Three candidates are vying for the seat of mayor of Ely

Keith Vandervort

ELY – Three candidates are running in the Aug. 9 primary for mayor of Ely. The first two voters will qualify for the November 8 general election.
Two outgoing members of Ely City Council, Paul Kess and Heidi Omerza, along with newcomer Mark Haarman, are running. The current mayor, Roger Skraba, is running for a state legislative seat and is not on the ballot.
The contestants were each asked three questions by The Timberjay. Their responses appear below.
1. What is your background and how does that qualify you to be Mayor of the City of Ely?
Haarman: As an alumnus and award winner of the Candidate Course of Wellstone Action (Camp Wellstone) aka Paul Wellstone, community public service is above personal interests, like service before self. A fund development study at St. Thomas Business School, personal friendships with educational, political, and business leaders benefit a mayor in tremendous ways. Listening skills are very important, and taking the time to do so is vital.
Kess: I am a permanent resident of Ely with deep roots in our community. Over the years I have served on many boards and committees and have always strived to make Ely a better place. As a city councilor for over 20 years, I served on the budget, airport, and sanitation committees, as the city’s representative on the housing tax board, and as chairman from RAMS, I was a voice for the lineup in the Legislative Assembly. I have built a reputation for integrity in public service.
Omerza: Serving in her 16th year on the Council, Heidi is a graduate of Hamline University and is a fifth grade teacher at Ely Public Schools. Heidi Omerza is married to Tom Omerza, president of Frandsen Bank, school board member and assistant women’s basketball coach. They have four children, Elliot, Evan, Eric and Elizabeth. The boys are all graduates of Ely High School, Elizabeth will be a senior this year. Locally, she sits on the following boards: Ely Economic Development Authority as Chair, Park and Recreation, Library, Employee Relations, Insurance and Negotiations. Statewide, she serves on the board of the Coalition of Greater MN Cities and the Greater MN Partnership, and past president of the League of MN Cities. I am passionate about our community and have a proven track record of delivering positive results. I strive to listen to concerns, to find common ground and the best way forward to resolve issues.
2. What are the main issues and challenges facing Ely today, and how will you solve them?
Haarman: The challenges and issues facing Ely are determined by the citizens, and the mayor and council sorts, categorizes and focuses leaders on action and resolutions. Do residents want a friendlier and more respectful police service? Will face-to-face meetings with the mayor be important and welcome? Is significantly less ice on city sidewalks all winter and spring valuable to the community and a good representation of our city pride? Will our ‘community’ radio station WELY, with its new owner, have a large volunteer base, providing live personalities while entertaining, educating and enlightening listeners locally and around the world on the gifts and the products offered by the region? And the meetings type town halls, will the voters be favorable? A qualified mayor will choose to make that happen.
Kess: First, we need to make sure our budget remains affordable for the people and businesses of Ely. I’ve always been a budget hawk, advocating for low taxes. In an age of inflation and rising costs, we need to focus on maintaining our basic services. Second, we must work to create more housing. This is a tough problem to solve and we should learn all we can from places like Ottertail County and Roseau who have done some creative things. Our Housing and Rehabilitation Authority (HRA) is one-sided and the proposed housing project in the West End deserves our support. Of course, there are other issues that require our attention (streets, parks, trails, airport, etc.) but overall the City is well managed.
Omerza: The lack of housing, the lack of workers and the shortage of childcare are priorities. The Ely HRA is developing a new housing project in the West End and the city is extending utilities to new lots available for purchase in the Spaulding area. I will continue to support housing development efforts. There is an active childcare task force in Ely to which many members of the community are committed. an unnecessary burden on any home or licensed daycare. As a teacher, I am passionate about finding a solution. To increase our workforce, we need to increase our reliable internet capacity and hold our local provider accountable. I will continue to protect the jobs we currently have and ensure the City is fiscally responsible.
3. What do you want the city of Ely to be in the next decade and what steps need to be taken to achieve your vision?
Haarman: The future of Ely, restored to the ‘canoe capital of the world’, coupled with more multiple use of our boundary waters and a forest restoration initiative, the late Jack Rajala (Mr. White Pine) and Jack Pine Bob Cary agreed with , in our wilderness is doable. The Ely-Winton History Center deserves a high street entrance and fund development for its new location should begin. A performing arts degree program at our middle and high school will increase the population and showcase the extraordinary pool of artists living here and nearby. A win-win for all, well within five to ten years. The role of mayor helps bring that to fruition, and that’s why I’m running for mayor of what will always go down as “America’s coolest small town.”
Kess: I will work to ensure that Ely continues to be an attractive place to live and work. We have a high quality of life and community spirit that makes Ely unique. We need a dynamic mayor with experience, knowledge and commitment. I intend to be that person.
Omerza: As mayor, I will provide stable and strong leadership that makes sense for all of Ely. I will continue to promote the use of technology and infrastructure to improve our community. Our current downtown fiber optic high-speed Internet project can and should be expanded to help serve individual homes in the community. The ability to work from home is key to the new economy and to Ely’s future. Additionally, the proposed West End housing development along with the new Trailhead building will be an ideal year-round location for residents and tourists. I am committed to advancing these and other key projects that will help build an economic foundation to lead Ely into a bright future.

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