He spent most of his professional life as a teacher, but newly elected city council member John Carlson will become a student in coming weeks and months.
“Right now, more than anything, I want to find out what makes a good city councilperson,” Carlson last week while reflecting on his Election Day win. “What do I need to do to help our mayor, city council and city administrator accomplish the goals they – we – have.”
Carlson won the Litchfield City Council Ward 4 seat Nov. 3, receiving 473 votes to incumbent Vern Loch Jr.’s 182.
He was the only one of three challengers to unseat a City Council incumbent. At-Large City Council member Ron Dingmann held off a challenge from Holly Flemming 1,895 to 1,281. And in Ward 2, incumbent Darlene Kotelnicki topped challenger Rick Beecroft 384 to 329 to hold on to her seat.
After a career in education — he taught physical education in the Litchfield School District for 31 years, then spent three years as middle school dean of students before retiring in 2017 — Carlson said he became interested in running for City Council through his experience as a member of a committee looking at a wellness/recreation center.
“I dealt with a couple of the City Council people, along with the administrator, mayor and other community members,” Carlson said. “Just by that time spent with those people, it kind of piqued my interest into how else can I make a difference.
“My background isn’t city government,” he added, “but I honestly enjoy going to other communities and finding out how their businesses run, what their priorities are, how things are done.”
That curiosity will continue, Carlson said, as he seeks input from friends and acquaintances who have or are serving in public capacities in other cities. He wants to be prepared as possible when he’s sworn in to his new role in January.
He also plans to make use of the social capital he’s built with current city leaders while doing what he can to move projects forward.
Carlson said he's built relationships with Mayor Keith Johnson, when both were teachers, and with City Administrator David Cziok, first when Cziok was a high school football player and later when they worked together on creating basketball-tennis courts on Gilman Avenue and Sixth Street.
“People need to teach me, and I need to lean on people,” he said. “I’m looking forward to having them help me learn what’s going on. That’s the goal.”
Among the projects that will be on the agenda, for both Carlson and the City Council, is the wellness/recreation center. The bonding bill passed by the Minnesota Legislature in October included $5 million to help fund construction of a wellness facility.
Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic and its effect on the economy and the city’s financial picture is likely to play a significant role in whether the city moves ahead with a wellness center.
“I don’t know if this is a good time or a bad time,” Carlson said of the topic. “The general perception would be, it’s probably not a good time, the finances in the world are tough. Honestly, I’ve always felt that through adversity, sometimes opportunity arises. I think you have to look at it that way, too.”