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No longer retired: Mayor Dowse reflects on 100 days in office

Sean Dowse, 100 days into his first term as mayor, says he is optimistic about Red Wing's future. James Clinton/contributor

Sean Dowse is 100 days into his first term as mayor, the first elected office he's ever held. So, what has he learned so far?

"The workload is a bit larger than I anticipated," Dowse said with a grin. "More seriously, I've realized that Red Wing is not unique in our challenges, but we are unique in our strengths."

One of those became apparent in the first week of his term when the community placed second in Deluxe Corp's Small Business Revolution.

"The energy behind the Small Business Revolution was incredible and inspiring. I think that taught us all something. If we have a project that connects with people and builds enthusiasm, there's nothing we can't accomplish," he said.

So far, the mayor has overseen an increase in commission appointments. The Sister Cities Commission, in particular, has rebounded from the low participation which plagued the commission in recent years. There now are nine members.

Dowse is quick to point out that he did not fill the appointments alone. Of course, most of the credit belongs to the residents who volunteered to serve, but the mayor also cited City Council members for their support.

"I'm relatively new to council meetings, but I think this council is working very well together, and not just on commission appointments," Dowse said. "We're having honest discussions and getting things done. I'm glad to be a part of this group. I believe we'll be able to accomplish a lot for Red Wing."

In January, Dowse named infrastructure, housing and Red Wing 2040 as his top priorities.

Red Wing 2040 is an effort to develop a community plan that benefits all residents. More than 85 people attended the initial meeting, and Dowse hopes hundreds more participate by the time a final document is created.

To get a better handle on the housing shortage, Dowse attended the Housing & Redevelopment Authority's annual meeting.

"It was good to establish direct connections with the HRA," said Dowse. "It's clear that people want to work together to solve this issue. At the state level, Senator Mike Goggin is carrying a workforce-housing bill, which I support. The issue has come up at the national level as well."

As with housing, the need for infrastructure improvements is a common refrain on national and local agendas. However, local leaders are wary of certain federal decisions.

"In Congress, there has been some movement to remove the tax deductibility of municipal bonds," Dowse said. "That could add substantial cost to projects, sometimes in excess of $1 million. At the conference, cities uniformly lobbied to protect that tax deductibility."

These issues were discussed at the recent National League of Cities congressional conference in Washington, D.C. Dowse and City Council President Kim Beise represented Red Wing during the three-day event.

"Everybody's talking about infrastructure, but cities want to be careful that federal funding follows a local agenda," Dowse stressed. "We need funding to address the issues that we, at the local level, know about."

During the conference, the consensus among city delegations was that public-private partnerships don't work well at the local level.

According to Dowse, that isn't the case in Red Wing.

"The Highway 63 Bridge project is a current example of a positive public-private partnership," Dowse said. He knew there were other examples, but couldn't recall them at the time.

A few days later, the mayor called to follow up. "Of course, the most historic example of a working public-private partnership in Red Wing is the Sheldon Theatre," the former director said. "You'd think I wouldn't have trouble remembering the Sheldon. I only spent 30 years there."

After those 30 years, Dowse briefly retired before running for mayor in 2016.

When asked what the single biggest change has been since taking the oath of office, Dowse was quick to answer.

"I'm no longer retired," he said, smiling.

Dowse encourages residents to contact him over the phone, via email, or simply to stop him on the street.

"I want to know what's going on," Dowse said. "I want to know what you like and what you don't, so we can work on it. With your help, we'll keep working together towards a great future for our great city."