HIBBING — Three of the four Hibbing residents vying for the two-year city councilor at-large seat compared notes and voiced philosophies during a recent Hibbing Chamber of Commerce forum.
Those being quizzed were political newcomers: Casey Clover, Demetre Karahalios and John Schweiberger. Missing from the forum was Carlene Lantman, who has reportedly not been campaigning.
The two-year, at-large seat is new due to the city’s change in form of government. All Hibbing residents can cast their ballots in this race on Nov. 6.
Born and raised in Hibbing, Karahalios left for a brief time, returned to Hibbing in 2012 and continues to work at the family business, Sportsmen’s Restaurant and Taverna. He’s also been a member of the Hibbing Chemical Health Advisory Committee for three years.
His top priorities include: working to increase Local Government Aid (LGA) to expand economic development and manufacturing jobs, holding Hibbing Public Utilities Commissioners (PUC) responsible and pushing tourism.
Karahalios recently completed a challenge he called “30 Days of Service,” in which he volunteered in the community for 30 days.
“I believe that if you’re going to be in a position of leadership, you need to be able to relate to people and have compassion for people, so by volunteering, that’s really taught me that,” Karahalios said. “That’s a very strong leadership skill that I have.”
Clover works at Minntac and is a lifelong Hibbing resident. His goal is to bring in new businesses while helping current businesses expand. One way he believes expansion is possible is by tackling the workers shortage issue via targeted education.
“I think part of the problem is that a lot of these colleges are pushing four-year degrees and nobody’s doing a two-year trades degree to get into a job right away,” Cloved stated. “ … There’s a gap between the skilled workforce that’s hurting people that need people like that.”
Clover also intends to work with the PUC to find the best way to help residents convert to gas while simultaneously trying to save jobs at Hibbing Public Utilities (HPU).
He also hopes to get broadband services citywide and to rural areas.
Schweiberger is lifelong Hibbing resident and is employed at Hibbing Taconite. He’s been working in his family’s concession business since he was a child and has been a volunteer coach for youth activities and sports for seven years.
One priority he intends to focus on is steam at HPU.
“It’s the huge one (issue) in the town,” said Schweiberger. “And if we don’t figure out what we’re going to do with that money, as far as how we can reimburse the citizens and make the transition as easy as possible for them to do it, the value of the houses are going down, the taxes are down, so we’re all going to be affected by that.”
Schweiberger also intends to bring more activities to town for youth. One idea offered up is paving the Greenhaven Elementary School outdoor rink to use as a basketball court and/or for field hockey in the summer, while still using it as an ice rink in winter.
There were several areas all three candidates agreed on — none believed taxpayers should pay for healthcare for part-time city councilors, nor would any reduce current city services.
When asked what’s more important — revamping existing homes and businesses or bringing new ones in — everyone concurred that they’re equal and addressing one helps solve the other.
They also agreed the increase in drug and alcohol use needs to be addressed.
Clover suggested combating drug and alcohol use by employing the help of mental health professionals and working with D.A.R.E. officers.
Schweiberger believed education was key and that youth need activities and healthy ways to spend their time to help avoid drugs.
Leaning on his experience working with the Hibbing Chemical Health Advisory Committee, Karahalios shared there used to a student al-anon program in the high school and that they need to bring programs like that back and expand resources for those with addictions.
As for downtown, Schweiberger believes it’s looking better and expressed a longing to see more activities and shopping options to encourage people to spend time and money there. Clover was in agreement that it needs more business, but opined that it’s headed in the right direction.
Karahalios would like to see improved parking and for the city to work with the owners of the former ACE Hardware building to remove it and install a green space and community garden.
But they didn’t agree when it came to solving the workers shortage problem. While Clover insisted they need to work with the college to provide appropriate training, Schweiberger said it was a combination of jobs requiring more education than in the past plus workers facing daycare challenges.
Karahalios, however, disagreed with the assertion that education was a factor. His stance was there aren’t enough sustainable jobs to provide a living wage for workers to live here.
When questioned about the success of the Hibbing Economic Development Authority (HEDA), Karahalios said HEDA has done well for the city, citing $2.5 million went to businesses over the past eight years, and that it needs to “keep on keeping on.”
Clover felt more promotion was needed to draw people to town, while Schweiberger stated it’s important to actively seek out businesses and find ways to draw them into town while providing means for a comfortable transition.
Watch the entirety of this forum along with the Hibbing City Councilor at-large (four-year term) forum and Hibbing City Councilor Ward 4 forum on Hibbing Public Access Television’s website at hpat.org, or look for replays on HPAT Channel 7.