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St. Croix County Board: Candidate profiles

Chris Babbitt 1 / 13
Laurie Bergen 2 / 13
Tom Coulter 3 / 13
Kim Dagastino 4 / 13
Dan Hansen 5 / 13
Ron Kiesler 6 / 13
Carah Koch 7 / 13
Bob Long 8 / 13
Scott Nelson 9 / 13
Howard Novotny 10 / 13
Rick Ottino 11 / 13
John Struemke 12 / 13
Casey Swetlik 13 / 13

When they go to the polls Tuesday, April 5, voters in seven of St. Croix County’s 19 supervisory districts will see contests for seats on the county board.

In another area, District 4 (Ward 1 of the town of Hudson and Wards 1-6 of North Hudson), the incumbent failed to meet the requirements for ballot access and has registered as a write-in candidate.

The other 11 districts have only one candidate on the ballot.

The candidates for the contested seats were asked to provide basic information about themselves and to answer one question: What are your reasons and/or qualifications for wanting to serve on the County Board?

Printed below are their responses.

District 3

Christopher C. Babbitt

Age: 59

Address: 1221 County Road I, Hudson

Occupation: Licensed clinical psychologist

Family: Wife Peggy L. Audley, daughter Tess A. Babbitt

Prior elected office: St. Croix County Board for last two years

Civic involvement: My involvement in organizations has primarily been, and continues to be, through my professional life. Member of the Wisconsin Psychological Association (WPA), the National Association of Professional Psychology Providers (NAPPP) and the National Register of Health Service Providers in Psychology; past chairman of the St. Croix Valley Sexual Assault Response Team (SART); Executive Board of Success By Six (SB6), a United Way organization.

Reasons/qualifications: I’m excited to be running for reelection to the St. Croix County Board. The knowledge I’ve gained over the last two years will help me continue to move the county forward.

As chairman of the Health and Human Services Board, a subcommittee of the full board, I’ve helped oversee the building of the new nursing home complex; on the Public Protection Committee we’ve updated the 911 system and improved Government Center security.

I’ve enjoyed my time on the board and feel I can contribute to making sure the citizens of this county are well served.

Kimbraly Dagastino

Age: 46

Address: 980 Labarge Road, Hudson

Occupation: Self employed

Family: Husband Troy Dagastino, children Michael and Katie, grandson Hunter

Reasons/qualifications: I have been a resident of St. Croix County since 1999. I am a first-time candidate for the St. Croix County Board. I believe that St Croix County needs a new face and perspective.

I am bringing with me an understanding of keeping within a budget. I listen well and communicate openly. I will offer practical approaches with an optimistic outlook.

As I stated I am a first-time candidate and making the decision to run was heartfelt and important to me.

District 4

Howard Novotny

Age: 62

Address: 730 Woodcrest Drive North, Hudson

Occupation: 38 years International Technical Service with 3M

Family: Wife Karen Novotny, daughters Jessica, Becky and Kerry

Prior elected office: St. Croix County supervisor, District 4, two years

Civic involvement: 10 years North Hudson Parks Board

Reasons/qualifications: I became involved with county government when I realized that complaining about my lack of voice, and the lack of voice of my neighbors, was a waste of time. I needed to become involved with the process. During my campaigns, I listened to what my neighbors felt were the critical issues that were being ignored by the previous board.

After being elected by a resounding majority, I was able to work with my colleagues to repair what had been punted down the field by the past administration.

I have the record.

Tom Coulter

Age: 66

Address: 639 8th St. North, North Hudson

Occupation: Retired manufacturer’s rep

Family: Wife Kathy, retired teacher; two grown children Jessica and Zachary; two grandchildren

Prior elected office: None

Civic involvement: Member St. Croix County EDC, active in recruiting employers to locate here; board member and volunteer at Hudson Senior Center; member and volunteer at Hudson Rod, Gun and Archery Club

Reasons/qualifications: St. Croix County is a beautiful place to live, work and do business. Generous, hard-working citizens are our most valuable asset. It will be my goal as to make St. Croix County more affordable for families and more attractive to employers.

I am running because the current board is entirely more comfortable with spending and borrowing than I am. When the county borrows money, it mortgages our homes and businesses. Some of their initiatives lie beyond the bounds of county responsibility.

County government needs to responsibly attend to its core functions. I believe businesses and citizens are best suited to managing their own pursuits.

District 6

Carah Koch

Age: 44

Address: 2525 Burl Oak Curve, Hudson

Occupation: Director, Enterprise Content Management (Metropolitan Council); adjunct faculty (University of Phoenix)

Family: Husband Matt, two daughters Maiya and Madison

Prior elected office: Current St Croix County supervisor, District 6 (appointed July 2015); Hudson alderperson, District 6 (two terms: April 2003 to April 2007)

Civic involvement: St. Croix Animal Friends volunteer, Wildlife Rehabilitation Center volunteer, Twin Cities Research Group volunteer, Wisconsin Historical Society member, YMCA member, past Planning Commission citizen member (Cottage Grove, Minn.), past Environmental Affairs Committee citizen member (Lakeville, Minn.)

Reasons/qualifications: As the current District Six representative, I would like to continue to work with you to support efficient and effective county actions.

Opportunities exist to build on current strategies to expand accessibility to county decisions, and also to implement processes that increase interactions between county staff and the community. My experience managing business process improvement activities is an asset in this area. Support for the health and safety of county residents, as well as maintaining our unique natural resources, is also critical.

I will continue to work with varied stakeholders to find solutions that benefit our community as a whole.

Bob Long

Age: 60

Address: 1100 Grandview Drive, Hudson

Occupation: Senior consultant, ASC (software provider to the retirement plan industry)

Family: Wife Sandy (Willow River Elementary), three children, three grandchildren

Prior elected office: ASPPA Board of Directors (six years), vice president and treasurer (one year each)

Civic involvement: Greater Twin Cities ASPPA Benefits Council (Board of Directors); Phipps Festival Chorus; prior: Hudson Hockey Association, HS gymnastics, coached Booster softball

Reasons/qualifications: I served on the Board of Directors and Executive Committee (vice president and treasurer) at a professional association based in Washington DC (ASPPA). Managing a $15 million budget and addressing strategic issues of ASPPA’s 7,000-plus members nationwide was a rewarding experience.

However, it’s time for me to apply those skills locally. I’m concerned about the spending habits of our current County Board and decided now is the right time to become involved. I believe in common sense governance, reaching consensus and delivering the services our county residents need and expect — but doing so in an efficient and cost-effective manner.

District 7

Laurie Bergren

Age: 57

Address: 326 Valley Commons, Hudson

Occupation: Real estate attorney for 25 years. Now retired from law practice and pursuing a career focused on writing, photography and art

Family: Single, helped with two grown stepchildren

Prior elected office: This is my first time running for elected office.

Reasons/qualifications: My qualifications include extensive land use experience. As a commercial real estate lawyer, I structured and negotiated hundreds of complex property transactions. I moved here from Linn County, Iowa (pop. 216,000), where I served on the Board of Adjustment and Regional Planning Commission, worked on the Riverfront Development Committee and helped overhaul the County’s Land Use Plan.

Now I would love to use my experience in St. Croix County. I believe we need to be forward-thinking and creative in maximizing resources to provide adequate services for citizens. This includes identifying and pursuing economic development opportunities related to the new St. Croix River Bridge.

Jesse Littlejohn

Age: 29

Address: 39 Brighton Path, Hudson

Occupation: Carpenter

Family: Wife Christina Littlejohn. Children: our first one is on the way, due in September.

Prior elected office: None

Civic involvement: Active in our local church, United Way volunteer, Chamber of Commerce members

Reasons/qualifications: I enjoy being involved in our community and would appreciate the opportunity to be on the County Board so that we can keep the St. Croix County a wonderful place to live for all of our friends and family.

District 8

Scott J. Nelson

Age: 50

Address: 809 Hutton Hill Road, Town of Hudson

Occupation: Retired fire captain from the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport Fire Department

Family: Wife Ericka

Prior elected office: Current District 8 St. Croix County Board supervisor

Civic involvement: American Legion member, WIAA/MSHSL varsity level sports official, Meals on Wheels volunteer, National Fire Academy alumni

Reasons/qualifications: I am running for reelection to the County Board to continue working for the best interest of the county’s citizens. In the last two years I have worked toward achieving positive results and have strived to prioritize funding for critical and essential services.

In my 26-plus years as a firefighter, and my military service, I worked extensively in public service settings and therefore have a professional understanding of issues and the ability to find resolutions to these issues. I will continue to use my experience to be an independent voice working for the citizens of St. Croix County.

Richard “Rick” Ottino

Age: 65

Address: 876 Alex Lane, Hudson

Occupation: Retired from E. I. DuPont

Family: Wife Krista, three grown children

Prior elected office: County supervisor, 2012 to 2014 (Community Development Committee, St. Croix County Fair Board)

Civic involvement: Member of Bethel Lutheran Church: serving on Worship Council, Stewardship Committee; member Hudson, Rod, Gun and Archery Club; volunteer with therapy dog at Bethel Preschool and Sunday School, North Hudson Elementary, Hudson High School, UW-River Falls and Hudson Hospital

Reasons/qualifications: I previously served on the County Board and am stepping forward again to stem what I see as out-of-control spending by the current board.

As a fiscal conservative I believe that you are better stewards of your family’s resources. I will work to return these resources to you while also maintaining essential services.

I believe in open communication and promise to listen to all. I have integrity and work daily to align my words and actions. I have worked hard to make positive changes throughout our community and will continue to do so as supervisor for District 8.

District 10

Dave Ostness

Age: 65

Address: 531 N. Pearl St., River Falls

Occupation: Retired

Prior elected office: Three terms on County Board (served on transportation, public protection, transit planning, library emergency management/ communication, LEPC committees)

Civic involvement: WestCAP Board of Directors, St. Croix County Economic Development Board of Directors, Wisconsin Highway Association Board of Directors, Wisconsin Counties Association steering committees on transportation and human services, NaCO steering committee on transportation

Reasons/qualifications: We have moved forward this past term with the renewal of a 10-year lease with FSA to keep the Baldwin Ag/ Education Center open; moved meetings to the evening; funded much needed projects: 911 updates, county jail updates, Heath Center with new dementia/ behavioral health unit and occupational therapy pool for all county residents to use; secured grant funding through Federal Transit Administration for a feasibility study on transit system that strengthens and connects communities in St. Croix County and surrounding areas to conveniently access services citizens need to pursue a fuller life.

John Struemke

Age: 36

Address: 2469 Dawes Place Unit A, River Falls

Occupation: Criminal analyst (counterdrug), corrections officer, Minnesota National Guard (military intelligence)

Family: Wife Angie; daughters Destinee, age 16, and Madison, age 8; son John II age 6

Prior elected office: None

Civic involvement: Active member of the Minnesota National Guard / currently on orders to provide criminal analysis for the counterdrug program for Minnesota

Reasons/qualification: I was approached to run for County Board supervisor last year. I have lived in St. Croix County for half my life, and the chance to become actively involved to give back to the community that I live in and love made the decision an easy one.

I am confident that the tools provided to me in both schooling and training as a criminal analyst as well as being an intelligence analyst in the Minnesota Army National Guard for over a decade will give this county the dedicated servant it needs to represent them on the issues facing our community.

District 12

Daniel Hansen

Age: 54

Address: 446 E. 3rd St., New Richmond

Occupation: Retired

Family: Wife Jane, two adult children, three little grandchildren

Prior elected office: One term on St. Croix County Board

Civic involvement: Board of Directors, St. Croix Economic Development Corporation; Board of Directors, Great River Road Visitors and Information Center at Freedom Park, Prescott; Steering Committee, St. Croix Master Watershed Steward Pilot Program.

Reasons/qualifications: In my two years on the County Board I have represented foremost the interests of the citizens of District 12. I am a member of the ad hoc committee for the building of our new assisted living and nursing home facilities. Keeping these jobs in New Richmond has long been a high priority.

My goals for a second term include improving public services at county parks, investing more in our infrastructure, keeping our tax levy low and reducing waste in county spending. I support continuing the practice of holding meetings in the evening so that working people can participate.

Joseph Brost

Address: 525 E. Second St., New Richmond

No reply received

District 13

Ron Kiesler

Age: 52

Address: 1359 Parkview Drive, New Richmond

Occupation: Pierce County Community Behavioral Health Program manager

Family: Wife Laura Kiesler, daughter Katie Kiesler, son Chris Kiesler

Prior elected office: St. Croix County Board supervisor

Civic involvement: Coached New Richmond Youth Soccer, Youth Little League and Youth Flag Football. Brought the following services to St. Croix County: certified Community Support Program (the 4th in the state); Coordinated Service Teams; certified Mental Health Emergency/Mobile Crisis Services; certified Multi-Systemic Therapy (first in the state). Introduced Drug Court to St. Croix County Court system.

Reasons/qualifications: In a word, “Experience!”…28 years managing county programs and four years serving as County Board supervisor.

I understand the challenges facing our county. I listen to you, fight for your needs and cast my vote on your behalf. It’s all about taking care of our county’s most valuable asset, you. I fought to keep: 1) the nursing home for our elderly; 2) the Ag Center for our farmers; 3) the Human Service Center in New Richmond; 4) to get Willow River Bluffs back on the tax rolls with a conservation easement for public trails; and 5) your taxes down.

Casey Swetlik

Age: 51

Address: 549 W. 5th St., New Richmond

Occupation: Independent sales agent at First Tactical

Family: Two daughters (Emily, a senior at UW-Stout, and Hannah, a sophomore at UW-River Falls)

Prior elected office: None

Civic involvement: Served 10-plus years as a member of the New Richmond Area Ambulance Service; volunteer coach for New Richmond’s Babe Ruth Baseball League and St. Mary’s 5-6 grade boys basketball

Reasons/qualifications: I worked at St. Croix County for over 23 years, seven of which as the director of emergency support services. I’ve created and managed multi-million dollar budgets and projects.

The current St. Croix County Board is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on expensive consultants and borrowing millions of dollars for projects that should be budgeted. It’s time to rein in the spending. It’s time to create an affordable, long-range financial plan that does more than provide the administrator with a bonus. It’s time for change.