HIBBING — One wants to retain the seat he’s held for eight years, while his opponent wants the city’s top spot and is offering to do it at no monetary gain.

Incumbent Rick Cannata faced challenger Gary Oie during a Hibbing Chamber of Commerce candidate forum Tuesday at Hibbing City Hall.

The two fielded nearly 30 questions, with topics ranging from fiscal responsibility and economic development to citizen engagement and Hibbing Public Utilities.

Cannata, marketing representative for a laborers union, is vying for his third term. He’s been mayor since 2011.

He says he’s worked hard for the city, remained honest and got back to all who’ve contacted him. He touted maintaining an open door policy and said he’s running to retain his seat to ensure continued growth.

This is Oie’s first run for mayor. A financial advisor at Security Investment Solutions, he’s been chair of the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission for the past 8 years and a member for 13 years.

He’s “volunteering” to be mayor to bring “significant change” to Hibbing and has vowed to donate his mayor salary to charity, if elected.

Oie ran unsuccessfully for school board in 2005 and Ward B city council in 2006.

Hibbing’s business environment is one of Oie’s top priorities. More businesses are needed, he said. His other top concern is establishing an open door policy to provide more transparency and truth in city government.

“I would be at city hall daily,” he added.

Cannata’s top priority is a focus on “continued growth” and “continued improvements to infrastructure.” Remaining responsive to constituents and maintaining an open door policy are also high on his list, he said.

Both offered their personal understanding and definitions of Hibbing Public Utilities and its commission.

Cannata said the council should remain diligent and involved as the commission makes future decisions. Oie suggested HPU begin to look at other ways to produce energy, as well as find ways to be as efficient and profitable as possible.

They tackled the topic of blight, voiced support for expanded wellness and recreation options at the Memorial Building, defined the role of a city council, and addressed how each would encourage residents to get involved in the city’s decision making process.

If given $1 million in unrestricted funds, Oie said he’d use it to promote Hibbing, create open space downtown, create jobs and more. Cannata cited the city budget and reductions to Local Government Aid (LGA), but said he’d find ways to put that million to a good use.

The duo also provided a vision for what Hibbing looks like in 2022, if elected and all goals are filled.

Looking ahead to just the next two years, Cannata said the top three issues facing Hibbing will be getting LGA back, the fate of HPU and business growth and retention. Oie also cited HPU as well as rebuilding the business environment and promoting transparency in city government.

When asked what city services might be reduced or improved, both agreed that the city’s current levels of service should remain as is and praised the work of city employees. Cannata touted how the city has reduced positions in recent years by combining departments and positions. Oie said one area that should be looked into is sanitation working on holidays.

A question of economic development spurred Oie to talk about the need to promote Hibbing, while Cannata took the cue to highlight recent loans OK’d by the Hibbing Economic Development Authority (HEDA) — a figure he says is somewhere between $2 and $2.5 million.

The pair were asked if current incentives and inducements to encourage economic development were appropriate, to which Cannata responded that the city will work with all interested parties, Oie opined that all current incentives are appropriate as long as they are legitimate, and mentioned that maybe a few more tax incentives could be offered.

To attract people to city boards and commissions, Oie said he’s leading by example, will have an open door policy and will encourage all to serve the community. Cannata acknowledged that getting applicants has long been an issue, adding that he feels that tide is turning a bit.

Attracting young families to settle in Hibbing comes down to the amenities the community has to offer, the two agreed. Oie said a strong retail environment is a key. Cannata mentioned recreational offerings, such as the city’s parks, trails and upcoming splash pad.

The city’s comprehensive plan was also addressed. While still in the works, each was asked to weigh in. Cannata said that not all parts of it should be followed, as some concepts in it may not be realistic.

“It’s a guide of what we want for the future. Some of it goes back on the citizens …,” he said.

Noting how little if anything was done with the former comp plan, Oie said this one should be followed and would be under his leadership.

Additional topics included the city’s role in reducing drugs and alcohol abuse, being environmentally friendly, addressing legacy costs, sharing service with other communities and how they’d convince state lawmakers to improve the area.

Watch the forum on-demand on Hibbing Public Access Television’s website at hpat.org or look for replays on HPAT Channel 7.

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