Voters in Meeker County Commissioner District 2 will choose between three candidates when they head to the polls next week.
Incumbent Joe Tacheny is joined on the ballot by Greg Gilbertson and Julie Bredeson in the race to represent a district that includes city of Litchfield Wards 1 and 5, Litchfield Township, Forest City Township and Harvey Township. The field of three will be whittled to two for the general election Nov. 5.
Though Tacheny has served four years on the County Board since emerging from a four-person race inf 2016, both of his challengers this year also have served in elected positions.
Tacheny, Bredeson and Gilbertson all said campaigning this year has been a challenge since the traditional door-knocking approach to meeting the electorate has been taken off the table amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, the trio has placed campaign signs and done some advertising in an attempt to raise their profiles.
Following is a brief look at each of the candidates, in alphabetical order.
After retiring from Ridgewater College in June, following a 34-year teaching career, Julie Bredeson said she was looking for a way to serve in another way.
“I’m a servant, I’m a teacher,” Bredeson said. “I would like to continue to serve my community. This is an opportunity, I think.”
The lifelong resident of Harvey Township says she visited the county website to learn more about the commissioner role and thought she met all the qualifications.
“I can check all the boxes,” Bredeson said. “I just thought this might be a fit for me.”
Bredeson previously served two terms as treasurer on the Harvey Township Board. She also served as secretary of her church board and was chairwoman of several committees during her career at Ridgewater, which she began in 1991 after teaching in the Litchfield and Dassel-Cokato school districts.
At Ridgewater, she taught public speaking, effective listening, interpersonal skills and conflict management — all skills, she believes, that would be invaluable for a county commissioner.
She has attended County Board meetings for the past couple of months in an attempt to learn as much as she can about county issues and board procedures. Through that experience, Bredeson said, she doesn’t see any “pressing concerns (or) controversial decisions.”
“I do not have a political agenda, I honestly do not,” she said. “I just think it’s an opportunity for me to bring a skill set to a public servant position. I’m a good listener, a good communicator.”
When she saw that opportunity for service with the Harvey Township Board, she got involved. Running for the District 2 seat on the County Board, she said, is a little larger stage, but the same type of opportunity.
“I’m hoping that District 2 voters will put their vote of confidence in me, and in my experience and in my desire to continue to be an educator,” Bredeson said. “I want to use my skills to listen to people and to represent my neighbors, and be a positive force for the county.”
Spending eight years as the at-large member of the Litchfield City Council taught Greg Gilbertson many things. Among them was his ability to take on difficult issues.
“It sounds weird, but I actually enjoyed controversy and addressing it head on,” Gilbertson said. “Not running away from anything, voicing my opinion … those things are important to me.”
And although he doesn’t see any significant issues facing the Meeker County Board right now, he that mindset could serve him well as a county commissioner. He also touts his previous experience as a city council member who worked with the County Board, and his role as Litchfield fire chief as assets that could help him step in and be an effective commissioner immediately.
“I think we built a strong relationship with the county” during his time on the City Council, Gilbertson said, and he worked as a “go-between” to facilitate that relationship. He was a City Council member when the law enforcement center was built, and he advocated for the Litchfield Police Department to be part of the project, going against the city administrator and some fellow City Council members.
As fire chief, Gilbertson communicates with six townships served by the department, and who pay about half of the department’s budget. “We’ve been able to keep (township fire budgets) pretty much level for the entire time I’ve been fire chief, other than a little extra to build the fire hall.”
He says he would like to continue to foster the county-city relationship, primarily through good communication. “Something to make sure everybody’s on the same page and knows what’s going on,” Gilbertson said. “I think that (communication could always be a little better.”
Gilbertson ran for the District 2 seat four years ago, surviving the four-person primary and squaring off against Tacheny in the general election.
“Four years ago, I tried to go to every resident (of the district),” he said. “I didn’t quite make them all, but I did spend many days and nights trying to meet people. I think a lot of people are familiar with who I am. I have quite a bit of experience. I might have to rely on veteran commissioners for some guidance, but I wouldn’t be coming in totally green.”
Joe Tacheny says he has some unfinished work to do, and he’d like another four years on the Meeker County Board.
“It takes a little time to catch on to what’s going on,” said Tacheny, a retired electrical contractor and lifelong Meeker County resident. “I think I’m getting there, but there are a few projects I’d like to continue on and see finished out if we possibly could.”
Among the unfinished business is increased security at the courthouse and an improved road maintenance system — specifically for snowplowing — that would have townships take on some more of their own maintenance.
Maintenance of dead-end roads and lake roads is particularly challenging for the county highway department, Tacheny said, and although townships contract with the county for the service, he wonders if something else could be down.
“(Townships) are real happy with the job we’re doing for them right now, though, so that may not happen,” Tacheny said.
Tacheny believes his experience on the County Board would be helpful in what will be a transitional period for county government. Two other seats on the County Board — Districts 3 and 4 — will have new occupants with Bryan Larson (District 3) and Mike Housman (District 4) choosing not to run for reelection. In addition, County Administrator Paul Virnig has announced that he will retire next year.
“Paul’s been here a long time, and he’s the guy with all the answers,” Tacheny said. “The commissioners might have to come up with some of the answers themselves.
“Unfortunately, we’re losing two people with a lot of experience; it will be different,” he added. “But I think with what I’ve learned the past four years I can help there.”