Dakota County board candidates look to improve public safety, affordable housing

Hannah Burlingame

Review staff

 

In the race for Dakota County Board of Commissioners District 2, two opponents with a history of public service will face off against each other.

Incumbent Kathleen Gaylord is being challenged by current South St. Paul City Council member Todd Podgorski. 

District 2 includes South St. Paul, West St. Paul, Sunfish Lake and portions of Inver Grove Heights.  

The Review asked the candidates via email why they are running, what skills and experiences they will bring to the office, what they believe to be the top challenges the county faces, and what issues or projects they would prioritize if elected.

 

Kathleen Gaylord, 66, lives in South St. Paul with her husband Dennis. She is an attorney/partner at Weinblatt & Gaylord, and earned her JD from William Mitchell College of Law.

Gaylord is in her 16th year serving on the county board, finishing out her fouth term. She is the current board chair and a former mayor of South St. Paul. She is an attorney and former senior corporate counsel for Northwest Airlines. Gaylord said during her time as executive director of the Minnesota Tax Study Commission, she designed “the first computer simulation of Minnesota’s property tax system and developed an income-based property tax relief system.”

She added she has over 30 years of public policy experience leading “local, regional, state and national organizations with the skills and experience to deliver smart, creative solutions and real results.”

Gaylord said Dakota County is a premier, debt-free county, recognized with national awards and high rankings in health, employment, public safety, budgeting and community services.

“I am proud of my strong role in making that happen and hope to continue making Dakota County a great place to live, work and play,” Gaylord said. “My goal is to listen to all voices and continue to represent the people and communities in my district as we address the needs of our children, families and seniors with services that are efficient, effective and responsive.”

Gaylord said two communities in District 2 are struggling financially. She added she has recognized that “challenge and worked to keep county taxes as low as possible to help those burdened by high city taxes.” 

“I have stepped up to offer a wide range of county services to benefit these communities and have sought out grant and funding strategies to help them with trails, roads, social services, wetlands and economic development,” she said, adding affordable housing is a challenge cited often by residents.

She said housing needs are being addressed with strategies and programs though the Dakota County Community Development Authority. 

If re-elected, Gaylord said her top priority will focus on residents by using smart, creative solutions to address challenges, maintaining high quality services and leadership in controlling county property taxes and listening to all voices and building partnerships to keep the county advancing. 

Gaylord added much of the county’s success is built on collaboration and partnerships with multiple groups, government entities and communities as it launches new services and refines those already in place. 

 

Todd Podgorski, 45, is a Ramsey County Sheriff’s deputy. He lives in South St. Paul with his wife Carrie.  He has a bachelor’s degree from Winona State University in political science and is also “proud of my associate degree from Inver Hills Community College.”

Podgorski noted his answers to the candidate questionnaire are solely his and not those of his employer.

If elected to the board, Podgorski said he would bring the experience he has gained from being a deputy, South St. Paul council member, school board member and economic development authority commissioner, and an NDC4 Cable commissioner.

“This new position would allow me to serve and help more people,” he said. “Working to improve public safety and helping people find opportunities to be successful is important.”

Podgorski said his work as a peace officer and elected public official will help with many of the important issues facing the county. Podgorski said he is pledging 10 percent of the board position’s salary to local charities in hopes of encouraging others to help where they can.

“During these challenging times my personality, skill set, background and experience can help make improvements in our communities,” he said. “There is a sense of purpose in helping others.”

He said the challenges facing the district and county include concerns about crime and for-profit group homes. Podgorski said his own family “has been impacted by gun violence by being told to stay in place on two occasions in the past five years.”

Podgorski said residents are concerned about the number of homes turned into rental units and how they are maintained and run by landlords. He added there is still a large demand for affordable housing.

“Increasing poverty in our schools is also a challenge. The county will face challenges with growth outside our district,” he said.

If elected, Podgorski said he would prioritize public safety and health. He said both South St. Paul and West St. Paul have added more police and soon will add more medics to address calls. He added with roughly 4,900 active Dakota County warrants, there needs to be a dedicated county apprehension team to “bring justice to their victims.”

“We also need to better address the gap in our mental health system as state hospital beds have closed and for-profit group homes have increased,” Podgorski said.

He added better supervised 16-bed county treatment facilities are needed for those — juveniles and adults — who have mental illness and/or chemical dependency. 

 

Election day is Nov. 6. To find your polling place visit pollfinder.sos.state.mn.us.

 

-Hannah Burlingame can be reached at 651-748-7824 or hburlingame@lillienews.com

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