City Council District 4 runoff candidate Larry Grohn said Friday a "backlash" is underway against council members who voted for a tax increase. He said if he is able to unseat Jack Benson that all those who voted for the hike will have been put out of office.
Councilman Benson, in the joint appearance at the Brainerd Kiwanis Club, several times said, "That's not true" and "Wrong again" on Grohn declarations.
The runoff election is April 9.
Mr. Grohn, whose contingent at the luncheon included local Tea Party leader Mark West, said if elected he will ask for "a complete audit of all city departments." He said city spending went up 39 percent during the eight years of the Littlefield administration.
Councilman Benson said one tax increase in 11 years was "an investment" and "every bit of it went to the police department" for salaries and equipment. He said police and fire enjoy a substantial benefit program. He said city firefighters have more days off than any other firefighters in the state. He said the police DROP progam results in some retirees getting over $100,000 depending on their level in the department. He defended a program for charging officers who live outside the city limits for vehicle use, saying some live so far out that it hurts their response time. He said when officers park their vehicles in neighborhoods it helps provide security.
Mr. Grohn said salaries of city police officers "are some of the lowest in the entire state." He said the program for charging officers for vehicles has caused "huge morale problems" and resulted in situations where an officer who lives on one side of a street has to pay and another on the other side does not. He said the program was touted as bringing in $500,000, but the most has been $134,000.
He said additional police presence is needed, stating there were six homes broken into over a 10-day period a couple of blocks from his East Brainerd home. Councilman Benson said crime peaked in 2009, then went down in 2010 and down further in 2011. He said it was up in 2012, but still below the 2009 level. He said, "We should start with prevention first, then suppression."
Councilman Benson introduced himself as being the youngest principal in the history of the city schools at age 26. He later was assistant superintendent before retiring after 35 years and heading up Big Brothers Big Sisters. Then he got into politics, saying, "I love to serve people."
He said he was appointed to the first local Planning Commission by former fraternity brother Ralph Kelley in 1963 and "became a disciple of sound land use planning." He said he has sought to adhere to the Hamilton Place Plan, saying he has worked against putting commercial - such as an IHOP - in an office/residential area. He said he is proud of sidewalks along Gunbarrel Road. He said more road money has gone into District 4 than all the other districts combined.
Mr. Grohn said a roundabout at Jenkins and Shallowford cost $1.6 million. He said at the same time the city was spending $1.7 million repairing all its other 2,300 miles of streets. Councilman Benson said the city was going to have to spend money on a state widening of Shallowford Road and shifted that money to the roundabout.