WILLMAR — The need for communication and collaboration, in both the short term and long term, was agreed upon by all the candidates during the Kandiyohi County Board candidate forum, held Tuesday evening by the League of Women Voters of the Willmar Area.

The forum, which was held without an audience at the Willmar Municipal Utilities building because of the pandemic, brought together the candidates for the open seats in District 2 and District 5. District 2 incumbent Steve Ahmann is attempting to retain his seat against challenger Steve Gardner, while District 5 hopefuls John O. Cunningham and Duane Anderson are running to replace longtime commissioner Harlan Madsen.

League moderator Suzanne Napgezek asked the candidates a series of questions ranging from leadership and decision-making styles to what they believe makes a good commissioner.

Each was also given time for opening and closing statements.

The forum can be viewed on a variety of platforms including the West Central Tribune website, the League of Women Voters Facebook page and WRAC-TV channel 189.

Running to better serve

As a commissioner who says he sees himself as a public servant instead of a politician, Ahmann said he believes a person’s diligence, experience, knowledge and commitment to the oath of office mean just as much as that person’s personality.

“The people deserve to be represented well,” Ahmann said.

Gardner said it is time for the residents of District 2 to choose a board representative who will bring people together from all backgrounds and help make Kandiyohi County a place all can thrive.

“By joining together we can make Kandiyohi County a place where community, well-being and respect are for everyone, no exceptions,”

Gardner said.

Anderson said he feels it is important to take an interest in the county’s welfare and be open about the work being done by the government.

“I believe transparency is what the taxpayers want and what the taxpayers deserve,” Anderson said.

Cunningham said his experience of growing up as the middle child of 13 siblings has taught him well how to listen to people and compromise.

“I have developed a real sense of reading people,” Cunningham said.

The COVID-19 question

Each of the candidates was asked how the county could continue to help residents and businesses weather the pandemic storm, especially on the financial side.

Ahmann vaunted all the different ways the county is currently offering assistance, including participating in grant and loan programs.

“That is just the first wave of support,”

Ahmann said, urging businesses and nonprofits to apply for the different programs.

Cunningham agreed loan programs are beneficial, but only if one has money to pay it back.

Instead, grants are probably more helpful, especially for small businesses.

“They could use some forgiveness of debt,” Cunningham said.

Anderson believes it’s time to reopen the economy more than it is now, as the shutdown has unequally hit small businesses harder than the big box stores.

“People are getting tired of this whole pandemic issue,” Anderson said. “I think we need to leave it up to businesses and local units of government like the schools on how they want to deal with this issue.”

Gardner, on the other hand, feels it is not the time to let up on some of the restrictions, no matter how tired people are.

“That is something we are all going to have to take responsibility for ourselves, making sure we are doing those things to keep ourselves and other people safe,” like wearing masks and social distancing, Gardner said.

Listen, learn and lead

All of the candidates said they believed it is important for a leader to listen to a wide variety of ideas and be willing to learn.

“You have a lot of diverse groups out there that have a lot of different opinions on how things can be done,” Cunningham said.

“You have to be able to listen to people.”

It is also important to admit when you are wrong and made the incorrect decision, something the current board could improve on, Anderson said.

“Too often there have been issues they have been wrong and they keep bulldozing straight ahead on, and it is like talking to a brick wall,”

Anderson said. “I do not like it. It is one of the reasons I ran.”

Ahmann said he has seen a deterioration in the trust the people have in their government and he wants to help rebuild it by reaching out and communicating.

“I love that kind of transparency,”

Ahmann said.

Gardner said the County Board also needs to act as a conduit between local cities and townships and the state and federal government. As such, it is important to build relationships with the higher units of government and advocate for the local area.

“The county becomes the boots on the ground, implementing the programming that comes down from the state and federal government,” Gardner said.

If elected ...

Ahmann called the people of Kandiyohi County his second family and said he wants to continue serving them.

“My experienced leadership is needed now more than ever,” Ahmann said. “I am your steward, your commissioner.”

Gardner wants the opportunity to serve all of the constituents of District 2 and the county, and wants to overcome the fear and miscommunication he feels some have spread.

“Our diversity within Willmar and Kandiyohi County makes for a strong community,” Gardner said. “No matter where we are from, how we pray, we are all one Kandiyohi County.”

If chosen to serve on the County Board, Anderson said he will bring a pragmatic view to the board and will make decisions the same way.

“I like to think through a situation, put it into numbers and set aside all emotion,”

Anderson said.

Cunningham, who has tired of the hyper-partisan politics that have taken over in some many avenues of government, said he will work to avoid that at the county level and instead work to do what is best for the county.

“We have to get things done, move on, put your party affiliations aside and work together,” Cunningham said.

Election Day is Nov. 3, with early in-person or absentee voting starting Sept. 18.