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Duluth City Council primary election Aug. 10: Get to know the candidates

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DULUTH, MN-- Duluth City Council primary elections are Tuesday, August 10.

On the ballot, you'll find candidates running for the City Council At-Large seat, City Council District 2, and City Council District 4.

Voting can be done in person but the City wants you to wear a mask at polling places.

If you're voting absentee, ballots must be returned by 3 p-m.

Chelsea Helmar, the City's Director of Administrative Services, says the primary is important because it determines who voters will see on the November ballot.

KBJR 6 sent out a questionnaire request to all candidates in each race. Below is each candidates' answer to the questions.

Duluth City Council at Large Candidates

Tim Meyer

What neighborhood do you live in and how long have you lived in Duluth?

"I live in the Lakeside neighborhood at 4611 London Road. I came to Duluth from St. Cloud, Minnesota in 1990. I have lived in Duluth for 31 years."

What do you currently do for work?

"I am a Principal Architect with my own firm, Meyer Group Architecture in Duluth, Minnesota. I have been an Architect in Central & Northern Minnesota, Northwest Wisconsin for thirty-four (34) years. I am a past President of AIA Northern Minnesota & served on the AIA Minnesota Board of Directors our Professional Association."

What are some of the top issues you'd plan to focus on if elected?

"My Top Six (6) Campaign Platform Items include:

Diversification of our Economy in Duluth – Creating more Manufacturing & Technology Industry Development, including a focus on recruiting manufacturers of “green” products, increase our tax base.

Replace our Aging Infrastructure – It is time to repair / replace our damaged streets & sewer / water infrastructure, as we have a significant backlog of work in this area.

Expansion of Housing Options and Tiers of Housing in Duluth – Tiny Homes, Affordable Housing, Multi-Family, Mid to High End, end Homelessness.

Increase Diversity, Inclusion, Equality and Opportunity for People of Color – increase economic opportunity for all. Utilize our Small Business & Entrepreneur network targeted for communities of color, Native, African & Asian Americans.

Explore / Study Privatization of Management of City-Owned Enterprises in Duluth – Spirit Mountain, Lake Superior Zoological Gardens, Enger & Lester Park Golf Courses and City of Duluth Water & Gas in an effort to increase profitability, decrease city subsidies.

Increase Funding to Police, EMS, Firefighters, Support Law Enforcement Reformation and “Community Policing” Training Approach - including Compassion, De-Escalation Tactics where possible, Reject “De-Funding” of our Law Enforcement. Return to Community-based policing."

Why do you believe you should be elected to serve on the City Council?

"I have lived in Duluth now for 31 years. During that time, I have spent the majority of that time on Professional, Recreational & other Volunteer involvements in the City of Duluth & City of Superior. As part of the involvements, I have served on five (5) City Commissions, Duluth Public Arts Commission, Downtown Waterfront Design Review Committee (DWMX), Duluth Heritage Preservation Commission and most recently the City of Duluth Planning Commission where I served two (2) terms, until this past April, making me the candidate with the most City Government experience. I am also currently serving on the City of Superior Historic Preservation Commission. Also, in 2009 at the bottom of the recession, started my business, Meyer Group Architecture in 2009, we just celebrated our twelfth (12th) year in business. I utilized Duluth’s network for entrepreneurship and start-up businesses. I also have worked nearly thirty (30) years in the Native American community on community development projects as an Architect, in an attempt to help eliminate poverty. I would like to do the same for our communities of color in Duluth & Superior. Based on all of these experiences, I believe I am a great choice to serve on our City Council – At Large Position, to help lead our city forward."

Dezuwon "Pez" Davila

What neighborhood do you live in and how long have you lived in Duluth?

"I live on Lake Ave North (central hillside) and have been in Duluth for 6yrs."

What do you currently do for work?

"I am the Program Director for Neighborhood Youth Services."

What are some of the top issues you'd plan to focus on if elected?

"I want to focus on local business, police/community relations, affordable housing, bringing more businesses to Duluth to keep college students here, homelessness, and more."

Why do you believe you should be elected to serve on the City Council?

"I am running for City Council because I think it’s time we had a reset in how political things are handled overall. We are so divided politically and often forget that these are real people being affected by how we view certain things. We allow big media/news to tell us what and how to think, rather than getting all the information out there and making a decision for ourselves. We stray away from finding common ground because it seems hard and unrealistic. I am here to break that narrative of you have to be on “on side or another” and show people that there is a way to present solutions that help everyone. It may not be perfect, but we will never fully thrive not only as a city, but a country, if we don’t start making strides in the right direction. “People over politics” and “People over party” are the slogans I live by and I stand 100% behind those words."

Nancy Stam

What neighborhood do you live in and how long have you lived in Duluth?

"My name is Nancy Stam and I am running for City Council at Large."

What do you currently do for work?

"I live in the Hartley Park area of the city and have for two years. My job feeds my passion and family, in that I work in a local kitchen store in Fitgers. I absolutely love helping individuals with creative ideas for their home and families."

What are some of the top issues you'd plan to focus on if elected?

"The top issues for me to focus on are; Health disparities (physical, mental and environmental). Public Safety and support of small business."

Why do you believe you should be elected to serve on the City Council?

"I present with a fresh set of eyes to this fine city and some progressive ideas on moving the city forward and back at the same time. Back to the industry peak that was experienced in the past. We have been blessed with a wealth of natural resources. We are an industry of lumber and minerals.

Spirit Valley is an untapped diamond, which could be the Antique and Art District just as we have the Brewery District in Lincoln Park. This would open more choice doors for tourists as well as our locals.

We must provide safety on our streets for people visiting our city and our locals. This is a direct impact on our environment and health. We cannot allow the spread of contaminants to the environment by waste on our streets and buildings. Especially in a time of COVID control. We must have our law enforcement providing for our safety on our streets. We have two hospitals expanding which brings more visitors into the city. They must feel safe to walk out and explore.

The city must encourage small businesses to come to downtown and revive it to the bustling place it was at one time. Let’s offer incentives and relax restrictions. Let’s once and for all repair our streets by researching the use of products which would provide more longevity of the wear and tear.

It is important to ask the questions and work to find the solutions! As a nurse since 1981, I frequently asked questions and sought out the answers. I approach with care, compassion, consistency and transparency. The Council works for you the people of this city. I will support the people."

Ashlie Castaldo

What neighborhood do you live in and how long have you lived in Duluth?

"I live in the Piedmont neighborhood, right on the border of Lincoln Park. I was born and raised in Duluth but moved away for a few years for college. I came back almost 3 years ago to raise our family here."

What do you currently do for work?

"I am the Digital Marketing Director for the Center for Democratic and Environmental Rights. I am in charge of all the social media, web design, and advertising. I also oversee the Great Lakes outreach."

What are some of the top issues you'd plan to focus on if elected?

"My platform is a strong workforce, conservation, accountability, and being family-focused. I plan to make affordable and diverse housing a priority, increasing family programming opportunities and increasing wages/workplace quality. I also want us to explore expanding the tech industry in this city, and creating volunteer initiatives based on keeping our city clean, so that youth have a reason to feel invested in our community and stay."

Why do you believe you should be elected to serve on the City Council?

"I believe that I should be elected because I place a priority on listening to Duluthians and what they want. I am a candidate who has shown competency, compassion, and common sense. I believe we can have big goals and a progressive vision, but tackle them with pragmatism and by prioritizing needs. I currently serve on the Commission of Disabilities, and I have served as Labor Secretary for AFSCME 31. I have also served on the Amy for America and Joe Biden Presidential campaigns, so I have experience not only with activism and outreach but also how ordinances and legally binding agreements are made and passed. I am an effective candidate with a history of getting things done and making change, for the better."

Azrin Awal

What neighborhood do you live in and how long have you lived in Duluth?

"I first came to Duluth to attend UMD, and lived near the school. I assumed I would leave when I finished, but I fell in love with Duluth. Six years later I am in the Endion neighborhood, which I love because it is a diverse neighborhood and a perfect mix of everything that makes Duluth home. However, my neighborhood does not define me. I want to raise the voices of all Duluthians, from West to East."

What do you currently do for work?

"I work in the community as a Youth Advocate at a local non-profit for homeless and at-risk youth. I am also the Program Advocate for Mentor North, which is a fantastic organization that connects youth with adult mentors in our community. I also work at Individual Nutrition during the weekends as a support cook, where we prepare healthy balanced meals for our community."

What are some of the top issues you'd plan to focus on if elected?

"The lack of affordable housing in Duluth affects too many of our neighbors every day. As a student who never had enough money to live on campus, I have experienced Duluth’s housing crisis. We have a high rate of homelessness, as well as many lower to middle-income households struggling to find a decent place to live at a price they can afford, and seniors in need of housing. As a city councilor, I will fight for direct investment in affordable housing and for city planning and policies that support affordable housing and development.

We Duluthians are proud of our lake, our rivers, our creeks, and the parks and trails that crisscross our city. We must protect our parks and natural areas, protect our water, and continue the cleanup of the St. Louis River. We must also take more aggressive action to address climate change. The City’s declaration of a climate emergency was an important first step. I will push the City Administration to accelerate its work to decrease carbon emissions and to prepare for more extreme weather events.

Everyone deserves a decent shot at life. Our ZIP code shouldn’t determine our life expectancy and the color of our skin shouldn’t determine our opportunities. As Duluthians, we aspire to be an inclusive community where all can prosper. Unfortunately, that’s not the current reality for everyone. To be the city that we dream of, we must make Duluth a place where people of all backgrounds, identities, neighborhoods, and occupations can thrive.

Trust between our community and the police officers who serve us has never been more important. I helped hire UMD campus police officers, and I designed their training on Bystander Collaboration. I want to bring this experience to the city level.

I will fight for all these and more. Access to transportation, our infrastructure, and keeping our beautiful city beautiful all rank among my top concerns."

Why do you believe you should be elected to serve on the City Council?

"My family immigrated from Bangladesh when I was three, and Minnesota is the only home I’ve ever known. My family worked for several restaurants and grocery stores, and as the oldest sibling I looked after my younger brother and sister and made sure they did their homework while my parents worked. I saw my parents work hard to make ends meet, and when they needed help their community stepped in. In return, every time my family could help a member of their community, they did. My parents showed me what community is, and hard work and giving back are in my blood.

I founded the UMD chapter of the NAACP, and through MPIRG I advocated for the Homeless Person’s Bill of Rights, Superior Streets for All, and Arts for Activism. As a survivor, I helped other sexual assault survivors through PAVSA.

I’ve experienced many of the challenges that Duluthians face, and I want to make sure everyone in Duluth has the resources they need to thrive. As a first-generation college student, I know what it is like to push through adversity. As a person who worked her way through college, I know that people who are struggling don’t necessarily look like they are struggling. As a student who never had enough money to live in the dorms I know Duluth’s housing crisis, and what families have to do to keep a roof over their heads."

Terese Tomanek

What neighborhood do you live in and how long have you lived in Duluth?

"I have lived in Duluth for over 40 years, and I have been a homeowner in the Congdon neighborhood for 30+ years."

What do you currently do for work?

"In addition to my work as a Duluth City Councilor At-Large, I serve as Chaplain at a local hospital."

What are some of the top issues you'd plan to focus on if elected?

"The things I have been working on and will continue to work on if elected to a full term include housing expansion, economic relief, and support for families. I am committed to increasing our housing stock, including senior housing, affordable housing, starter homes, and apartments large and small. As we work toward economic recovery, I have been actively involved in the equitable distribution of the American Rescue Plan funds allocated to Duluth. We are distributing $13.6 million to expand access to broadband and to improve infrastructure, including replacing all of the water meters for Duluth residents at no taxpayer cost. We have also allocated over half a million dollars to workforce development; substantially increased funding for public safety training; established a crisis intervention and social worker pilot program; and provided $20 million for affordable housing. Furthermore, I am working with city administration and community members to reinvigorate our parks and outdoor spaces to help protect green spaces - one of our most valuable assets."

Why do you believe you should be elected to serve on the City Council?

"The combination of my business experience, active community involvement, and service on many boards and commissions has equipped me with the expertise and relational skills required to serve Duluth. I have collaborated with people of all backgrounds, and I continue to do so in my work serving the city. My effectiveness as a City Councilor has been demonstrated in making important budget decisions, advocating for underserved members of our community, and advancing the priorities of Duluthians. I view listening as a key part of my work, and I prioritize working with constituents to address their city-related issues."

Joe Macor

What neighborhood do you live in and how long have you lived in Duluth?

"I am a life-long resident of the Fond du Lac neighborhood."

What do you currently do for work?

"My wife, Holly, and I own a family foster care home caring for developmentally disabled adults."

What are some of the top issues you'd plan to focus on if elected?

"Public Safety; fire and police. Having a safe community is vital. Our children, families, and friends deserve a safe place to live and work. Ensuring our police and fire departments have adequate funding for hiring, retention, and training is paramount over these next few years. With rising call loads and increasing retirements, investment into our public safety has never been more important.

Good paying family-supporting jobs. Being a city that is business-friendly and encourages growth is the best way to support working families. Investment into our infrastructure and economic development ensures we will continue to see growth and long-term financial sustainability for our city. We can do this in many ways, but cutting red tape for development and permitting is a great start.

Addressing our aging infrastructure. From roads to water and sewer, this should be a city council priority. Investment into public works and prioritization of this department is imperative to maintain and repair these systems."

Why do you believe you should be elected to serve on the City Council?

"I am invested in our community. I’m invested through my family, my business, and community organizations of which I have been involved with for over 20 years. I am a 4th generation Duluthian, my kids are 5th. I want to make sure they have a thriving city to call their own and that we are setting Duluth up for success. Working to make Duluth a safe and prosperous city that can serve all citizens, is why I’m running for Duluth City Council At-Large."

Candidate Scot Jenkins did not respond to our request.

Duluth City Council District 2

Andrew Hilfers

What neighborhood do you live in and how long have you lived in Duluth?

"I currently live in the Endion neighborhood, right a couple blocks from Chester Creek. I have lived in Duluth on and off since 2012, but full-time for 4 years."

What do you currently do for work?

"I am currently teaching Summer School Biology at Denfeld High School. and I also work part time at Mount Royal Bottle Shoppe."

What are some of the top issues you'd plan to focus on if elected?

"Supporting local businesses recovering after the previous year, and giving them priority over national and international chains. As well as making sure the employees are treated as the "essential" employees they are.

  • supporting and raising up the jobless and homeless population in Duluth, treating them with the dignity of the people they
    are, and making much more available the resources they need to get back to where they need to be in life, instead of trying not to meet their gaze at the street corners.
  • take action against the growing equity issues between East and West Duluth, in education, as well as daily life.
  • fixing the local crumbling roads and infrastructure on which our city balances.
    Provide funding and expand road repair crews."

Why do you believe you should be elected to serve on the City Council?

"I never really wanted to get involved in politics. But, I saw a job that needs to be done, and I'm the kind of person who will volunteer, no matter how dirty the job is. If chosen to represent my district, I'll step up, and do the best I can to serve this city. That's all I can do."

Mike Mayou

What neighborhood do you live in and how long have you lived in Duluth?

"I was born and raised in Duluth. I live in the Lower Chester neighborhood with my partner, Melissa, and our dog, Kole."

What do you currently do for work?

"I work at the University of Minnesota Duluth in Admissions Marketing for my full-time job, helping encourage students to attend UMD each fall and spring, and I also work part-time with Duluth Public Schools in technology, assisting teachers, staff, and students throughout our district."

What are some of the top issues you'd plan to focus on if elected?

"Affordable Housing:

Duluth has an affordable housing crisis. We have a dire need for affordable housing in Duluth, and our city has started to take some steps in the right direction to accelerate our pace towards having enough housing, at affordable prices, for everyone that is in need of a place to call home. As it currently stands, the private housing market has failed to meet the needs of lower and middle-income people. I am a strong advocate for the continuation and potential expansion of programs such as Rebuild Duluth, which is a partnership between Duluth HRA and DEDA to give developers with the best affordable housing proposals infill lots for free. At Mayor Larson’s 2021 State of the City Address, I was excited and encouraged to hear that our city will be creating an affordable housing trust fund, which I believe is a great step in the right direction to start addressing the affordable housing crisis we are facing. As a city councilor, I would be a strong advocate for growing that trust fund and creating stability in its funding sources for years to come.

Climate Justice:

I was born into the brink of a climate crisis, and I have never known of a planet that isn’t at risk of collapsing due the accelerating pace of climate change. In Duluth, we continue to experience once-in-a-lifetime storms more than once every decade, significant air pollution from wildfires that can make it hard to breathe, record stretches of high and low temperatures that affect our ecosystem, and significant activity along the shores of Lake Superior that impacts Park Point and our Lakewalk. If we don’t make drastic changes and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions now, there may be no turning back, and many historically oppressed communities will begin to see the effects of pollution, dirty energy, and our changing climate first. That’s why I am a strong believer that, if every city, state, and nation does their part and finds ways to dramatically reduce emissions and move to a green energy future, we can slow the rate of climate change.

We must consider ways to mitigate and prevent the continuation of climate change to best protect our planet for generations to come. In Duluth in particular, I would be a strong advocate for working with our publicly owned utility, Comfort Systems, to push for a requirement that new builds not use gas as the primary source of heat, while offering incentives to do so. Working with partners like One Roof and others, there is great potential for the city to help residents afford to convert some of these old homes to meet and exceed our energy-efficient standards today, and by working with Comfort Systems, there may be ways to offer financial incentives for homeowners to make those changes. We must also accelerate the work that is already underway to reduce the city’s own carbon footprint and exceed our goals of 80% renewable energy by 2050 (Imagine Duluth).

Creating a Fair Economy for Working People:

In my eyes, the primary economic issue facing Duluth citizens right now is the growing problem of inequities that many people are facing in the midst of this global pandemic. As someone who has worked minimum wage jobs in our retail and service industries in Duluth, I understand how difficult it can be to afford a living in Duluth making minimum wage. To help address some of the growing inequities throughout our city, I would strongly advocate for and co-sponsor an ordinance to increase the minimum wage in Duluth to a living wage, or at least $15/hr. I would also hold recipients of city economic development aid to a high standard regarding wages, job creation, and the continued use of project labor agreements for our union workers citywide."

Why do you believe you should be elected to serve on the City Council?

"At this turning point in our history, we need representatives in our local, state, and federal government who will speak the truth, advocate for all of us, and introduce fresh ideas that address the present and the future. We need representatives who will make sustainable decisions based on economic, environmental, and social justice.

I will be a city councilor who does that, and I will continue the tradition of engaged and responsive representation that we have come to expect in the 2nd District. I will listen, advocate for, and work with the people of District 2.

My experience as an involved community member, the relationships I’ve built inside and outside of City Hall, and my passion for the work it takes to make our community better make me the right person to represent the 2nd District on the Duluth City Council."

Andrew Jarocki

What neighborhood do you live in and how long have you lived in Duluth?

"I live in the Congdon Park area. I am a lifelong Duluthian--I have lived in this community since I was born here 23 years ago."

What do you currently do for work?

"I am a Lead for Minnesota Hometown Fellow. Lead for Minnesota (LFMN) is a service organization focused on developing the next generation of local public servants and leaders.

Through my LFMN fellowship, I work on housing policy in the Northland. I help local housing agencies craft policy and secure grants that empower our most vulnerable families to succeed. I also have helped our friends and neighbors apply for more than $30,000 in pandemic rental assistance from RentHelpMN so far.

My service has taught me how crucial safe and adequate housing is for a successful community, as well as the importance of ample economic opportunities that can lift up families."

What are some of the top issues you'd plan to focus on if elected?

"My campaign is based on three simple ideas: Duluth should be the best place in the world to raise a family, find a home and open a business.

Families have explained to me that their top issues are affordable childcare options and public safety for their neighborhoods. That's why I will direct some of the City's American Rescue Plan funds to helping local families through childcare scholarships and connective services. I will also be an advocate for providing our local law enforcement with the resources they need to protect all Duluthians. I believe Duluth must have both an effective and accountable police department.

Equally importantly, every family needs a home. I will work with property owners, developers and construction leaders to streamline Duluth's permitting process that too often discourages any increase of the housing stock. Beyond housing affordability, I will also push the City Council to find a humane and sustainable solution for the homeless of our community. I am determined to explore every option, such as the thousands of new housing vouchers recently created by HUD, to help the most at-risk Duluthians find their way off the streets.

Finally, Duluth needs a vibrant local economy that provides good-paying jobs. The website WalletHub recently ranked Duluth as the 1,082nd best out of 1,337 small cities in America to start a business in 2021. Can we do better? Absolutely. I will strengthen the Council's relationship with local business to understand and address their concerns, from right-sizing regulations to increasing downtown safety. Most importantly, I will be a champion of municipal funding for infrastructure like docks, shipping channels, railroads, interstate highways, and our international airport. These assets make Duluth the center of opportunity in the Northland and deserve investment."

Why do you believe you should be elected to serve on the City Council?

"I am ready to be a tireless advocate in City Hall for our community's families, homes and employers. As a lifelong native, I know Duluth has vast potential and I have the skills needed to realize it. I was honored to be described as "issues-sharp" and "devoted to the community" by the Duluth News Tribune in their endorsement of my campaign. I will listen attentively to neighbors of every background and opinion, because I believe together we can create a Duluth that is the best place in the world to work and play."

Dave Zbaracki

What neighborhood do you live in and how long have you lived in Duluth?

"I live in Congdon with my wife and our two children. I’m a fifth-generation Duluthian."

What do you currently do for work?

"I’m a full-time dad to my kids. I also work part-time at a bike and ski shop. My wife is a physician with Essentia and a 25 year member of the 148th Fighter Wing."

What are some of the top issues you'd plan to focus on if elected?

"My campaign slogan is “Let’s build a better Duluth.” It means better, cohesive neighborhoods with accessible streets for all users. We need a better economy that focuses on family-sustaining jobs, not just tourism. And we need a better government that fully funds public safety, as well as street and sidewalk repair."

Why do you believe you should be elected to serve on the City Council?

"My campaign is for a neighborhood district that is focused on neighborhood issues. I put family first in my life, and I will fight for working families on the city council. I support a strong and accountable police department. I’m honored to have the support of the Duluth Police Union Local 807. I also support labor and labor jobs. I’m proud to have the endorsement of the Duluth Central Labor Body, the Duluth Building Trades, and others. I’ve also been endorsed by the Duluth News Tribune Editorial Board."

Duluth City Council District 4

Nathaniel Rankin

What neighborhood do you live in and how long have you lived in Duluth?

"I live in the West End also known as the Lincoln Park District. I have been here 40 some years in the house I grew up in."

What do you currently do for work?

"I work for Charter Communications (Spectrum). I have been with them for 20 years."

What are some of the top issues you'd plan to focus on if elected?

"Some of the issues that I would like to focus on are the low paying jobs, infrastructure, drug, and homeless and housing."

Why do you believe you should be elected to serve on the City Council?

"All the jobs that come to Duluth MN are geared towards tourism. I get we are a tourism City but it is hard to live off that wage when housing is so expensive in our City.

I think we need to restructure our City to do more than just tourism.

Let's bring back the days when we built things in Duluth MN.

Affordable housing has so many different meanings to it. One person sees it one way while another sees it differently. Where do we find the happy spot?

The infrastructure of our roads are in rough shape. Some of the abandoned buildings are eyesores to look at and make it easy for vandalism and other things our City does not need. These things need to be addressed and cleaned up.

The drug and homeless issue is a tough battle to win, it is always going to be a work in progress. There are a lot of good organizations out there that are doing a good job and trying to find the root of the problem.

I believe I should be elected to City Council because I fight for what I want and I am willing to work with everyone to achieve goals that will make our City advance into the future without falling behind and leaving the Citizens with nothing to look forward to.

It will be a tough battle to change the ways but if we as Citizens work together we can achieve major goals."

Renee Van Nett

What neighborhood do you live in and how long have you lived in Duluth?

"I have lived in Duluth since the age of 10."

What do you currently do for work?

"I am the Impact Director for Head of The Lakes United Way. -Duluth"

What are some of the top issues you'd plan to focus on if elected?

"Public Safety, Housing, Economic Development"

Why do you believe you should be elected to serve on the City Council?

"Serving on City Council is nuts and bolts type of work. As an incumbent, I have worked with community members who want their basic needs met. Such as, the alleys cleared up of extra rock, the streets, sidewalks, snow removal, elder care/support, police and fire-Public safety, Life Safety for housing inspections, taxation, zoning, community meetings, veteran issues, community centers supports, pet clean up, homelessness, parks, our relationship with our authorities, and much more. The work is not about me but its about the people, while understanding people wont agree with you, and even if they don't they still need to get their needs met. In my first term I have worked closely with the community and helped where I could. I would like to continue to help our district be the best as it can be."

Candidate Howie Hanson did not respond to our request.

Author Profile Photo

Joey Swanson

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