VIRGINIA — Three incumbents are seeking re-election to the Virginia City Council in November, while three challengers are also vying for the three positions.

Incumbents Carl Baranzelli, Steven B. Johnson, and Julianne Paulsen are running against Clancy Graham, Matt Matasich, and Jamie Winger.

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Steven Bert Johnson

Background:

Johnson, 45, a licensed foster parent, is single and has two children, Kenny and Codie. He is a 1993 graduate of Virginia High School, and a June 1995 graduate of Mesabi Community College, with an Associate of Arts degree. He graduated summa cum laude in May 1999 from the University of Minnesota-Duluth, with a Bachelor of Applied Science degree, major in elementary education, GPA of 3.97, and collateral field of social science. He earned an Associate of Science in Business degree in May 199 fromMesabi Range Community & Technical College. Johnson is an adult education instructor with the Arrowhead Economic Opportunity Agency at Mesabi Range College.

Why are you running for re-election?

“I am running for re-election because the City of Virginia and its citizens are heading in an amazing direction,” he said. “We are part of a time of forward movement that can only mean a better way of life and a growing community.

“My charge as an elected official is to honor my grandfather's service in World War II and my friends and family that have or are serving in the Minnesota National Guard. I honor their commitment to democracy by serving locally in the purest form of representative democracy.”

Johnson said that during the past four years as a Virginia City Councilor, he has accomplished a number of his original goals and has “been a part of the team that has moved the city forward.”

His biggest goals when elected “was to have better communication to the citizens of Virginia. This will continue to be my goal if elected to a second term,” he said.

“Almost immediately after my election, I was able to work with the city administrator to establish and use an official City of Virginia Facebook page. This page, along with the pages of the library, fire department, and police department have been vital in establishing an additional line of communication with the public.

“I am currently encouraging and working with a PUC commissioner and city staff to get the Virginia Public Utilities to create and update a Facebook page to keep us informed and up-to-date about regular communication as well as utility emergencies. I hope to see this up and running by the end of the year.”

Johnson said some of the other ways he has assisted with communication include:

Upgrading the council chambers to provide live streaming on YouTube of all committees of the whole, special, and regular council meetings. “Citizens no longer have to wait to see a council meeting, or click through multiple web pages to access information. Simply go to our home page www.virginiamn.us and click on the ‘Watch us on YouTube!’ link in the lower left corner.”

Installing a new phone system that will soon allow an individual to call city hall and be transferred directly to any city councilor that has downloaded and turned on the accompanying app. “This is one more way to ensure you have access to me, your elected representative.”

Holding regular visiting hours. “Prior to COVID, I had regular visiting hours both at the Virginia Botanical Gardens and Virginia City Hall. I fully intend to continue open hours at city hall once local spread rates lower. I am always available via phone or Facebook."

Johnson noted that two years ago he brought forward a motion to move the Tuesday evening council meeting ahead an hour to 5:30 p.m. “This move has allowed for better use of staff time as well as there is no longer perceived pressure to ‘hurry up’ to keep the cable channel clear for the 7 p.m. sporting events.

“I will continue to lobby for a time for committee meetings that do not require working councilors or other interested parties from taking half a day off.”

Johnson added that he was part of the committee that hired the city Parks and Recreation director, who is managing work on the Miners Event and Convention Center and has helped to save “tens of thousands of dollars in change orders.”

“I am proud to report he has brought the department together in a cohesive and cooperative team. Over the last two years a comprehensive plan has been created that provides for ongoing regular care and upkeep of not only our green spaces, but the multiple buildings and shelters regularly used by people from all over.”

If you are re-elected, what do you hope to accomplish for the city?

“I would continue to work on the rental code in Virginia,” Johnson responded. “The current council has created and is working to hire a Community Development Planner type position that will help continue to drive us forward in establishing and enforcing a rental code. Blight is a major concern of many people. The goal of this code is to keep all citizens safe by providing minimum standards for electrical, heating, sewer, and overall property safety. I will continue to be a voice for the renters that are too afraid to lose their homes if the toilet doesn’t work or there is a broken window. We all deserve to live in a community that is safe, clean, and attractive.”

Johnson said he would continue to support and listen to the employees of the city and to support public safety staff. “I have done numerous ride-alongs with the fire and police departments. The information learned from being a part of a day of the courageous people is mind blowing. I have learned so much about the needs of the city from these first-hand experiences. I have also listened to numerous employees in most of the departments to be able to ask good questions. Not only do I represent the citizens of Virginia, I represent our employees. It is important for me to keep the human aspect as part of every decision I make.”

Additionally, Johnson said he would continue to address budgetary issues.

“City administration, department heads, and staff have worked tirelessly to present balanced and healthy budgets each year,” he said. “Eighteen months ago a majority of the city unions and council changed health insurance plans to save the city tens of thousands of dollars each year. This was a hard choice, but it has been successful.

“We continue to work with the last union to switch over to make the saving even more substantial. The budget is a delicate balance of wants and needs. The council supports city staff in seeking and obtaining grants that help us make the City of Virginia better.

“Trail construction, safety equipment, and park/green space renovation are a few of the ways the city has shifted money to improve our quality of life. I have learned that running a city is different than running a small business, but the principles are the same: be smart, plan, and communicate. This year our budget looks good due to the hard work of the staff and the support of the council. I will continue to work with staff to keep our tax levy down and provide the services citizens demand.”

What issues do you see as most important in Virginia currently?

“Virginia needs to keep moving forward,” Johnson said. “We need to adapt and change while honoring our past and those that came before. When I take time to be silent and listen, concerns and ideas come from the most interesting people.”

The incumbent said he continues “to hold the Public Utility accountable not only for the steam conversion and abandonment, but for the several recent challenges with the electricity. I am aware and concerned about businesses that are losing revenue during already limited capacity having to close early. I feel we need answers as to why things are happening and information about plans and what is being done to solve the long-term problems.”

While different issues are important to different people, “it is my job to listen and help bring those issues forward for discussion and resolution. Not all will agree with the answers in the end, but we must continue to move forward.”

Other comments:

“I will be quiet and listen,” Johnson said. “I will listen more than I speak. I will continue to learn about the City of Virginia and our surrounding communities. I appreciate and am grateful for the opportunities I have had to meet and learn from people around the state. I will continue to learn from the city staff, administration, and community members.”

Johnson said he will continue to ask “hard questions,” as well as “continue to give a voice to those that are often not heard. I do understand that I will not agree with all those that come before the council. I will continue to be as open and transparent as possible, both with why I make the decisions I am and with the process of city government. I will treat all people with respect and dignity. I will be fair and kind.”

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Julianne Paulsen

Background:

Paulsen has lived in Virginia for more than 16 years with her husband and five children. “We are business owners of a retail store as well as a manufacturing company,” she said. “My experience has allowed me to serve on many community boards in the City of Virginia, including VEDA.”

Why are you running for re-election?

"Having served our community for the past four years, I truly enjoy being a proactive and positive leader,” Paulsen said. “There are many projects coming forward and currently taking shape in Virginia. This is an exciting time for growth and economic development. Being involved in shaping Virginia's future is very rewarding to me. I enjoy the challenges presented, while understanding the importance that each decision holds for our community's economic future.”

If you are re-elected, what do you hope to accomplish for the city?

“As the City of Virginia will soon realize with the new Miners Entertainment and Convention Center coming to fruition, there will be great potential for future development,” she said. “Envisioning new restaurants, hotels, and potential residential development, whether in Midway or in the heart of our town, is something I would like to see accomplished.”

Paulsen noted that the Minnesota House and Senate recently passed a bonding bill which included nearly $10 million for a new Public Safety Center in Virginia. “This is a very important and necessary resource for not only the City of Virginia, but also surrounding communities. Working toward the completion of this goal is also something I would like to see accomplished.”

What issues do you see as most important in Virginia currently?

“Virginia's circumstances are ever growing and changing. One of these is the potential of having a city planner assist the council with a very much-needed rental code,” Paulsen responded. “This rental code would give our police and fire departments guidelines to help both our landlords and tenants reside safely in the city of Virginia and improve the overall quality of life.”

Another pertinent issue, she said, is fixing the city’s streets. “Our Street and Alley Committee is currently working on plans to improve Virginia's roadways. I would like to continue this work as well as work on creative funding sources to help accomplish long-term street maintenance goals.”

Additionally, she said, as a current Essentia Health hospital board member, “I also feel that having quality and accessible health care is vital for Virginia and I will continue to encourage Essentia in their efforts to provide care in our community.”

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Clancy Graham

Background:

Graham is a lifelong resident, born at the Virginia Hospital to parents who worked for the family’s mortuary business that started in 1912. “I joined them in working for the funeral home at the age of 16, driving the funeral car, until the books were closed in the early ’80s. When the family business needed to close, I started working in the video business and selling Amsoil,” he said. “I was president of the Cable Commission and then I was Commander of the Sons of American Legion Post 239 for 15 years. I was a cameraman for live local sports. From there I put on for local cable access the Eveleth City Council meetings for 17 years. I needed to resign so I could put the Virginia City Council meetings on and did so for over two years. Afterwards I did commercials for the local origination sports; Parks and Rec Commission for two years.”

Why are you running for election?

“I have a deep belief that Virginia can return to what it was 50 years ago if everyone gets involved in volunteerism,” Graham said. “People need to meet each other to make new friends, get out to get fresh air and exercise, build on networking. By doing these while volunteering to clean up the city we will be honoring Marty,” he said of the late Marty Biondich, a beloved Virginia citizen and gentle soul who enjoyed sweeping the streets downtown. “We need a team of Martys.”

If you are elected, what do you hope to accomplish for the city?

“I want to make the city of Virginia a better place to live for men, women and children,” he said. “Working with the police department, I want Williams Addition and Ridgewood to have extra patrol so the ladies can feel safer by seeing that the area is being patrolled more. The police, fire, and paramedics are doing the greatest job that they can helping everyone from the elderly to the children. By working with these professionals, if we can increase the amount of people volunteering, the city can become a safer place to grow up, raise a family and retire.”

What issues do you see as most important in Virginia currently?

“Keeping the parents working so they can raise their children in this beautiful city, the Queen City,” Graham responded, saying the lack of employment opportunities is one of the biggest issues. “Mom and pop shops are struggling with remaining to stay open and therefore cannot hire individuals. Tourism is not being made the most of. There is more we can do to bring people to the Queen City of the Iron Range.”

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Matt Matasich

Background:

Matasich was born and raised in Virginia. He is an alumnus of Roosevelt High School, Mesabi Community College, and the College of St. Thomas. He is a semi-retired private investor, a former Virginia City Councilor, and a former Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board member.

Why are you running for election?

“I am running because I love the City of Virginia; it is my circle of life,” he said. “The past few years the city has stumbled; property taxes have gone up, a sales tax, even a new $60 per year bridge sewer tax was instituted, yet streets haven’t been fixed, infrastructure crumbles, the city looks pathetic. Just look at our main street. Where have our tax dollars gone?”

If you are elected, what do you hope to accomplish for the city?

Matasich said he has four main priorities:

Fixing streets and infrastructure.

Getting snow cleaned up immediately. The current policy “allows ice to build up.”

Re-instituting spring and fall alley clean up.

Working on power outages. “The rolling power outage in the city must end. No excuses,” he said, adding, “This is not California.”

What issues do you see as most important in Virginia currently?

“Diversified economic development,” Matasich responded. “Virginia, along with the other Quad Cities, must channel efforts into new industries. It was done before and can be done again.” For example, he said, the Arrow Shirt Factories “had a 40-year run that provided thousands of jobs during that era. It can be done again.”

Other comments:

“The past three years, great historic votes have taken place in the tai-city school district. One was for collaboration and the other, consolidation. Both were passed. Those votes will leave positive fruit for the future of our area,” he said.

“Virginia, Eveleth, Mountain Iron and Gilbert must look at each other and say we are in this together and not oppose each other. Through cooperation a synergism will develop where services will be improved and taxes lowered. You can take that to the bank!”

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Jamie Winger

Background:

Winger grew up in Virginia, attended Central Lakes Community College and graduated with an Associates Degree in heavy equipment and maintenance. He joined the U.S. Navy and served as a Seabee as a heavy equipment operator. He returned to Virginia after the military and was hired at United Taconite, where he has been employed for the past 16 years.

“In that 16-year time frame, I have held and still hold several different union positions,” currently as vice president of USW 6860, he said. “In 2019, I applied for the Virginia Planning and Zoning Committee, where I was voted in as vice chairman. My background in construction, along with the knowledge I have gained from the Planning and Zoning Committee, has given me more insight to our town’s revival, growth and development.”

Why are you running for election?

“I am running for city council because I feel there is a significant portion of our community that is not represented in our local government, myself included,” Winger said. “I want to see this change. I want to see our town strive to make a difference in several areas; one of them being the negative effects of COVID-19, where I know many of our small businesses have suffered and or closed during this time.

“I also live downtown Virginia; I know first-hand what happens on my street. I want my neighbors and my community to feel safe knowing their local government has their best interests in mind. I want to assure them that their money is not going to waste and that someone is going to do the best they can to help them with city government issues.”

If you are elected, what do you hope to accomplish for the city?

“I hope to accomplish several things,” he said. “The ultimate goal is to set an example that clearly demonstrates and defines the responsibility of a city council member, which is to represent the community and have a strong follow-through.”

Additionally, Winger said, “other things I would like to monitor and address are expenses, council communication with the community and effectively addressing all issues and concerns presented by our community. The city council is not represented by just one person; it takes group effort to approve and move a decision in the right direction. With that said, I look forward to working with each member of the council and mayor to come to the best decisions for our community if elected.”

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