ST. ANSGAR | Newly elected city councilman Ben Walk will be one of the youngest, if not the youngest person to hold a council position in the city of St. Ansgar, when he takes office on Jan. 1, 2018. Elected to a four-year term, this was Walk’s first time running for public office.
Walk, who turns 25 on Dec. 1, moved to St. Ansgar from Grafton, when he was 10 years old. He’s lived in the city ever since, aside from some brief time while in college. A business administration major, Walk works at Hormel in Austin, Minnesota as an operations supervisor, overseeing a dozen people. He’s held that position for the past two years. Walk is a volunteer EMT in St. Ansgar.
Walk has been interested in politics for a long time, having helped on campaigns since he was 14 years old.
“It’s where I learned how to door knock,” said Walk. During his campaign for council, Walk introduced himself and discussed concerns with citizens, by simply door knocking.
“The need for new, fresh ideas, is what encouraged me to run,” Walk said. “A lot of people in the community are upset about how things are being run. There are a lot of infrastructure issues. My background is that I have a pattern of problem solving and am very results oriented.
“I believe in using common sense.”
One of the issues he plans to focus on once he is sworn in, is to foster an atmosphere of open communication between the council and the community, making certain people know what is going on.
“The people I spoke with wanted a solid plan on how to fix the infrastructure issues,” Walk said. “There hasn’t been a systematic approach. Things have been handled rather randomly, at times, in regards to what areas were addressed.
“A lot of folks want to see an actual plan and have their voices be heard. They feel that they are not being represented and were looking for change.”
Walk said the desire for change was clearly demonstrated in the results of the election, where none of the incumbents were re-elected.
“Issues with the city streets, and the ditch digging that caused a gas leak and evacuations within the community, are among several issues that are of concern within the community, which I hope to address,” he said.
“It comes down to the fact the town has a lot underground already and is running out of room underground,” Walk said. “There is a group in town that wants curb and gutter, and there is a group that does not. No one has gotten an established idea of cost, no one knows if we can afford it, there are lots of hypotheticals and even a belief that getting it done would bankrupt the town.”
Walk said he believes there needs to be a plan in place for the city streets, in regards to the number of gravel roads within the town and the free-thaw process that is currently in use.
“We get set in a way of doing something and need to start looking at other ways that might be better to go about it,” Walk said. “Another issues is the ordinance enforcement in town hasn’t been consistent.
“In some areas, there are ordinances that say you can’t plant a tree or rip up sidewalks, and yet some people are able to do it and some are not. We just need to have consistent enforcement.”
Walk said another issue that has been discussed, within the community, was the potential for the city of St. Ansgar to switch to more county-based law enforcement, an idea which Walk does not feel would be of the best benefit to the community.
“There would be a financial benefit,” Walk said, “But I think small towns need their own police department. A lot more goes into it than patrolling. What we need here is another part-time officer. I feel we are understaffed, but we don’t have the funds for additional law enforcement."
Currently, Walk is working on starting a come-and-go food shelter, which the shop classes at St. Ansgar High School is building. He was able to get grand funding through Good Samaritan, after reaching out to the St. Ansgar chamber office to help with the grant application process. It will be located on the west side of the nursing home.
“It’s your government,” Walk said. “You can be involved as much or as little as you want. Reach out, it takes two minutes to send an email. Lots of times your representatives are looking for information, but it can be hard to solicit it.
“I’d love to see more involvement and a chance to meet with people one on one to hear their concerns so we can talk about them and even get them on the agenda.”