City council panel interviews Ward 1 hopefuls
Two former Rugby city council members interviewed for a vacant Ward 1 seat before a four-member panel Monday, Aug. 23, at Rugby City Hall.
The panel consisted of council members Dave Bednarz, Gary Kraft and Wayne Trottier. Rugby Mayor Sue Steinke asked questions during the interview. Deputy City Auditor Candy Munyer also recorded candidates’ responses.
Neil Lotvedt, who had served on the council for eight years, and Bruce Rheault, who had served a total of 17 years on the council, both told the panel why they wanted to finish the term left open when former council member Jackie Albrecht stepped down in July.
Rheault told the council he had stepped down from his own prior council seat in 2020 due to health issues. However, he added, he missed being a part of city government.
“I guess in the four terms, I’ve experienced a lot, witnessed a lot, been called names, threatened with recalls but I persevered through all of that,” Rheault said with a smile.
“I served on the public safety committee, the public works committee, the only one I didn’t serve on was the finance committee. I served on the ordinance committee, too.” Rheault called himself “fortunate” to work on the city council.
Rheault said he intended “to keep on doing what the city council wanted me to.”
“My first big project was the water tower, Rheault said, listing the projects he was involved in. “I was involved in the street improvement project,” he added, speaking of work done more than 10 years ago on city streets.
Rheault recalled controversy with the project to build Rugby’s water tower more than 15 years ago. “I was called names I won’t repeat here on the water tower project. It ruined my Saturday afternoons a few times (hearing complaints) but you just listen to what their feelings are,” Rheault added.
Public safety committee membership saw him offering input on the construction of Pierce County’s law enforcement center located in northeast Rugby.
Rheault said he preferred Rugby’s committee system in city government to forms such as Langdon’s city commission structure. “I think three or four people making a decision together is better than just one. I like all the ideas coming together to come up with a plan.”
The biggest challenge for Rugby’s city council members is tackling the long list of infrastructure projects needed, according to both Rheault and Lotvedt.
“The list is long,” Rheault said of the city’s needs, which range from a new hospital to overhauls on water infrastructure. “Budgeting is a challenge.”
“The hospital project is huge, but there are a lot of players, too. But I support what’s being done with the hospital. All these things are vital to the city,” Rheault said.
Lotvedt, who like Rheault saw a long list of needs for the city, said the key to meeting the needs would be setting priorities.
“The largest challenge is to get the hospital built. If this hospital project doesn’t get funded by the USDA, it’s going to be devastating to the school system; it’s going to be devastating to every homeowner and business owner. I hate to put the load on the hospital because some council members are on the board of directors. That by far is the biggest thing. The hospital is the key component of this city,” Lotvedt said.
“The water plant is a priority. It should be maintained,” Lotvedt said of another need for the City of Rugby, which supplies rural water customers in All Seasons Water District in addition to residents within the city. However, Lotvedt said he didn’t see replacing water infrastructure, with some pipes composed of asbestos cement, as a priority.
“If the asbestos is that terrible that we are getting it in our water, then we’ll have to think about it. There’s got to be grants. Rural water (customers) will be paying 30 percent of this. We’re not paying $10 million. We test water for asbestos and there is no asbestos in it now. The problem is we had two breaks in the last 30 years,” Lotvedt said. “Is it possible gaskets are leaking? Anything’s possible.” Lotvedt, who owns Lotvedt Construction and has been involved in several city infrastructure projects, said there was no significant water loss for the city through leaking gaskets.
Lotvedt also suggested the city could save money by using construction management services rather than engineering on some projects. He also suggested streamlining projects where architects and engineers are paid separately.
Both Lotvedt and Rheault agreed council members seeking to advance their own agendas were detrimental to the council.
“The city council is only as good as the rest of them. Everyone makes it better. If you think you can get on the city council with just one thing in mind, you shouldn’t even be here,” Lotvedt said.
However, although Rheault said he was satisfied with the council’s current structure, Lotvedt suggested the council explore holding two city council meetings per month and using committees less.
Lotvedt said during his time on the council, “our biggest accomplishment as a council was probably putting the Chalmers Addition together. Now, that’s kind of a JDA project that was dropped on the city. I wasn’t completely for it at first. I was one who voted ‘no.'” Lotvedt noted. “They had it broken down into two divisions, 26 lots and 52 lots. The other 26 would have been ready to go, in other words, the sewer would have drained out of it and it was ready to go. So, do I think there are a few too many lots down there? Yes. But the JDA, this has tied their hands for a long time.”
“I was told by council members it was cheap money. The interest rates were cheap but the principal was still the same,” Lotvedt said.
Steinke agreed, saying interest rates have gone even lower. “I remember hearing that, too, that you’d never find money as cheap as it was then but look where we are now?” Steinke said.
Both Lotvedt and Rheault said they hadn’t served on the city finance committee during their time on the council.
“I’m not so good on finances, but I was on the council for eight years and the people on the finance committee said, ‘We’ll figure out how to pay for something if you’ll figure out how to do it.’ And that’s exactly what I did. I’ll figure out how to do it if you have the money,” Lotvedt said.
Council and panel member Wayne Trottier asked both interviewees if they believed city government’s structure needed improvements.
While Rheault said he was pleased with the council overall, he stressed the need for members to work together.
Lotvedt suggested changing the structure, noting several matters had been sent back to committee by the council during the summer.
“Because it was clear that some (committee members) didn’t have a good grasp (on an issue), I said, ‘back to committee; let’s get a better grasp on it,” Steinke explained.
Trottier said committees’ structures needed to be worked on. “When it’s loosey goosey and there is no structure, you’re going to get loosey goosey results,” he said.
Neither applicant for the Ward 1 vacancy said they were certain about whether they would run for the seat when the term ends in June.
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