St. Joseph mayor and city council positions open in 2022 election – SC Times

ST. JOSEPH ― The St. Cloud Times asked the St. Joseph mayor and city council candidates four questions about themselves and their goals if elected to office Nov. 8. Answers may be edited for length and clarity.
Former councilmember Kelly Beniek and incumbent Rick Schultz are running for mayor. Incumbent Jon Hazen, incumbent Kevin Kluesner and Adam Scepaniak are running for two open city council seats. All positions are nonpartisan.
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More:Community, education focus of Minnesota State Senate District 14 candidates
Beniek said, “When Paul and I moved to this city 32 years ago, we made a commitment to work hard, save every penny and get our three kids through school. I promised then that one day, I’d give back. In my service on the city council, I have found that outlet and it has been so rewarding for me as well. I’m immensely proud of our rapidly growing city. I want to continue to make St. Joe a place everyone feels safe to raise their families, pursue their educational dreams, grow their businesses and enjoy their retirement as Paul and I have. As a person who feels the best relationships are based on trust, I listen to all points of view and seek out voices across the community before making decisions. I am highly transparent in my actions, and I will call on the council and the staff to do the same. After all, our city works for the people, not the other way around.” 
Hazen said, “I am running for office because I care about my city. I care about where I am raising my family and know that St. Joseph has a lot to offer younger families in our area. I love serving people and consider myself a servant leader. I believe I have a talent for listening and want to hear our community. I want to know how they feel on important issues facing our city. Our lives are constantly changing, and I want to be able to help with this change wherever I can. I will continue to be an effective council member by bringing an energetic and caring approach. Most of the people I interact with have many different viewpoints and skills, which I feel gives me a broad scope on decision-making for the greater good. I am extremely involved in our community and am hopeful for the future of our city. I would like to give as many opportunities as possible that I had growing up in St. Joseph, to the members of our community. I encourage them to voice their opinion and to be involved in the town’s decisions. I would like to see our community work together to make our town flourish and grow.” 
Kluesner said, “I love St. Joe!  I bring over 35 years serving in various leadership capacities in the community (church, business, government). I enjoy collaborating with fellow council members and city staff. I appreciate how much our residents and business owners take pride in the town.”
Scepaniak said, “I have heard business owners, community members and younger residents express their dissatisfaction about the way certain aspects of St. Joseph’s government is run. I agree that different facets of our government and community can be improved upon, and I want to help effect that change.”
Schultz said, “I am running for mayor because I’ve lived here most of my life. As a homeowner, parent and leader, I want to keep this town a safe, friendly and welcoming place to raise our families. I have the experience in finance, public and community service necessary to be an effective mayor. For the past 12 years I’ve represented all aspects of this community objectively, with openness, fairness and impartiality. I pride myself on being reachable to anyone in this community. I’ve made a great deal of effort to being open and available. I listen carefully to others with a desire to understand concerns, ideas and perspectives. I am accessible to the community through meetings and events, by phone and email.” 
Beniek said, “30 years ago we chose to settle in St. Joe with a bit of education from St. Cloud Technical College in my backpack. I chose an array of employment opportunities to ensure our three children would receive the best care, positive family values and the best education. Eight years ago, I chose to retire so I can provide daycare to my two loving grandchildren who just recently became full-time grade school students. The city of St. Joseph operates with a weak mayor-council structure. The mayor is simply the council’s chairperson and facilitator. The council members have equal voice to the mayor and together the council hires the administrator. Aside from the council meetings, the mayoral role builds direct relationships with organizations, business and departments within the city along with outside entities to accomplish desired goals of the people. Most importantly, the mayor relies heavily upon the elected council to function as a team for traditional policy making. I have experience as a current council member as well as a long-time facilitator and coach to teams.”
Hazen said, “I am very passionately involved in our community of St. Joseph.  I am currently a member of the St. Joseph Jaycees where we raise money for multiple aspects of our city and for our citizens. I am currently the president for St Joseph Area Dollars for Scholars ― this organization was started by my father, Michael Hazen in 1996. Since the start of SJADS, we have given out 715 scholarships totaling over $186,000 to local St. Joseph area students. Last year alone we gave out 18 $500 scholarships. I am an operations supervisor in the receiving department at Fingerhut. Through Fingerhut, I am also currently a part of the St. Cloud Chamber and volunteer on various committees. I coached collegiate diving for the colleges of St. Ben’s and St. John’s University for 11 years and have a good relationship with both campuses. I have a Bachelor of Science degree in community psychology (emphasis on behavior analysis) from St. Cloud State University. I feel my degree and being involved in these organizations/colleges help me be a good fit for the position of city council member.” 
Kluesner said, “Graduated with a business degree from St. John’s University in 1979. Lived in St. Joe since 1987. Owned and operatedKluesner Financial here in town. Retired in 2021. Held various leadership positions at St. Joseph Catholic Church. Serve on the board of directors of the thrift store Treasure Chest and have served on the St. Joseph City Councilsince March 2021. Having been annexed into the city a few years ago, I bring a perspective of residing in the former township and the benefits of living within the framework of the Rural Residential District ordinance.”
Scepaniak said, “Having managed multiple businesses for over a decade, working on St. Joseph’s Planning Commission, and serving our community as a firefighter, I would equally serve St. Joseph’s City Council well because of the deep understanding I have of how our community functions as well as how and what our residents are looking for in a representative.”
Schultz said, “I’ve been lucky enough to be mayor for the past six terms (12 years). I’ve been involved in our pain and growth. I was in the center chair during pandemic and the George Floyd discrimination and bias protests. Guiding the community through these type of events has extended my knowledge and experience I have. The George Floyd murder forced us to examine our own community culture and review all our de-escalation procedures and needed training. The police department chief and I worked with stakeholders to ensure there is awareness of any issues that do arise in our community are addressed in a consistent manner. Managing the community through the pandemic was most difficult. St. Joseph businesses came to a screeching halt. Each week, there were unfolding changes and new rules to be enforced. It brought conflict to our community and forced the city to engage residents and business more than we have in the past. In the 12 years as mayor, I’ve worked with businesses and developers who embrace who St. Joseph is and support our small-town culture. While economic future is on a roller coaster, I’ve experienced similar unrest during the housing bubble of 2007-2009 while on the city council and understand the implications a recession may bring to city services and taxes.”
Beniek said, “I will work with St. Joe city staff and residents on a city vision and mission statement. Most great organizations our size have clear missions everyone works from, and so should we. The culture of city government will improve when we all agree why we are here ― and my opinion is that it is to serve the people. I will seek to clarify St. Joe’s processes for city commissions and boards, like the planning commission, economic development authority, parks board and tourism bureau. Too often, decisions have been revealed after they have been made, or at least it feels that way to a lot of people. And at times, commission decisions have been reversed when it comes to a vote of the council. Our residents deserve a transparent governing body to serve our community. And our commission members deserve to have their work honored and listened to without being undermined after the fact. We need to improve our processes of completing projects. This includes city infrastructure, buildings and facilities like a long-promised community center. We also need to be better listeners to residents, including college students from CSB and SJU. I want to support open, authentic, positive change in St. Joe together.”
Hazen said, “Some important issues on my mind are the city’s growth and the changes happening with businesses in the area. I would like to see how we can expand and branch out from the surrounding cities to become a destination. I would also love to expand on our educational system in St. Joseph. I would like to see the partnerships between CSB/SJU and the city grow stronger. I would like to see how we could help one another better our city, including CSB/SJU, and have the alumni not only give back to the college but to the city itself. I would like to see the alumni stay in St. Joseph after they graduate and call it home. I would love to see more activities geared around our younger generation, growing community and diverse population. We are in the process of building a community center and partnering with the YMCA. I feel it is something this city needs and has been requesting for many years. It will help our younger families have more options and activities to do in our town. I will continue to also be fiscally responsible with our budget. I will keep looking at line items and see where we should and shouldn’t spend money and listen to the people on what they want and don’t want.”
Kluesner said, “Keeping the city of St. Joseph safe and clean. We have a beautiful city and residents and business owners take pride in our town. Fund and build the community center. Attract a hotel developer. Attract new businesses to the city and the industrial park to expand the tax base and reduce the tax burden on our residents.”
Scepaniak said, “I believe we need to remove the barriers new businesses face, advertise our community’s strengths to its citizens (public parks, events, new business openings, etc), evaluate the budgets of city departments and look at future community projects (roadway enhancements, community center, etc).”
Schultz said, “1. Continued Safety: Our community is one of if not the safest community in Minnesota. I’m very proud of that and will continue to support our police. We are about to implement both police body and city-wide surveillance cameras to improve officer safety, increase evidence quality, reduce civilian complaints and reduce agency liability. 2. Community Center: Since I’ve been mayor, I’ve put more effort and time into seeing a community center come to fruition. I’ve spent a considerable amount of time in front of neighbors, business, senators, legislators, Governor’s staff, lobbyists…to see this effort through. 3. Activities and Facilities: One of the areas we have improved is the area of youth activities for children of all ages. With the expansion of activities, comes the need for better facilities: Pickle-ball courts, skateboard park, basketball courts are a few of the upgrades the city should consider when shaping year-round activities for everyone. 4, Parks, Trails and Sidewalks: The city has received legacy and DNR grants to design and develop East Park, a 90-acre site which borders the Sauk River along Stearns County Road 121. There is a need to what I call ‘connect the dots’ in terms of trails and sidewalks, with the goal to safely traverse through and around the city, without having to walk on the street.”
Beniek said, “Bennies and Johnnies are essential assets to the city of St. Joseph. Their diverse talents, strengths and gifts make this city thrive. The city needs to invest effort and time in its relationship with the colleges, their students and their employees. I have a head start on this work as the parent of a Bennie and of a Johnnie, spouse of an employee, and collaborator with many of the sisters, monks, faculty, university leaders and students. The colleges bring so much to our city, not just economically, but inspiration, leadership, energy and vibrancy.”
Hazen said, “I have lived in St. Joseph for most of my life. I am passionate about where I live, and would like to thank my mother, Stephanie Hazen, for that.  She was on the council in the early ’90s and influenced my interest in government. She taught my brother and me that we should care about issues and things that are important to us, especially where we are raising our families. My wife, Christina Hazen and I have been married for nine-plus years. We have four amazing children ― Nikolaus (8), Wesley (6), Calvin (3) and Helena (10 months). I know as a leader that one cannot always be right 100% of the time with 100% of the people. I do feel though, that we can listen and try to come to common ground on what is best for our families and neighbors. I feel it is important to listen to our town’s people and understand what is important to them. Just when we think we have all the answers to the questions, the questions change. I always want to keep learning and growing. I would like to continue to work with the other elected officials and come together for the common good for St. Joseph.”
Kluesner said, “Born in Minneapolis. 1979 SJU graduate with a business degree. Married to Amy (Heymans) Kluesner, CSB 1981. We moved to St. Joe from Minneapolis in 1987. Owned and operated Kluesner Financial here in town. Retired in 2021. One child, Paul Kluesner, (St. Cloud VoTech 2008), married to Melissa (CSB 2007). Paul and Missy live in Red Wing. Four grandchildren. Amy is responsible for the environment at St. Joseph Catholic Church. I am on the board of directors of the thrift store Treasure Chest and has served on the St. Joseph City Council since March 2021.  We live at the end of Field Street, southeast of downtown, on a farm formerly owned by the Sisters of St. Benedict. I enjoy riding bike on the Wobegon Trail, hiking in the woods around the area and walking on a regular basis throughout town.”
Scepaniak said, “I have lived in Central Minnesota my entire life and am a St. Joseph resident. I have been on the St. Joseph Fire Department for multiple years as well as the St. Joseph Planning Commission. I understand how to successfully run businesses from over a decade of experience doing so. Moreover, I know first-hand the unduly burdensome obstacles business owners face ― and should not have to. As a young homeowner, I also recognize elements of our community that could be more appealing to those prospectively looking to move to our city. Being an editor and internationally published writer, I could also convey to our residents ― and the greater community ― just how diverse and inviting our community is to grow our populous and bring in more business. I want our community to be reflected in its representation on city council; their voice be heard. I will serve as that megaphone for our community’s concerns and objectives.”
Schultz said, “Having been mayor for so many years, I have a good network of connections, which aid in serving St. Joseph. I am a board member for the League of Minnesota Cities and first VP on the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Board of Directors. These organizations represent the cities throughout the state of Minnesota, dealing with state legislation, policy and governance. I am past president of the St. Joseph Lions Club. You see the Lions symbol on most of the park facilities within the city of St. Joseph. The city benefits greatly by their presence and good will. As mayor of St. Joseph, I am extremely proud to have been elected to so many terms. I consider it a significant accomplishment and a reflection of the trust that members of the community have in my abilities. My personal expectation is to give more than I receive. The position of mayor is not an entitlement, but rather one of responsibility to the community, council and staff. The mayor is the most visible representative of city government in most communities. As a result, I spend a great deal of my time simply being present, listening to the concerns of the community ― neighbors, friends, business and developers.”
Becca Most is a cities reporter with the St. Cloud Times. Reach her at 320-241-8213 or Follow her on Twitter at @becca_most
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