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The Carletonian

Two Carleton faculty members running for Northfield mayor

<rly impossible to find a Carleton student without some opinion on the 2008 presidential election, and most are familiar with comedian Al Franken’s bid to unseat incumbent Minnesota senator Norm Coleman. But next to these two high-profile elections, many on the Carleton campus are unaware of a third closely contested race: that being waged for mayor of the City of Northfield.

In the race for mayor, the Carleton community has yielded one serious bid — that of Paul Hager, technical director of Cinema and Media Studies — as well as a satirical write-in campaign from Brendon Etter, textbook manager in the college bookstore and prolific writer and actor.

Hager said his decision to run came out of his frustrations with the administration of current mayor Lee Lansing, who has been accused of several ethics violations during his tenure.

In December, a City Council investigation concluded that Lansing violated the city’s ethics code by pushing to build a city-owned liquor store on his son’s land. The council took away his keys to City Hall, and a criminal investigation is currently underway at the Goodhue County Sheriff’s Department.

In addition, former city administrator Al Roder has alleged that Lansing attempted to force him out of his job by verbally harassing him and his family. Roder and the City Council are currently negotiating a separation agreement that may give him up to $35 thousand in exchange for not suing the city.

“Northfield has worked itself into a hole,” Hager said. If elected, he said, he would direct the focus of city government back to the important issues and away from the distractions of the past four years.

Hager served as mayor from 1994-1997, and as a city councilor for five years before that. He chose not to run for re-election back then, he said, because of his two young sons and his belief that a politician should not be in office for life. Currently, he is serving a term on the school board, ending this year.

Out of a seven-way primary, Hager and downtown businesswoman Mary Rossing earned the most votes, while current mayor Lansing finished a distant sixth. Rossing received over 1200 votes to Hager’s 581, but Hager believes he stands a good chance of winning. He pointed out that only one-tenth of registered voters cast their ballot for Rossing in the primary, in a city where turnout in the general election (this year on November 4) is often around 80%.

Hager claimed that Rossing’s showing in the primary is due mostly to her small, very vocal group of supporters and that the majority of voters will respond to his experience and his reputation as an effective political leader. He described himself as a “strong mayor” who also pledges to work cooperatively with the six council members to set priorities and allocate limited resources.

One of the biggest issues that either Hager or Rossing will face if elected is a budget crunch. The general downturn in the nation’s economy is likely to translate into decreased tax revenues on the state level, which will in turn limit the amount of aid the state gives to local governments. At the same time, the state legislature has placed limits on the tax rate that local governments may collect from their constituents.

While Hager said that services would need to be cut in order to make up for the budget gap, he declined to provide specifics, saying that the full extent of the shortfall would not be clear until the State of Minnesota issues its budget forecast after the election. But he did indicate that rather than trim low-level employees earning around $14 an hour, such as those working in the town library, it would be more effective to eliminate jobs in middle management.

In the light of the budget shortfall, he said that certain improvements in infrastructure — such as a new safety center for firefighters or an expanded library — may have to be delayed, but that the city must maintain its commitment to responsible development of new residential properties and the road network.

Hager, who is a native of Northfield, has worked at Carleton for ten years. In his position as Technical Director of CAMS, he is responsible for the software and hardware used by CAMS courses beyond the support that Information Technoloy Services provides. He also teaches classes in video production, including part of the introductory video production class and a course on documentary filmmaking.

In addition to his Carleton duties, he is director of NTV, a television station in Northfield that provides public access programming through an agreement with the city government. If elected mayor, he said that he would probably have to give up that position, but that he would remain at Carleton in his current capacity.

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