Infrastructure, character of city are talking points in Mendota Heights race

Residents in Mendota Heights have a full ballot waiting for them on Nov. 6. With the mayoral seat and two council seats up this year, there’s no shortage of options.

Incumbent Mayor Neil Garlock will face-off against Jill Smith for the center dais seat while incumbent council members Ultan Duggan and Liz Petschel are trying to hold onto their seats against John Mazzitello, Rachel Quick, Chadwick Vandarious and Jonathan Zagel for two open council seats.

The Review asked the candidates via email why there are running, what skills and experiences they will bring to the office, what they believe to be the top challenges the city faces, and what issues or projects they would prioritize if elected.

 

Mayor

Neil Garlock, 60, resides in the city with his wife Mona and is a retired police officer. He is currently serving his first term as mayor. He graduated from the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy and served in the Marine Corps. He is a full-time driver for Shepard Road Parking.

If re-elected, he said he would bring his four years of experience as a platoon leader, 34 years of law enforcement, various leadership positions, knowledge of the city’s budget and his experience of working with every department within the city for 26 years. 

Garlock said he’s enjoyed his first term as mayor and has learned a lot. The current council has completed a lot, but Garlock said more projects remain. 

“I embrace those challenges and remained focused. I am looking forward to another term as mayor,” he said. 

One challenge facing the city is maintaining its aging infrastructure. Garlock said the needs of repairing the infrastructure need to be reviewed and prioritized, and a long-range schedule needs to be established. 

Other challenges include traffic construction and retention of city staff. Garlock said the congestion on Dodd Road is a concern for many residents and that the city needs to meet with the Minnesota Department of Transportation to attempt to fix the traffic flow problem. 

“Over the past two years we have hired many city staff members. We must retain those very qualified members so we can provide the best services to the residents of Mendota Heights,” he said.

Garlock added the project in the city he would prioritize in the coming years is the expansion and remodel of the current fire station.

“We have a top-notch fire department and this much-needed upgrade to the station will help to provide continued quality service to the residents of Mendota Heights,” he said.

 

Jill Smith, 75, used to work in the 3M Corporate Real Estate Department and lives in the city with her husband Tom. 

She has a master’s degree in public affairs regarding land use and transportation from the University of Minnesota Humphrey School, and a master’s in business regarding real estate appraisal and analysis from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. 

Smith previously served on the council for eight years, and was designated as acting mayor for six of those years. She’s also served on various city commissions.

If elected, Smith said she would bring her experience in municipal and regional government, professional experience in corporate real estate from 3M and experience in working with local government. She added she has experience in real estate law and documents, finance and advocating, as well as skills including analysis, working with residents, problem solving and negotiating. 

She said she is running for mayor because of her commitment to the city and her “desire to retain the special character that has made our city such a beautiful place to live, work and raise a family.”

She said the “recent deviation from the principles and careful approach that has guided our city, approval of high-density developments, and an emphasis on density proposed in the 2040 Comprehensive Plan,” are challenges. Other challenges include traffic congestion and preserving and restoring natural resources.

If elected as mayor, Smith said she would look at the remaining 1 percent of land in the city for those uses that are desired and complement the city. 

“Development must be compatible with and not compromise surrounding uses,” she said.

Smith said she would focus on improved transparency of city activities and greater consideration of the opinions given by residents. 

 

Council

Ultan Duggan, 77, is married to Terry and is retired. He is serving out his fourth term on the council. 

Duggan completed his post-grad studies at Arizona State University and Ball State University. He is the previous owner of a Dr. Scholls Shoes store in St. Paul.

If re-elected, Duggan said the skills he would bring to the council include his experience, listening, being fair, deliberative and responsive. 

“Mendota Heights is blessed with talented people,” he said. “City government needs to acknowledge this, and invite these people to serve on commissions, committees, ad hoc groups.”

Duggan said the city must work with the new Vikings training complex, which is in Eagan across Interstate 494, to anticipate events and developments between the two cities, especially traffic, and plan accordingly. 

He added the 2040 Comprehensive Plan needs to set the tone, goals and character of the city. 

Duggan said he challenged the Metropolitan Council and Dakota County when they wanted the city to build out to a population of 15,000 people.

“We successfully established a cap of 12,000 for 2025-30,” Duggan said. “Our city needs to establish a new vision for the next 20-25 years; with guidelines and goals to protect our open, spacious, gracious and friendly city.”

Duggan added recent government initiatives pertaining to the city’s density would lead to a more crowded city, which would fly in the face of its unofficial motto, “spacious and gracious.”

“I fought it then; I will fight this now,” he said. 

 

John Mazzitello, 48, is a senior civil engineering consultant and married to Lari Anne. He has an MBA from Argosy University. 

Mazzitello said he has 26 years of experience as a civil engineer. He worked as the city’s public works director/city engineer for eight years and is on the Planning Commission, which he said gives him thorough knowledge of city operations and budgeting. 

He added he has leadership experience from a 22-year Air Force/Air National Guard career, and a proven record of public involvement and inclusiveness. Mazzitello said he has existing relationships with neighboring communities, state agencies, Dakota County and other entities the city needs to collaborate and communicate with.

“I am running for city council because I have experience in dealing with the issues facing Mendota Heights,” Mazzitello said. 

He added he has spent his career addressing land development, land-use planning, infrastructure and a range of other topics. 

Mazzitello is also running “because Mendota Heights deserves council members that will be present year-round, and that will engage with stakeholders about the future of our community.”

A challenge he said the city faces is development in and around the city that will change traffic patters and likely increase congestion. Mazzitello added resistance to change, something the city is going through, is common.

“Rather than being fearful of the future, we need council members who can plan ahead and guide these changes into the benefit of the entire city,” he said. 

If elected, Mazzitello said he would prioritize the city’s aging infrastructure. He said he would push for long-range plans and prioritization of work to fit fiscal policies. Mazzitello added he would look for additional funding sources for this work while maintaining “the low tax status our residents have become accustomed to.”

 

Liz Petschel, 69, has served two terms on the council and is married to Ken. She is a volunteer at the Ministry to the Sick and Dying at St. Joseph’s Church in West St. Paul. She did post graduate work in critical care nursing at Marquette University. 

Petschel said her skills include the ability to work “collegially and productively with the leadership of other cities,” as well as problem-solving and communication skills. She said she has previous leadership experience in many organizations, including having chaired the Noise Oversight Committee at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and serving the city in multiple capacities for 18 years.

Petschel said she is running for re-election because of her desire to serve the city and its residents. 

“We’ve started new initiatives in traffic planning and surface water management that I would like to see through to their fruition,” she said, adding she would like to work on ways to have permanent funding for the maintenance of parks and trails. 

A priority for Petschel is traffic. She added this is not just a Mendota Heights issue, but rather a regional issue that involves MnDOT, Dakota County, Inver Grove Heights and Eagan.

“We are all going to have to work cooperatively and collegially on short-term and long-term solutions,”Petschel said. 

 

Rachel Quick, 34, is the senior director of technical support for Recurly, Inc. She has a master’s degree in library and information science from St. Catherine University. 

She said she has demonstrated leadership on projects and committees, and natural resources awareness. Quick added she has been involved in the community and has organization management and technical skills she would bring to the council if elected.

“Mendota Heights has always been my home, and as I look to raise my family here, I want to ensure it remains the beautiful, vital and welcoming community where I was raised,” she said.

She added while she has been involved in the community her whole life, she feels she can do more. Her experience working with many residents and volunteer organizations means she has “the connections to get the community involved in city decisions and [to] better lead interactions with city staff and council.”

Quick said while the city is mostly developed, other communities are experiencing a growth in developments. This means the city needs to prepare and address any impacts from those neighboring communities. 

To keep the city green, Quick said invasive plants and animals need to be mitigated and aging infrastructure needs to be updated. Communication methods also need to be updated, Quick said, to ensure the needs of all residents are being heard. 

If elected, Quick said she would like to rally the “expertise of our residents, increase our budget for more projects, and prioritize the development of a formal Natural Resources Management Plan.”

“I believe this is a critical step for the Mendota Heights City Council to drive our community towards ongoing health and preservation of our environment,” she said.

 

Chadwick Vandarious, 33, is married to Amelia and is a data analyst for Sedgwick CMS. He has a degree in psychology from the University of Minnesota. 

Vandarious said if elected he would bring his analytical mindset, passion and youth to the council. 

He said he and his wife moved to Mendota Heights to start a family because it had something they valued — “great character as a community.”

“However, since we moved here we’ve noticed a shift, a shift away from the neighborhood feel and the quiet green spacious community we love. Progress can’t and shouldn’t be stopped, but I’m running to prove that we can have progress without changing the character of our community,” he said. 

Vandarious said high-density development, traffic — in particular on Dodd Road — and environmental challenges are of major concern. He added his issues all tie to the one central theme he stands for — the preservation of Mendota Heights’ character.

“Our character is defined by the neighborhood feel, the quiet nature and the green spaces all around us. If we don’t work to protect these things, they will be ignored and eroded irrevocably, changing the nature or our community for the worst,” Vandarious said.

He added he feels the city’s character is threatened by the shift towards high density, and if elected his top priority would be combating that. 

Vandarious said the splitting of lots and large apartment buildings are taking away from the spacious green community. Rezoning may need to be considered to protect the city.

“We need to consider rezoning areas of our city to protect them. We also need to remember that when developers come, we are Mendota Heights and we don’t have to give anything away,” he said.

 

Jonathan Zagel, 40, is the vice president of account and finance for the Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota. He’s married to Alicia and has a master’s degree in accounting from the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. 

He said the skills he would bring to the council if elected include strategic planning, fiscal responsibility, community development, communication and governance. 

“Mendota Heights is a safe and friendly community, and I have a passion to make our great city even better,” Zagel said, adding many decision’s made by the council and commissions are made without taking into consideration the broader strategic plan or adverse impacts on the community. 

Zagel said his purpose if elected is to serve his fellow community members. 

He said many of the city’s challenges stem from a lack of proactive planning by the current council. The challenges include issues stemming from large developments in and around the city. 

Another challenge is strengthening confidence in city government by improving the citizen input process and other methods. A third issue is green space, which is a great pride in the city.

“However, invasive species are a major concern. They cause environmental damage, can negatively impact property values and adversely affect human health,” said Zagel. 

If elected, Zagel said he would strive for proactive problem solving by listening to and addressing concerns of residents and working with neighboring cities and agencies to address important issues that affect all. 

He added he would also prioritize developing a long-term plan to preserve the city’s open spaces while working with other entities to eliminate invasive species and cultivate native plants.

 

Election Day is Nov. 6. To find your polling place visit www.pollfinder.sos.state.mn.us.

 

– Hannah Burlingame can be reached at 651-748-7824 or hburlingame@lillienws.com

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