By: News Director Larissa Donovan
BEMIDJI– The Beltrami County Board of Commissioners will see a new face this coming year. As Keith Winger, current commissioner for Beltrami County District 1, vacates his seat, his replacement will either be Craig Gaasvig or Natalie Grosfield, newcomers to the county political scene.
The two met for a forum Thursday, Nov. 1, to determine who will be the voice for District 1, an area of Beltrami County that includes Port Hope, Taylor, Summit, Birch, Turtle River, Sugar Bush, Moose Lake, Frohn, Ten Lake and Brook Lake townships, as well as the city of Tenstrike.
The forum was sponsored by Bemidji Area Citizens for an Informed Electorate, Northern Community Radio, and the city of Bemidji.
In opening statements, the candidates spoke on what they can bring to the Beltrami County Board of Commissioners.
“I have a long history of community service,” said Gaasvig. “I have served on the [Port Hope] Town Board for 12 years, have been involved with Ducks Unlimited, served on the Beltrami Electric Board, and I would like to continue on to the county bard. I will use this experience to make good decisions, the best decisions I can make with the taxpayer’s dollars.”
Gaasvig has grown up in the area, and graduated from Bemidji State University with a degree in mathematics.
“We all know any kind of real change, especially in government, takes a lot of hard work,” said Grosfield. “I have been doing that kind of work for decades. I’ve been the office coordinator for Minnesota Public Radio, and have been there for 19 years, before that, I worked in the claims department for State Farm Insurance. I believe in doing work firmly and consistently, equitable and fair for all parties. I work with multi-million dollar budgets all the time, and I have the experience, perspective and knowledge necessary for the people of District 1.”
The candidates were first asked what measures they would take to address the county’s opioid crisis and associated out-of-home child placement costs.
“The opioid crisis is an egregious one because of the fallacy that was given to the people,” said Grosfield. “That ‘opioids are not addictive,’ and that was told to doctors and hospitals, and this county is now part of the lawsuit to recoup some of [the costs of this crisis.]”
Grosfield further explained that more resources for mental health will help curb the costs of out-of-home placements. Most of the county’s out-of-home placement costs are due to parents abusing chemical substances, and their children needing to be placed in foster care.
“There are so many facets to this crisis,” said Gaasvig. “It needs to work as a collaborative effort, with regards to all the different people, such as the Red Lake Nation, the state legislature, all the staff within the county.”
Gaasvig pointed out that it is not just opioids causing the epidemic, but methamphetamines and alcohol, too.
The candidates were asked what measures they would take to work better with the county’s indigenous people.
“Respectfully, just as we would work with any other people,” said Grosfield. “We are doing that on a county level, and I think that would continue.”
“Nobody’s being discriminated against or excluded from the process,” said Gaasvig. “The county is doing a good job of including and incorporating everyone who is and should be involved.”
The candidates were also asked what could be done about blighted property, such as property with numerous junk vehicles and equipment, trash piles, or buildings in disrepair.
“I’m pretty sure the county has some standards, as far as enforcing them,” said Grsfield. “I think, if neighbors are having an issue, to go and talk to their neighbors, see if you can help them or her with cleaning up, maybe make it a community, neighborhood effort. Everything works more smoothly when we try to solve a problem by ourselves.”
“Retroactively, not a lot can be done,” said Gaasvig. “A person’s right to have property however they like only goes so far, except if they’re infringing on another property owner’s rights.”
Gaasvig also said it is important to be careful about only imposing rules and laws that will maintain a fine balance between heavy-handed government and the rights of property owners.
The next question asked concerned the county’s health and human services department budget balance issues.
“Raising taxes wouldn’t be feasible in the first place,” said Gaasvig. “I would work with legislative, make a collaborative effort with all the stakeholders involved.”
“In my own budget, when I’m falling short, I look for other ways to create revenue,” said Grosfield. “Let’s look at other ways to increase revenue. Let’s not focus on the problem, but on the solution. We need to fix it, and I know we will.”
Transportation in rural areas was the next question asked of the candidates.
“I think it would be wonderful to bring in people from the community interested in researching and identifying possible grant money for this sort of thing,” said Grosfield.
“These are god ideas, the challenge is the funding,” said Gaasvig. “What’s the range for Paul Bunyan Transit and the costs of using it? We already have them, we need to find out if there is a way to work with them to help those in need. If we can get the out-of-home placements resolved, hopefully we would have room to do something like that.”
Many of the questions asked were addressed in the candidates’ opening statements. Red Lake’s sovereignty was also discussed during the forum.
“We are a little stuck, with the out-of-home placements, and would like to see [the Red Lake Nation] to be in control of the entirety of that situation,” said Gaasvig. “We have to jump through hoops with the Indian Child Welfare Act. To make those hoops, $1.2 million comes to fruition, and we only get half if we don’t do that correctly. It would be nice to have a more direct relationship with the federal government and the tribe.”
Homelessness was another topic discussed.
“We have a lot of organizations, the city, the churches, places like the Wolfe house, and the People’s Church, that are trying to manage the homeless situation as best they can,” said Grosfield. “I’m not sure what role the county could play except to support these organizations, if asked, to give careful and thoughtful consideration to whatever plan they come up with.”
Grosfield discussed all she has learned in her campaign during her closing statement.
“I wish I could say it was going to be easy, if it was that simple, those who have gone before me would have fixed it by now,” said Grosfield. “The work needs to continue, and its work that I do each and every day. I have enjoyed campaigning, but I just want to get to work.”
Gaasvig mentioned Keith Winger’s support of his campaign, as well as the support he’s received along the way.
“I work hard to learn and do the best I can at everything I do,” he said. “I love challenges and learning, and I’m up to the challenge.”