Candidate profile | Mike Walters
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?
The most pressing issue facing the city is managing growth to benefit the people of Rochester and preserve the blessings we have justifiably come to expect from our city. We can do this by implementing the vision of the comprehensive plan. I would support spending the modest resources necessary to hire the staff who can accelerate this process. The plan envisions Rochester as both one community and as a network of healthy neighborhood-communities. I think that’s a correct statement of what the people of Rochester want to be, and I look forward to seeing it realized.
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 have publicly disagreed with a few city actions. I dissented from the Alatus project because I felt it didn’t fully consider the height impact of the tower on its neighbors. And I dissented from the Miracle Mile apartments because I felt they were not planned in a way that protected pedestrian safety.
On a more recent example, I was wary of the one-size-fits-all nature of some temporary regulations governing Broadway. Since they’re only temporary, we’ll have a chance to revisit them. When we do, I would like to see special attention to the neighborhoods and natural features along Broadway.
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?
In creating the comprehensive plan, the city knew we couldn’t impose a top-down vision. So public engagement was the first step. Most people supported a vision of small-yet-dense interconnected neighborhoods within the current boundaries of Rochester. This vision would help taxpayers by ensuring that new growth does not mean new costs. And it would make energy and transit more accessible.
I want to realize that vision in the same way that we crafted it; by beginning with public engagement, with people from each area of the city serving as the expert witnesses for their own neighborhoods.
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 am not sold on the city taking on labor regulations that have historically been handled on the state level. Some regulation of paid sick days is promising, since there is evidence that paid sick time prevents the spread of illness and can even fight domestic violence. But I would nevertheless proceed cautiously, since this would be a new experience for the city.
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?
I believe that a project should show a substantial and material public benefit before receiving assistance. I am inclined look favorably on projects that provide affordable housing, environmental benefits, or an increase in public park space. I look with more caution at projects that provide only aesthetic benefits or the vague promise of undefined jobs.
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?
To start, I support increasing the size of the council, from six wards to eight, in the next census. Among a variety of benefits, having six or seven council members representing greater Rochester neighborhoods, next to one or two representing downtown, would reinforce the truth that downtown is only one important piece of a larger whole. On specific policy, neighborhoods need transit. And the way to do that is to consider transit and housing together. By incrementally improving the places best served by public transit, we improve efficiency, which then allows us to improve service to more than just downtown.
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.
The top-three concerns I hear are: 1) “This growth isn’t for regular people,”; 2) Rising property taxes (especially among retirees); and 3) Affordable housing. To address these, we need to ensure that the growth of city services does not outpace the growth of the tax base. This means no more presuming that development “pays for itself”. It means watching our capital improvements budget. And it means being cautious with new infrastructure and having a plan to maintain it. In sum, it means following the principles of the comprehensive plan.
What else should voters know about you?
Growing up in Rochester gave me every possible blessing. I am standing for election in the hope to pass those blessings on to the next generation of Rochester families. I was born here, graduating from Century in 2003. Jaclyn and I have three children, Evelyn, Mary, and Elizabeth. Jaclyn works as a shopkeeper for a small local business. By day, I am a lawyer with both a private practice and a court-appointed public defense practice. Through this work, I get to see Rochester from a variety of perspectives, particularly on matters of public safety. I have been president of the Olmsted Bar Association and a founding member of the Olmsted County Drug Court. For civic service, I have served the last six years on the Planning and Zoning Commission. We passed Rochester’s new comprehensive plan, which I firmly believe reflects the values and principles of our city and our neighborhoods.
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.