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5 vie for county commissioner seat

SOUTH WASHINGTON COUNTY — Five contenders have thrown their hats in the ring for the Washington County Board of Commissioners District 4 seat.

Wayne Johnson, Bill Sumner, Jeff Swenson, Marvin Taylor and John Thorson will battle it out for the seat in the Nov. 6 election.

District 4 includes Cottage Grove, Denmark Township, Grey Cloud Island Township, Newport, St. Paul Park and portions of Woodbury and Hastings.

Jack Lavold is currently the District 4 commissioner, being appointed in March after Karla Bigham was elected to the state Senate. Lavold has said he will not run for election to keep the seat.

Wayne Johnson

Currently a Cottage Grove City Council member, Wayne Johnson is trying his hand at becoming a county commissioner.

The Cottage Grove business owner has been on the City Council for about a year and a half, where he said he's learned a lot, including about how cities and counties work together.

"I decided to run ... not because there's anything wrong, but because I want to see that direction keep going," he said.

He said if elected the three biggest issues he would concentrate on are water, roads and development.

"I believe my talents, my abilities, and my teams and partnerships up to this point will help moving forward with these issues," he said. "I look forward to taking what I have learned in my experience moving forward."

Bill Sumner

Newport City Council member Bill Sumner was the first to announce his candidacy for the open seat, back in May.

A retired investigator and auditor for the Minnesota Department of Revenue, Sumner has lived in Newport for nearly 30 years. He's also spent the last two years serving on the Washington/ Ramsey Recycling and Energy Center Board.

Sumner said in May that his experience on that board, City Council and the Department of Revenue would help him as a county commissioner.

He said his concerns would be fiscal responsibility and water issues.

Jeff Swenson

Four-term St. Paul Park City Council member Jeff Swenson has decided to branch out and try representing a larger constituency of Washington County.

"It's not that I want to leave ... it's just I thought I would try to take a next step," he said.

Swenson, with his longtime career in finance, said his biggest priority would be continuing with financial management on County Board.

"My 12 years experience at the council level, and experience at work of management and running facilities and that sort of thing lends well moving into this," Swenson said.

Beyond fiscal issues, Swenson said he's looking forward to meeting with city staffs and councils to hear their concerns about the most pressing issues in south Washington County.

Marvin Taylor

The Newport carpenter says he will draw on his experience serving as chair of the city's planning commission and as a firefighter, as well as his research for a dissertation on the economic growth of Minnesota.

He said as a county commissioner he would prioritize exploring ways to boost economic development in Newport, which has a poverty rate three times higher than the county's average.

One way to do that, he said, is to add public transport to and from the Twin Cities and the county. This would allow more residents the opportunity to apply for managerial jobs at growing companies, he said.

"I think one of the challenges is the companies have no connection (to the county)," he said. "When you want to target development, you have to think about the number of jobs, but also the type of jobs."

He also wants to ensure that the county has adequate emergency response services and prevention programs, such as increased access to pharmacies.

Taylor says he would also like to focus on maintaining quality groundwater and the Mississippi River.

John Thorson

John Thorson, who has lived in Cottage Grove for 10 years and serves as director of workforce development for Hennepin county, says he's interested in environmental and public transportation issues.

Prior to working for Hennepin County for the last four years, Thorson spent 20 years working with policymakers at the city, county and state level for Education Minnesota, a union of 70,000 teachers, and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

He says his work there focused on "issues relating to delivering services ... and keeping property taxes down."

As county commissioner, he said he would concentrate on using the 3M settlement money to ensure ongoing water quality and add more direct bus service between the Twin Cities and the county, which he says would help large employers in the city recruit Washington County residents.

"With more express service into downtown Minneapolis and downtown St. Paul, (we can) create an opportunity for folks to get by with one car and one household," he said.