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Opponents plan to work together after election

Staff writer

Although Republican Mike Beneke of Lincolnville and independent David Mueller of Tampa will face each other for the District 2 county commission seat in the Nov. 10 general election, both say their race won’t be a slugfest.

“Regardless of who wins, it’s better for Marion County,” Beneke said as Mueller nodded in agreement.

“We both believe in Marion County, we both believe in the future of Marion County, and we both will work for Marion County,” Mueller said. “This gives every voter a choice. Advance voting starts today.”

They agree on major challenges facing the county and plan to consult with each other as the victor tackles those issues.

Mueller, who ran for 70th District state legislator in 1996, and Beneke, who previously ran for county commission, are no strangers to campaigning.

Beneke won over incumbent Dianne Novak in the August primary.

Mueller said he decided to run for the seat because he’d been asked by many people to do so because “the damage that’s been done over the last 3½ years is just overwhelming.”

Beneke said he ran because he initially could not persuade Mueller to run.

“David didn’t tell me until a couple weeks before the deadline to file that he would run,” Beneke said.

He said he has the time needed to do the job.

“It takes more than just showing up at meetings.” Beneke said.

Both agree the task before the county now is to move forward.

Good stewardship is a top priority for both because the financial impact of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic could be catastrophic for the county.

“It’s more important now than ever to use the resources we have to do the best we can do to provide services,” Beneke said.

Mueller said both know how to stretch resources and maintain what needs to be maintained.

“I guarantee I’ll need your input,” Mueller said to Beneke. “We’ll work together.”

Beneke said Morris County commissioner Diane Jost is a longtime friend and mentor to him.

“When she won 12 years ago, I sipped champagne with her the night she won the election,” he said.

Mueller pointed to the many boards he’s been part of as helpful experience.

“Marion County is full of innovators and leaders,” he said. “We’ve both had encounters with them. I took leadership courses with Margo Yates.”

That would help if he’s elected because county leadership begins at the commission level, he said.

Beneke said roads are the biggest thing the county needs to address.

“That’s something we can’t fix overnight — that will still be long and drawn out,” he said.

“But that’s where we need the commission to work together,” Mueller said.

Mueller said controlling costs with maintenance of equipment is important in the overall picture of the road and bridge department.

“As farmers, we’ve got to do that every day,” he said.

“I’ve said that for years and nobody has listened,” Beneke said.

The two agree also that changes need to be made in the county’s emergency management department.

Both would like to see the county emergency manager oversee emergency management for cities that lack their own emergency manager.

Beneke said the emergency manager position should never have become full-time in the first place.

“Morris County spends $20,000 and a vehicle for a part time emergency manager,” Beneke said.

Mueller said he has not been involved with emergency management for the last five years, so he’d gather information from other counties.

“There’s a role for county emergency management,” Mueller said. “How that role is to be defined needs to be investigated.”

Beneke thinks if the current emergency manager, Randy Frank, won’t fill out a log sheet to show how he spends his time, the situation has gotten out of hand.

“He’s abusing his privilege, in my opinion,” Beneke said.

An emergency manager should be writing grants for rural fire districts, but Frank does not, he added.

“He should be dedicated to the job, not dedicated to the position,” Beneke said.

Both believe quarterly countywide job fairs should be held.

“Just look in the Marion County Record at the advertisements that run,” Beneke said. “There are jobs here. We need supports like affordable housing.”

“It’s a matter of bringing all the parts together.” Mueller said.

Wind farms are another thing both say need to be addressed properly.

Mueller was Diamond Vista wind farm’s community liaison for 18 months, but hasn’t worked for them in a year.

“What I got to see was the benefit of partnering with a $450 million project,” he said.

Enel makes a $90,000 annual payment to Centre school district, just under $90,000 annual payments to Hillsboro school district, and about $1.6 million annual payments to 200 landowners. The company spent over $6 million on improvements to county roads.

Now the county and the wind farm are at odds over whether the wind farm did enough for the condition of county roads.

“My question would be, if the county does get a payment, will any of that money be spent on the roads?” Mueller said.

Whether the county should handle wind farm construction the same way with Expedition Wind, working to build a wind farm in the southern portion of the county, as it did with Diamond Vista is not a question for either of them.

“Either one of us will support that it will be done differently,” Beneke said.

Neither wants to hire consulting engineering firm Kirkham Michael to be involved on roads with Expedition Wind. The engineering company cost too much money and was involved in too much controversy, they said.

“We’re looking forward,” Mueller said. “The past is the past.”

Both agree Expedition wind farm will happen.

“It’s an opportunity for our county,” Mueller said.

Beneke thinks the wind farm would help pay for a building for Fire District 4 to store their fire trucks instead of a flood-prone downtown area.

“The fire department has wanted to upgrade for years and years,” Beneke said. “I think that’s where the wind farm will help.”

Finding a home for emergency medical services in Hillsboro is another area both candidates agree needs attention.

County commissioners and Hillsboro city council members are discussing building a combined EMS and law enforcement emergency services building, but both candidates agree there are flaws in the idea.

Beneke said the county should build an EMS station on county-owned property or buy a suitable building, not lease one from Hillsboro.

It’s too soon to go with an arrangement such as Hillsboro suggests, Mueller said.

“Our back is not against the wall,” he said.

Mueller said county EMS is evolving, with paramedics able to stabilize patients at the scene and first responders at Florence likely ready to give up their ambulance station.

With volunteer emergency medical technicians, the first task was to get the patient to a hospital where they could be stabilized. Now paramedics can stabilize patients at the scene, Mueller said.

That doesn’t mean volunteer first responders are no longer needed, he said.

“We need to recruit them,” Beneke said.

Both would like to see commission term limits.

“It would still be the best in my opinion to have someone tried and true to lead the new ones,” Beneke said.

Last modified Oct. 15, 2020

 

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