Beaudet, McComber face off in final forum

Oak Park Heights’ mayoral candidates offer different philosophies of leading city

OAK PARK HEIGHTS — Mayoral candidates David Beaudet and Mary McComber offer this city’s residents distinctly differing opinions on many issues as voters prepare to go to the polls in about a week.

Beaudet, the incumbent mayor, and McComber, currently on the city council, discussed and debated issues at the last Gazette-sponsored forum Saturday morning at Oak Park Heights City Hall moderated by Marguerite Rheinberger.

Both candidates expressed different views regarding a number of issues in Oak Park Heights during the hour-long, televised debate.

Among the issues Beaudet and McComber addressed were how the new St. Croix River Bridge construction affects the city; the use of TIF districts for development; costs associated with construction of the new City Hall, and the city council’s decisions regarding development.

Beaudet and McComber both cited their multiple terms on the council in their opening statements.

“I got into running for city government by always calling my councilman,” Beaudet said. “He said he wasn’t going to run and encouraged me to run for city council.”

“I’ve been on the council for 12 years,” McComber said, also mentioning her membership with the St. Croix River Crossing Coalition and involvement with Beyond the Yellow Ribbon group.

Regarding the new St. Croix River Bridge, Beaudet said that while he opposed the project, the council’s decision supporting the project means that the city must work with MnDOT on construction along Minnesota Highway 36.

“It’s clear that we’re moving on. We’re going to have a little tsunami coming across our city,” he said.

McComber said it’s time for the city to work with MnDOT on the project to ensure any construction-related issues affecting the city are addressed.

“Now that it’s going forward, we have to work together,” she said. “It’s going to be a change for our residents, but it’s going to be temporary.”

Beaudet also said the city and MnDOT should have held a public hearing on the bridge project’s Minnesota approach work.

“We should have engaged all of these issues,” he said.

“There have been many public meetings on this project,” McComber said.

In another bridge-related issue, Beaudet said a study done by an auditor showed the new bridge has led to lower property values in parts of the city.

“Property values in Sunnyside dropped,” he said. “This is a document done by the city. It’s not made up. If my opponent had door-knocked in Sunnyside, she would have been told that.”

But McComber said an updated study and checks into the issue by MnDOT and the county assessor showed no sign of reduced values. She added that if property values have fallen, it’s due to the economy.

Development was another topic both candidates discussed. The Osgood Avenue-Minnesota 36 corner was one area both Beaudet and McComber said needs to be addressed.

“It’s a critical corner. We know that Fury Motors has purchased the Hecker site. We know they want to put a Jeep dealership there,” Beaudet said. “Commercial property is the best use at that corner. We have worked as a team to find a solution for that corner.”

And while both candidates said the city should exercise caution using TIF districts on development, McComber said TIF might be an option at Osgood and Minnesota 36.

“I would prefer not to use TIF if at all possible,” she said. “Sometimes TIF can benefit economic development along that corridor. It’s a case-by-case basis.”

The two candidates also touched on the city’s reputation of being difficult to work with among other government agencies.

“For as long as I can remember, Oak Park Heights has a reputation of being difficult to get along with,” McComber said. “I want to change that. One thing I’ve learned is if you work together, you can get things done.”

“I have a long history of doing this,” Beaudet said about working with other agencies. He cited his leadership of the St. Croix River Partnership, a group that includes representatives from 30 governments on both sides of the river.

“I have the ability to reach out and talk to people,” he said.