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Election 2012: Doug Franchot, Orono City Council

Patch will highlight candidates from communities throughout Lake Minnetonka in the coming days. Look for your comprehensive election guide coming soon!

Election 2012: Doug Franchot, Orono City Council

Doug Franchot is running against Dennis Walsh, Lizz Levang and Kristi Anderson for two City Council seats up for election this November.

Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Share something most people don’t know about you.

I am a 15-plus year resident of Orono who loves the large amount of natural space we have in the city. I try to keep up with quite a few kids (five) and even more grandchildren (12), although their legs get longer and mine seem to get shorter with each passing year.  

Professionally, I own an executive search business in Wayzata and, before that, held general and marketing management positions at General Mills and several smaller companies. I am very active in a number of non-profit groups and am the chair of both he LMCC and the Heart of the Continent Partnership and the incoming chair of the Voyageurs National Park Association.

What sorts of thoughts come to mind when you think of Lake Minnetonka?

The lake is a huge asset for our city and our area. It is also an asset under siege from overuse and aquatic invasive species. I think Lake Minnetonka, in many ways, defines us and we must be vigilant and pro-active in protecting it.  

At the same time, there is a lot more to Orono than Lake Minnetonka, and we have to be careful to not forget about the many needs elsewhere in the city. I would like to see us do more to make the lake accessible to our citizens who, like me, do not actually live on the lake.

Are invasive species a local, state or federal issue? Or is it a mix? Describe your views.

Invasive species of all types are going to be a problem and a challenge for the foreseeable future—climate change will see to that. The best we can do is slow the process down and adapt and adjust to the new reality. We can have a much greater impact on invasives on land, like buckthorn and purple loosestrife, than on aquatic species, at least for now, and we should work hard to get rid of those.

Aquatic species (AIS) are so much harder, particularly on a lake as big and accessible as Minnetonka. Responding to invasives is an issue and a responsibility for all levels of government, although each has different roles and capabilities.  

I strongly favor the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District taking the lead in fighting AIS on Lake Minnetonka.

What is the most common issue people talk with you about while campaigning? What do you tell them?

Probably because of my role as Chair of the Communications Commission, I hear most about cable issues, primarily the poor customer service of our provider, Mediacom, and especially the unavailability of cable in significant parts of our city.  

The LMCC is currently negotiating the renewal of the franchise with Mediacom which will address these and other issues for the next 10 years. We are optimistic we can get Mediacom to build out the rest of the system and improve their customer service.

Other than individual issues, requests for variances or complaints about neighbors, the primary other concern I hear about is the poor condition of many of our roads. We have started to address this over the past five years, but there is much to be done. I think we need to be smart in how we balance short-term fixes like overlays with major reconstructions.  

More importantly, we need to adopt a sensible plan for financing these investments, one that doesn’t require us to bond for everything.

How do you feel about the current property tax levels? What about school district taxes (understanding the city council has no control over them)?

Judging from the very small number of complaints that I have gotten, I think our property taxes are probably about right. We have successfully kept the city’s portion down during the recent recession, despite some rising costs.  

I expect we will need to raise taxes judiciously over the next four years, but I see no reason for us to change our basic strategy of keeping costs down as much as possible and retaining our historical position of having the lowest tax rates in the area. I can say with great confidence that Orono is a very well-run city with a dedicated and very competent staff.

I think our three school boards, particularly the Orono School Board, do an outstanding job for our citizens. We have truly exceptional schools; frankly, I hear more people saying they have moved here for the schools than for any other reason, although our natural beauty and open spaces are right up there, too.

If the funding were available, what projects—either shovel ready or on the drawing board—would you advocate dedicating it to?

I would really like to see us finish reconstructing our main roads, particularly Watertown and Willow Drive. I would also like to see us actually invest in Navarre to make it more attractive and pedestrian friendly. I think Navarre is the closest thing we have to a town center, and I would like to see it become more of a destination than a drive through.

Finally, I hope we do more than the bare minimum regarding the major Old Highway 12 turn-back project. This is our only other great opportunity to create attractive and useful community space.

Are you satisfied with the public safety services being provided to city residents?

I think we can always do better, but I think we are working from a very strong base. The response times and competence levels of both police and fire have been very good, and I have seen a distinct improvement in the customer service attitude, particularly on the part of the police.  

The addition of Mound to our police department is a huge opportunity to improve service and protection without having to increase costs.

How would you encourage the average citizen to become more engaged in local government?

I don’t need a 100 words to answer this one.  

Show up and be heard.  

That’s what I did, and it has been easier than I expected and very rewarding. There are lots of opportunities to get involved and doing so gives one a much better understanding of how the city operates and, at least for me, made me feel much more connected to the community.

Open forum. Why should voters cast their ballot for you this November?

I think of the four candidates, I am the most experienced and the most pragmatic. I do not have any agenda other than doing what is best for the city as a whole. Having served for the last four years, I have learned a great deal about the ins and outs of city management and will be able to apply that more effectively than someone in their first term.  

Finally, my leadership on the LMCC during the franchise renewal negotiations will ensure that Orono’s voice is heard and needs met.

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