Candidate profile | Heather Holmes
What do you see as the greatest challenge facing Rochester at this moment? If elected, what specific position(s) would you take to address the issue?
Rochester has a number of challenges, as does any growing city, and tremendous growth means growing pains. Transportation infrastructure, affordable and available housing, skilled labor and diverse career opportunities, as well as public safety are top priorities. These are some of the topics that are being discussed by multiple organizations. It is important the city continue to be involved. I would like to see the city take a more proactive role in addressing affordable and available housing, to include reviewing regulation process for development, rental cap consideration, and utilizing city owned land for affordable building opportunities.
Tell us one decision made by the city over the past two years that you disagree with. What would you like to see done differently?
I don’t have one specific decision I necessarily disagree with, but I do feel there is a large opportunity to improve how the city council operates. Our council meetings are too long, the packets too cumbersome, the communication among council members is often viewed as tenuous and addressing citizens and business concerns has been mentioned as difficult. I believe we have an opportunity to improve our communications internally and externally as well as address antiquated ordinances and permit processes.
The city is experiencing an economic boom. Still, many residents and business owners remain concerned about affordability. How would you work to ensure the city's growth is managed responsibly?
Growth of municipal government for the sake of growth is not effective. We have a lot of new leadership within the city and this provides great opportunity to bring in best practices and ideas from other cities and regions across the country. Communication and working together to review areas where we can cut cost, identify the best investments to increase efficiencies and address priorities from residents and businesses, while being fiscally frugal will yield the best results.
Some cities have decided to take the lead on issues such as minimum wage and paid leave. Do you feel Rochester should be doing the same, or are these issues best left to the state and federal levels?
I’m really concerned about families and their ability to thrive in Rochester. I’m focused on affordable and appropriate housing, transportation accessibility and adequate childcare. With the tight labor market, our citizens should have access to training and education opportunities to further advance their careers and improve their family’s economic future. I don’t feel it should be the municipal governments job to regulate labor law. The additional burden, including staffing, training and cost to implement at a local level is not the best investment of our taxpayers’ dollars.
The city council is responsible for oversight of the largest public-private partnership in Minnesota history. What criteria would you like to see applied to developers seeking public assistance?
Rochester has a level of criteria that supersedes many communities and is subject to interpretation. We have the opportunity to review and update our permitting and regulatory process. This could cut cost and delay on the front end. Contractors aren’t waiting on a job site while permitting snafus are addressed, employees aren’t delayed waiting for a business to open and a homeowner isn’t left in the lurch because they can’t move into their home. Whether business or residence, we can eliminate or at least shorten delays and begin contributing to our tax base faster by addressing our current system.
Destination Medical Center is focused on a relatively small chunk of the city. What initiatives or policies could be adopted to strengthen our neighborhoods outside the downtown?
DMC is the largest economic development initiative in state history, and the fact that it is happening in our city is a good thing for all of our residents. It will increase our tax base, expand career opportunities and attract new and diverse business to our city. Residents that I visit with are very proud of their neighborhoods. The main concerns I hear are regarding outdated ordinances, street maintenance, and public transit accessibility. As a representative of Ward 1, I want ensure the opportunities and benefits of DMC are felt by everyone that live outside of DMC’s districts.
As you have been campaigning this summer, what have you been hearing from residents in your ward? Tell us how you would work to address at least one issue specifically affecting your ward.
As I’m out talking with residents, many of their concerns revolve around the day-to-day rigors of life. Street maintenance, outdated ordinances, a direct line of communication with their city representatives and keeping their neighborhoods safe are top of mind. I was surprised at the multiple concerns regarding our parks and recreational facilities: whether the condition or the cost for residents to rent. I believe we could review our current process and consider a solution such as a lower fee for Rochester [taxpaying] residents.
What else should voters know about you?
I care about this city and I began thinking of the qualities I would want to see in my representative: common sense, honesty, and integrity, someone who has my best interests in mind. Fiscally frugal and isn’t afraid to stand up for what’s right. I’m running because I can bring these qualities to the council and our community conversations. I have over two decades of marketing, communications and journalism experience, and currently project manager of the Journey to Growth initiative, which addresses regional issues such as workforce shortages, affordable housing, livable wages and base business growth to increase our economic diversity and vitality. Currently, I serve on the UofM Extension’s Rural Workforce Entrepreneur Recruitment and Retention advisory committee, the Ronald McDonald House and Rotary District 5960 board of directors. I am a member of the Rotary Club of Rochester, Toastmasters Club and various community volunteer efforts.
Primary elections are on Tuesday, August 14. You can use your address to view a sample ballot on the Minnesota Secretary of State's website.