by Dennis Dalman
Sartell City Council candidate, incumbent Mike Chisum, said that Sartell’s future growth cannot be successfully realized until many questions are asked and answered.
All of those questions impinge upon residents deciding upon an identity for the city. For examples: “What amenities are needed?” “Do we really want an aquatic center?” “Should Sartell focus on being a bedroom community?”
Chisum is vying for one of two open positions on the council – the seat he now occupies and a seat that will be vacated by Brady Andel, who chose not to file for re-election. The other candidates for the Nov. 3 election are Aaron Johnson, Alex Lewandowski and Jill Smith.
Chisum, 57, is assistant attorney for Morrison County and prosecutes cases involving narcotics felonies, gross misdemeanors and child-support enforcement. He and wife JoAnn have lived in Sartell for 12 years and have three children – Kyla, Josh and Haley – all graduates of Sartell High School. Chisum, serving his first term on the city council, was elected in 2016.
In 1985, he graduated from Florida Southern College and in 1990 from the Hamline University School of Law. He has been active in politics since the early 1980s.
His time on the Sartell council, he said, gave him a thorough knowledge of the city: infrastructure, public-safety needs, finance monitoring and the need to be responsible with taxpayers’ money.
“I’ve really enjoyed helping individuals who have issues or concerns with the city,” he said. “I know how our city government works and can work with our policies and procedures.”
The Newsleader asked Chisum and the other candidates to comment on a variety of issues: challenges for Sartell, the city’s strengths and weaknesses, how to develop river’s-edge amenities, a place for a history museum and other ways to enhance quality of life for all Sartell residents.
The city has many strengths, he said: great location, its people, the schools, potential for growth, good infrastructure, a new public safety building, excellent police officers and firefighters.
One challenge, however, he noted, is a lack of affordable single-family homes. Affordable housing is vital to attract young couples (perhaps with a child and student-loan debt). Most recent graduates, he said, cannot afford a $300,000 house.
Chisum said he would like to explore a potential partnership with developers through which the city would make concessions in exchange for developers’ commitment to build houses in the $200,000 to $250,000 price range. Apartments must also be considered.
As the city grows, traffic and infrastructure concerns must also be dealt with, he added.
The pandemic is also a worry.
“Covid-19 has wreaked havoc on the economy,” he said. “We need to keep a very close eye on city spending and debt and ensure the city remains fiscally responsible.”
City identity is crucial, he said, because Sartell does not have one that is clearly defined.
“Our community must address the question of who we are and who we want to be,” he said. “Our comprehensive plan should be re-evaluated on a regular basis. Sartell needs to do scientifically reliable surveying to learn what is critically important in the eyes of our citizens.”
Then, Chisum posed a series of questions: “How fast should Sartell grow and how big should it get?” “Is it time to scrap the Town Square project (a ‘downtown’ proposal)?” “What are residents’ thoughts on roads, infrastructure and economic development?” “What types of businesses and economic development are desired? “What makes people want to live here?”
Those, he said, are critical questions that must be answered as elected officials and staff manage growth during the next decade.
Chisum favors riverside developments, such as a trail for people to walk or bike next to the river, but the city will have to work closely with the Department of Natural Resources for any projects, as well as working with people with homes along the river. He would also like to see more fishing piers and benches along the river. Chisum said he foresees more access to the river as Sauk River Regional Park becomes more developed.
As for the paper mill site, he noted, development decisions cannot be made by the city because it’s up to the owners of that property to either redevelop it or sell it to someone with a workable plan.
Assuming that happens someday, Chisum would like the site to become a retail/café area with outdoor seating options by the river, similar to the Stillwater Riverwalk. Chisum can also envision the site becoming a light industrial worksite/factory.
“Either outcome,” he said, “would bring jobs and new revenue to Sartell.”
Chisum has pondered how to preserve Sartell’s history. A museum, at least for now, seems unfeasible financially. And if a facility is obtained, would the historical society be able to operate it financially? He said in the meantime, historical artifacts should be displayed in the Community Center. Someday, too, Chisum hopes there is a small museum at a river walk by the paper mill site to help memorialize for future generations the city’s history and its 100-year-plus mill site.
Chisum said he is proud of his accomplishments as a council member and wants to bring that same energy and hard work to the city again, if re-elected.
Chisum said he promised four years ago to focus on public safety and infrastructure while being responsible with tax money, adding that he voted against projects when he felt they were not a good use of funds.
“When I make a financial decision, I always consider how the spending benefits the community as a whole,” he said.
He is proud of his and the council helping design the new Public Safety Facility, which came in under budget. He also made sure the East Side Street Project was not pushed back.
“Those roads are a big improvement,” he said.
Chisum said he has genuinely enjoyed working with citizens when they were faced with a particular problem in order to find a solution.
Chisum’s campaign website can be found on Facebook at “Mike Chisum for Sartell City Council.”