and explain things piece by piece.
“We’re surrounded by consultants who are leading us without giving explanations,” said Dunlop.
As an experienced business person, Dunlop said he has a keen understanding of what it takes to successfully do business in the city. He proposed modifying fees to make the city more attractive for business.
“If we don’t adjust our fees now,” said Dunlop, “we’re going to be behind other cities in our area.”
Dunlop is backed by the Oakdale Firefighters Association and credits his ability to build a consensus between labor, the chiefs, and the policy makers on the fire consolidation from a few years ago.
The other councilperson pursuing re-election is Katherine Morgan, who said she wants to finish what she’s started and bring back Oakdale to financial stability.
“I’ve learned a lot from being on the council,” said Morgan about her last eight years of service. “I’m someone who can complete the tasks put in front of me.”
Morgan wants to see the city be more inviting in bringing business to Oakdale. She believes the small town friendly feel should permeate when prospective companies look at the city.
“We need to be prepared when business comes to us,” Morgan said. “We want our city to be a destination of good people, with good businesses and good employees. This will bring us a tax base to make things better.”
Morgan also believes a priority for the next council is to get a city manager on board as soon as possible.
Morgan was the lone dissenting vote for the city to look into privatization. She has stated she was not willing to trade the hard work and loyalty of current city employees for the risk of those from a private vendor.
Prior to being on the council, Morgan served on the Oakdale Parks and Recreation Commission from 1998 to the end of 2004, when she was elected to her first council term.
“I’ve continued to follow park and rec issues,” said Morgan. “The skate park coming to town is an example.”