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Mayor reflects on first six months, 2014 plans

Christmas Eve marked six months in office for Red Wing Mayor Dan Bender, and the experience has not quite been what he expected so far.

It’s been better, he said.

“I didn’t know that I would take to it as well or like it as much as I do,” he said. While it has its challenges and frustrations, “it’s been a blast being mayor,” he added.

Bender, who previously served on the City Council, was picked from six candidates in a June special election to replace Mayor Dennis Egan. The term runs until January 2017.

In the just more than six months since Bender was sworn in, he has been working to meet one of his top goals: filling empty slots on city boards and commissions.

“It’s been one of my biggest challenges,” he said. “It will be the most immediate goal in 2014, out of necessity.”

Members are especially in demand for the Housing and Redevelopment Authority Board and the Sister Cities and Sustainability commissions, Bender said.

The Charter Commission also needs members, though some of those spots can be appointed by the commission rather than the mayor and City Council.

“The way we’re set up, we really rely on boards and commissions to do quite a bit of background work for us,” Bender said. “And there’s a lot of work out there to do.”

Bender said people who have an interest in a commission but might not necessarily have a background in the subject shouldn’t shy away from applying.

“I don’t want that to scare people off,” he said. “The thing that I look at is desire and ability and time to go out and do the work to get caught up.”

Residents interested in serving can contact City Hall.

Bender said another key goal for 2014 will be to tackle housing in the community.

Some of it is in “less good shape than we’d like it to be,” he said, and there also is a shortage of rental spaces.

“We’re in need of decent workforce rental housing,” he said. “That, I think, needs to be a priority.”

Improving housing access will help economic development by bringing in employees — who will also spend money in town — and can help the environment with fewer people commuting long distances, Bender said.

Bender said as mayor he also will continue to take his role as the people’s advocate seriously.

“I need to make sure the City Council understands that there are lots of points of view out there,” he said. “We need to keep an open mind and open ears and really think about what everybody has to contribute.”

Looking back

Bender said he was proud of how the city tackled top issues in 2013, such as the future of Mississippi National Golf Links. But it’s not finished, he added.

“That’s something we need to continue to watch very carefully,” he said. “I think we made great progress … but we’re not there yet.”

He also said he made good headway on goals set for his first six months.

One was to strengthen connections with economic development-related agencies in the community, and Bender said he spent much of his time early on focusing on that.

He said he meets regularly with agencies such as the Port, HRA, Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Main Street to collaborate and discuss the climate in Red Wing.

“It gives me a good feeling of what’s going on,” he said.

Bender said talk about the Port Authority’s future, which has been ongoing, will be an area of work in 2014.

“We need to make sure it has what it needs … to get the job done,” Bender said, listing time, resources and opportunity.

Bender also set out to make himself available to residents.

He holds office hours the afternoons before City Council meetings, and while it started off slowly he now has a handful of visitors each time.

Bender said he tries to be free to meet with people nearly any time, but having set hours is helpful.

“It’s nice for people to have an opportunity to stop in,” he said. “I think it’s been successful.”

Bender said he is considering expanding his office hours in the future.

Some goals he set need more work, Bender said. One was to re-establish regular meetings with the Prairie Island Indian Community.

There was one full meeting with the City Council and Tribal Council last year, Bender said, but he hopes for more in the future, perhaps less formal.

Finding the time to get everyone together is the biggest hurdle, he said. But it’s important that the two government agencies have a relationship.

“We know we have a lot of common goals and challenges, but we don’t have a lot of time to talk about those together,” he said.

Bender said he also hopes to expand his knowledge of emergency response plans and participate in a full drill this year.

New goals and problems to tackle for 2014 will emerge as the year progresses, he said.

And Bender added he will continue to work hard. “I’m looking forward to the next three years as mayor.”

Danielle Killey

Danielle Killey covers local government for the South Washington County Bulletin. She has worked as a reporter for other Forum Communications newspapers since 2011. She graduated from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities with a journalism degree.

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