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Election 2012: Ken Willcox, Mayor of Wayzata

Ken Willcox is running unopposed for Mayor of Wayzata.

Ken Willcox is running unopposed for another term as Mayor of Wayzata.

Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Share something most people don’t know about you.

My education includes high school at Blake in Hopkins. A BA in Economics from Williams College, Williamstown, Massachusetts. An MBA from the University of Minnesota Graduate School of Business Administration. I retired from the U.S. Navy with the rank of Captain and am a Vietnam veteran. I was awarded the Navy Meritorious Service Medal.

My business career has been in industrial and international marketing and manufacturing. I co-own and operate two manufacturing businesses located in Waseca, Minnesota. We manufacture truck-related equipment. I was recognized by WCCO Radio with the Good Neighbor Award for my work with the Twin Cities United Way.

What sorts of thoughts come to mind when you think of Lake Minnetonka?

Lake Minnetonka is Wayzata’s greatest asset. It delivers recreation and beautiful vistas, and it is a natural magnetic gathering place.

Wayzata has a particularly unique and favorable location on the lake. We are south facing and so bathed in sunlight. We have easier access to the freeway, downtown Minneapolis and the rest of the metro area than any other city around the lake. We do everything we can to protect the lake’s water quality.

The new Presbyterian Homes project will feature the most advanced state of the art storm water treatment system around the lake.

Are invasive species a local, state or federal issue? Or is it a mix? Describe your views.

The invasive species threat is of such magnitude and has such dramatic repercussions that we need all agencies—city, county, state and federal involved. For some species, like zebra mussels, it is too late for Lake Minnetonka. For them the focus is not spreading the infestation further.

However, there are many more nasty critters out there that we need to keep out of Lake Minnetonka and the surrounding watershed. The key is education followed by inspections and enforcement. We are going to have to get used to some changes in how we pursue our boating recreation

What is the most common issue people talk with you about? What do you tell them?

The issues that concern people vary over time. Two overriding concerns in Wayzata over the years are 1) change vs minimal change and 2) preserving the small town character.

The two are clearly related. However, during the recent recession a more frequently heard worry was empty store fronts on Lake Street. With the return of commerce and the bustle of activity, concern has shifted to construction-related disruption and protection of our single family neighborhoods.

Interest is also focused on the effort to envision our lake front future. Hinged to all of this is how we are going to provide sufficient parking in the downtown area.

My response is that 1) the construction crunch will continue for a couple of years, 2) we protect our single family homes jealously, (in fact, that is partly what led to the recent lawsuit from the Unitarian Church) and 3) we will collectively come up with a lakeshore plan that includes parking.

How do you feel about the current property tax levels? What about school district taxes (understanding the city council has no control over them)?

City property taxes represent about 20 percent of the property taxes our citizens pay. The rest is split about equally between the county and school district. Since the recession, when we discovered that the city was relying too heavily on volatile development-related fees, we have restructured city government to provide more stability.

In addition to some substantial city downsizing, we now budget primarily based on reasonable property tax levels. Any development fees or other outside income we are depositing in our capital accounts. Those will address some significant capital requirements we see looming about 4 or 5 years down the road.

The school board develops its budgets for the district according to the needs it identifies. The city cannot really second guess their deliberations. Wayzata’s school district is exceptional, and most citizens support keeping it that way.

If the funding were available, what projects—either shovel ready or on the drawing board—would you advocate dedicating it to?

If funding were not an issue, my priorities would be the following:

  • Develop more parking in downtown Wayzata
  • Begin rolling out whatever concept for our lake front the current Lake Effect effort of our citizens identifies as the most desirable. Having said that, we recognize that most of the funding for this will likely come from other agencies and grants.
  • Strengthen our financial reserves to address contingencies and maintenance
  • Complete our plans for parks and trails and the interconnection with Scenic Byway
  • Complete analysis for the future deployment of cell phone equipment
  • Replace more of the aging fire department equipment

Are you satisfied with the public safety services being provided to city residents?

Our fire and police departments are exceptional. Both have a core of very experienced and capable leaders.

A couple of years ago Wayzata began providing police services to Long Lake as well. I believe that has worked out well for both cities. Our police department has one of the finest investigative capabilities in the western metro. The fire department is fully manned and well equipped. Some of the trucks are getting old and will require replacement.

How would you encourage the average citizen to become more engaged in local government?

There are a number of commissions and boards that provide an entrée into city government. Included are parks and trails, communications, heritage preservations and the Housing and Redevelopment Authority.

In addition, we are now embarked on an initiative to determine what our residents would like or lake front to be in the future. Everyone’s input is essential. We also have a robust volunteer committee under Lynn McCarthy. This group helps plant our city flowers, assist with senior programming, public works and other events.

Lynn’s contact information is on the city website. I encourage everyone to get involved in the city. It belongs to us all.

Open forum. Why should voters cast their ballot for you this November?

I am running for re-election because Wayzata is a city on the move. We have huge development projects underway and significant county road work to come. We have initiatives like our lakefront, and we need to execute our long range plans for parking and capital requirements. This will be a full load for the city council, and I believe continuity on the council will be important.  

This is my fourth year as mayor following four years as a council member and six years on the Planning Commission. Experience will help.

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