Gretchen Wahlstedt is running against John Beattie for a two-year seat on the Excelsior City Council.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Share something most people don’t know about you.
My first love is education. I was a middle school math teacher for many years, prior to becoming a mother and business owner. I first fell in love with Excelsior because it reminded me of Loup City, Nebraska, the small, cozy town where my grandmother lived and I spent my summers as a child. I love that, in this age of suburban sprawl, my children are able to walk to the park, the library, the post office and to a local agate expert, as well!
What sorts of thoughts come to mind when you think of Lake Minnetonka?
I think of fireworks and the Minnesota Orchestra on the Fourth of July, ice cream from the trolley, taking a ride on the Minnehaha, live music at 318, and the bustle of holiday shoppers at Christmas time. I also think about Loup City, Nebraska, where my grandmother lived. Like Excelsior, it had more than its share of charm and was a sweet, friendly town where everything and everyone was just a five minute walk from home.
Are invasive species a local, state or federal issue? Or is it a mix? Describe your views.
I believe that any local issue ought to be dealt with locally, when possible. With regards to invasive species, of course there should be cooperation and communication with state agencies to help with management and preventative measures. But, I believe that the best results come from dealing with problems at the most local level.
What is the most common issue people talk with you about while campaigning? What do you tell them?
Most people share some amount of concern about Excelsior's future. Most of the people with whom I have spoken value tightening the city's budget and making budget details more available to residents. Many residents are also concerned about maintaining Excelsior's historic charm and presence on Lake Minnetonka.
I hear concerns about development, increased traffic and the possibility that Excelsior might one day lose its way and become just another over-developed suburban village.
How do you feel about the current property tax levels? What about school district taxes (understanding the city council has no control over them)?
I think it is unfortunate that, while surrounding cities' property taxes are leveling off, in Excelsior, ours have increased regularly during these last, difficult years. I worry that the increased demand on home owners will change the demographics of our town and force people who are on fixed or limited incomes to move out of the city. It would be utterly tragic to see Excelsior lose its diverse community and become an exclusive and unaffordable enclave for the well-off.
If the funding were available, what projects—either shovel ready or on the drawing board—would you advocate dedicating it to?
The first project I would want to support would be paying down the city's debt. I can't imagine looking around for new ways to spend money while we face a substantial collective debt. But, if I were limited to concrete projects, I would probably consider investing in the commons and the band shell since that is an entity most residents are able to utilize and enjoy.
Are you satisfied with the public safety services being provided to city residents?
I believe that our local police and fire forces are excellent. And, they ought to be because Excelsior residents are paying tremendously for those services. I have concerns about the ability of these departments to be able to meet the demands of a city with the increased development that is on the horizon, though.
How would you encourage the average citizen to become more engaged in local government?
I would encourage every resident to become curious about the way in which their city is run. If I were a sitting council member, I would work to arrange more opportunities for public involvement, like public forums and e-mail updates. What happens at City Hall really does affect every one of us, and I would do my best to inspire residents to get involved in whatever ways they are able and claim some ownership over the governing process.
Open forum. Why should voters cast their ballot for you this November?
I am running for City Council because I want to be an advocate for budgetary transparency and responsibility. I want to do whatever I can to bring down our expenses and plan more conservatively for our future.