In Nerstrand, a combined six candidates have filed for mayor and council, ensuring a full November ballot for residents of one of the area’s smallest communities.
The ballot will lack an elected incumbent. Current Mayor Jarod Alvarez, raising a newborn child, has opted to step aside, as has incumbent Councilor Gretchen Gilmore. Only Councilor Kim Dekart is seeking reelection, but she was appointed, not elected to the council last year.
Among the candidates challenging Dekart for reelection to one of two council seats is former Mayor Tom Vogel. Given his experience, and the challenges the city faces in the upcoming years as a result of COVID-19 Vogel said he decided to put his name in the ring.
Dekart also faces a challenge from Jennifer Valek, a long-time city resident but first-time candidate. Valek, who tests software for a living, said that she decided to run for Council because she sees it as her civic duty.
“It would be nice to see Nerstrand grow,” she said. “We’ve got to support our businesses and keep people engaged in the community.”
To replace Alvarez as mayor, three candidates have stepped forward. Notably, all three are women, as are the two councilors elected in 2018 and not up for re-election this year. If Dekart and Valek are elected to Council, Nerstrand would have an all-female city government.
While she hasn’t served on Council, Pam Hanson is a member of the City’s Revitalization Committee. A Nerstrand resident for more than a decade, she teaches high school English at Discovery School in Faribault. Hanson said that if she’s elected to lead the city, she would prioritize repairing City Hall. With its limited budget, the city of Nerstrand has struggled to keep up with maintenance costs for the stately historic building.
To help solve that problem, Hanson said she hopes to recruit volunteers interested in helping make repairs. She cited Habitat for Humanity’s use of volunteer labor as a potential model for how to keep costs low.
Another issue is the enforcement of city ordinances. Hanson noted that as the city lacks its own police department, it relies on Rice County for protection — but Sheriff’s deputies are unable to enforce city ordinances.
“Nerstrand needs to be creative in finding ways to enforce its code,” she said. “When people are doing things against city code they know Nerstrand can’t do anything about it. I’d like to change that.”
An office assistant for the city of Dundas, Niki Portillo is also running for Nerstrand mayor. Portillo, who’s training to become Dundas’s next clerk, said that she believes there is no conflict of interest and has the blessing of her boss, City Administrator/Clerk Jenelle Teppen. Portillo said that she was approached to run by fellow Nerstrand residents who put out something of a “call to action.” She praised the work of Alvarez and the current council in terms of putting together a budget and capital improvement plan with broad support.
Still, Portillo said there’s more work to be done. If elected, she promised to prioritize a new paint job for the city water tower, and also boost the city’s revitalization committee with the goal of attracting new residents and businesses to town.
“The hardest thing for a small community is to come up with funding,” she said. “There’s a huge wishlist of things we can do, but the question is how we can come up with solutions that work for everyone. And the current hardship COVID is making that harder.”
The third mayoral candidate is Vesta Kelly did not respond to requests for comment by press time.