by Dennis Dalman
(Note: There are two candidates vying for the position of mayor of St. Joseph. They are incumbent mayor, Rick Schultz, and Kelly Beniek, who is currently a member of the St. Joseph City Council. The Newsleader will have separate stories written about each one. This story is about Beniek.)
The story is based on Beniek’s responses to a Newsleader candidate questionnaire.
When asked to use one word or phrase to describe St. Joseph, council candidate Kelly Beniek replied, “A vibrant town with a down-home feel!”
Her “party,” she said, is “the people,” adding that St. Joseph is “truly the best small town in Minnesota.”
Elected to the council in 2020, Beniek became more involved in the city and realized all of the good things happening, opportunities to build on, the options for open, authentic, positive changes and how accomplishments happen when people all work together.
“As mayor, I will build positive relationships and continue my quest to make the city government work for you.”
The following are Beniek’s responses to other questions:
Beniek and her husband, Paul, moved to St. Joseph 30 years ago “with a bit of education from St. Cloud Technical College in my backpack”
They worked hard to put their three children through private school, a choice she does not regret. Living in St. Joseph, she and her family experienced many successes.
“Our life’s accomplishments are made of the choices and sacrifices we make along the way,” she said. Those choices and sacrifices, she added, ensured their children would receive the best care, family values and best education.
Eight years ago, Beniek retired so she can provide daycare to her two loving grandchildren who just recently became full-time grade-school students.
Please list and explain how being the mayor of a city differs from being a city-council member.
The mayor, she said, is the council’s chairperson and facilitator, with members being part of a mayor’s team. The mayor is a leadership representative for the city’s people and builds relationships with organizations, businesses and departments within the city, along with outside entities, to accomplish the goals of the people. Most importantly, the mayor relies heavily upon the elected council to function as a team for traditional policy making.
What are three main reasons why you would make an excellent mayor?
“One: I will strive to challenge the city staff and the citizens of St. Joseph to become active members of the city.
“Two: I will be honest and highly transparent in our daily, monthly and yearly community work.
“Three: I will listen to the community, provide new insights and balance to our rapidly growing city, welcome new opportunities and address new challenges as they arise.”
Strengths/weaknesses of St. Joseph and why.
“The Newsleader does not have enough paper to list all the city’s strengths!” Beniek said. “We are a beautiful, fun and actively growing community with a small-town feel.”
New businesses are always opening, and Beniek believes that growth can continue while still preserving the city’s unique character and charm.
The best relationships are based on trust, she said.
“I listen to all points of view and seek out voices across the community before making decisions. I am highly transparent in my actions, and I will call on the council and the staff to do the same. After all, our city works for the people, not the other way around.”
What specific issues or needs of the city would you prioritize on your “Must Get Done” list?
First, she would work with staff and council members to get on the same page with a city vision and mission statement.
“Most great organizations our size have clear missions everyone works from, but Saint Joseph doesn’t seem to have one from what I can find,” she said.
Once that is established, she, the staff and council can focus on local issues while being a transparent governing body to the community.
Another priority is a long-delayed plan to create a city community center. One needs to be finalized, Beniek said.
“We currently are in the midst of fundraising with a Capital Campaign in progress. The people deserve regular updates on how and when their dollars will impact their lives as residents.”
Do you think the city has a good relationship with the two area colleges and their students? Are there ways the bonds and communications could be improved?
The College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University are “essential assets” to the city.
“The relationships between the city and colleges have been strained at times and could be better,” she said. “With every relationship there is always room for improvement, for growth.”
Beniek said she has a “head start” on those challenges, being the parent of a “Bennie” and a “Johnnie” – students of those colleges. Her spouse, Paul, is a college employee, and she herself is a collaborator with many of the sisters, monks, faculty, university leaders and students.
Do you think taxes on residents and businesses are too high, too low, or just about right?
“My grandmother often paraphrased the famous quote by Benjamin Franklin, that “in this world, nothing is certain except death and taxes.” It still rings true. Tax is the income to facilitate the financial well-being of the city. The past couple years have introduced a financial strain for everyone. Tax on residents and businesses is certain but requires a delicate and finite balance. If taxes are too high, good businesses leave. If taxes are too low, the city can’t provide the services of safety, maintenance and growth. It is important to me as mayor to watch, question and maintain a healthy city budget with purposeful spending to keep the tax rate sustainable for our residents, businesses, and economic growth.”