Dist. 4 county board candidates share their viewpoints – Park Rapids Enterprise

Candidates for Hubbard County District 4 were quizzed about the Heritage Living Campus, Hubbard County Jail, water quality and other challenges facing the county commissioners.

Four candidates are running for the seat, left vacant by the resignation of Dan Stacey, but only three appeared at the forum hosted by the League of Women Voters of the Park Rapids Area (LWV).


Three of the four candidates for Hubbard County District 4 attended a Park Rapids Area League of Women Voters forum to answer questions. From left, they are Kristin Fake, Ryan Johnson and Steve Keranen.

Shannon Geisen/Enterprise

Steven J. Keranen of Nevis, Ryan J. Johnson of Guthrie and Kristin Fake of Akeley answered questions for an hour. Lyle Howg of Laporte did not attend.

The public event was held Thursday, April 6 at the Akeley Regional Community Center.

“It is our goal to have a civil discussion on the issues and give you the information you need to know when you vote,” said LWV moderator LuAnn Hurd-Lof.

The forum can be watched in full at youtu.be/wVmM-LyvYzI.

A primary election will be held Tuesday, May 9 to narrow the field to two candidates, with the special election on Tuesday, Aug. 8. All the precincts have opted for mail-in voting.

Keranen was born in Park Rapids, growing up on a family farm in Becker County. He’s a Menahga High School graduate. He enlisted in the U.S. Army directly after high school, serving in the military intelligence battalion in the 82nd Airborne Division. From 2005-2009, he served in the Minnesota Army National Guard. He earned Bachelor’s of Science in geography in the field of park, recreation and land use planning from Bemidji State University. He’s lived in Hubbard County for more than 30 years, raising two children. He served on the Akeley City Council for a short time. He’s served on the Akeley Township Board for the last 20 years in several capacities, including planning commission member, election judge and township supervisor. He’s been employed full-time with the Cass County Highway Department for about 20 years, currently as a senior engineering technician.

Johnson was also born and raised in the area, splitting his time between Hubbard County and bemidji. He’s been a resident of Guthrie Township for 20 years. He also served in the military, receiving his 20-year letter last year.

“I feel that county government, along with township and city government, is grassroots government. Without a willingness to engage, to try to fill the seat, then we’re going to be in deep trouble,” he said, observing that there is little public participation at the township level. He hopes to engage more neighbors in government.

Fake lives north of Akeley. “I’m not a politician,” she said repeatedly. “Hell, most of the time, I’m not politically correct.”

Over the years, Fake said she’s owned numerous businesses. She moved to the area 17 years ago. She sat on the Akeley Chamber of Commerce Board for 10 years and currently serves on the Hubbard County Housing and Redevelopment Authority. Affordable housing was a key reason she decided to run for office.

Fake claimed that District 4 has been “historically underrepresented at the county level. The bulk of government funding seems to get stuck within the city limits of Park Rapids, with very little making it to our area. That is one area that prompted me to seek out this candidacy.”

Fake concluded, “I’d also address the lack of transparency in our county government. I feel too many things are decided off the record without public accountability.”

Hurd-Lof questioned candidates about their understanding of the county-owned nursing facility’s situation and whether it should be sold to a non-profit or for-profit.

Fake called it “a sticky situation,” adding that COVID-19 pandemic was a huge contributing factor to it “bleeding money every month.” She had no opinion regarding the purchaser. “We just need to cut our losses as a county.”

Keranen and Johnson agreed that a non-profit owner is preferable because it would be patient-centered instead of profit-driven.

Hurd-Lof asked candidates about their priorities for the sheriff’s office budget.

Fake replied, “The jail, unfortunately, is just not big enough for the county that we live in.” She also said it’s understaffed. “I also think we should be talking to the judges and finding out why the sentences aren’t a little bit stiffer. I think there should be much more of a deterrent and then maybe we wouldn’t be in the issue that we are in this county.”

Keranen said he didn’t have a priority. “I think the sheriff has been doing an adequate job of policing.” He said he understands the jail is adequately staffed, but wasn’t certain.

Johnson noted there are job openings in the public safety department. “Staffing is an issue every, following COVID.” He doesn’t have specific plans, but would engage with the rest of the county board and the sheriff.

Hurd-Lof inquired how the candidates would protect water quality and quantity and to share their concerns.

“Everybody should be concerned about water quality. It is the lifeblood of us,” Keranen said, adding he was glad to see that the DNR put a moratorium on deep-water well pumping a few years ago for irrigation purposes and that Hubbard County is involved with the One Watershed, One Plans through the soil & water conservation districts. “I do think there’s a problem with contaminants that have a possibility of leaching into our drinking water, so we need to be very cautious with that,” he said.

Johnson said, “Our water quality and watersheds in this county are integral to our income with the tourism, seasonal recreational, housing, lakeshore properties. Especially here in District 4, there are a lot of cabins on the lakes.” He said he supports anything that improves the lake water quality, and stops aquatic hitchhikers and prevents runoff.

Fake said she was a well driller for seven years. “In this county, our number one danger to our water quality is pesticide runoff. As a county commissioner, I would definitely move forward limiting the amount of acres that are allowed to be under use at one given time. I would definitely be looking into the pesticides being used and alternatives,” she said.

Hurd-Lof asked, “As a county commissioner, what measures would you reinforce or support to ensure voter confidence in our elections?”

Fake said, “Accountability and transparency are the real thing.”

Johnson agreed that transparency is key, adding the county auditor is willing to answer questions.

Keranen replied, “I’ve served as an election judge, and I’ve seen how the process works. I’ve got confidence in the system. I’ve got confidence in our county, the way they handle it.”


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