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Viewpoint: Hard work, group effort needed to lead county

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South Washington County has been home my entire life. This community means everything to me, which is why advocating for the residents is not only my life’s commitment — it is my passion and my calling.

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Whether serving on the Cottage Grove City Council, as a Minnesota state representative, or volunteering on advisory commissions, I’ve never been afraid of rolling up my proverbial sleeves to work hard on cost-effective public policy. Issues like transportation, infrastructure improvement and maintenance, intelligent development strategies and public safety are critical to every community and vital for a prosperous future. Managing them requires principled leadership, effective communication skills and strong partnerships among residents, local businesses and community leaders. Most of all, it requires a thoughtful advocate and decision-maker who understands the issues at hand and won’t forget that county government is both local and nonpartisan. I want to continue my life’s passion to be that advocate, and your partner, as Washington County commissioner.

There are many important issues facing Washington County over the next four years that require new, steady leadership that puts citizens first. It’s no secret that in south Washington County today there are many miles of county roadways that need major repair. For example, simply restriping 70th Street is not sufficient to measurably improve safety or support current and future economic development. According to information on Washington County’s website, this project is not scheduled for a major improvement until 2016-17. And because it has been pushed back multiple times, there’s no guarantee the current timeline is accurate. A lack of effective leadership and advocacy by the incumbent commissioner, Autumn Lehrke, has delayed this essential improvement. Her neglect means the project only gets more expensive with each passing year and puts residents at risk as traffic levels increase in conjunction with development growth. I am committed to accelerating a full road reconstruction and leveling.

The Red Rock Corridor is another imperative economic development project for the east metro that has been unfairly distorted by the incumbent, who let preconceived notions about project cost and benefits delay the project. Her lack of due diligence, coupled with a failure to listen to the many elected officials who represent the municipalities touching the transit corridor, silenced your voice to let her own partisan interests prevail. That will not happen on my watch.

There was clearly a lack of transparency for the incumbent after she purchased a business along the corridor. The Newport Transit Station is in the same business district that benefits her personal financial investment, meaning that she stands to gain from the public’s financial investment. Needless to say, the ongoing conflict of interest for the incumbent will be a continued distraction that will resurface if the county Housing and Redevelopment Authority also moves forward with their plans to spend another $11 million in public funds for housing investment around the Newport Transit Station. This is the same area where her business operation is located and will likely result in more abstentions and missed votes, which is simply not acceptable. That sort of decision making calls her judgment, priorities, and commitment to upholding the public trust into question.

My experience serving in the state Legislature and in local city government, coupled with my recently completed master’s degree from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, has taught me it will take hard work and a concerted group effort to move south Washington County in the right direction. That’s why I’m extremely proud to have the public support of our local mayors, along with many other community leaders and area residents, for my election bid. Together we will produce positive results for south Washington County.

Karla Bigham is campaigning for the District 4 commissioner seat on the Washington County Board. To learn more about her campaign, go to www.karlabigham.com.

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