NEW ULM - New Ulm Mayor Joel Albrecht believes competition is good - good for businesses, and good for politicians.
Without competition, you don't know where you are in a race, Albrecht said in an interview Friday. You may not run as fast as you should with no one pushing you, or you may run faster than you need to.
"Going back years ago, when we had three bowling centers in town, we'd say, 'Gosh, the competition is tough. If a guy could own them all, if you owned everything, life would really be good.' Well, there was a time when we owned them all and it was no better than when you had all the competition in the world. In fact it's worse because you don't have any mile markers in the race. Your not staying ahead of the competition, you don't know what the competition is."
That's why he invited his opponent in the election, Bob Beussmann, to enter the race. Beussmann had called the mayor earlier in the year to see if he was planning on running.
"I told him I hadn't made up my mind on that, and that I would call him when I did," Albrecht recalls. When the time came, he called Beussmann and had a talk with Beussmann and his wife.
"We had a long visit about the job and what we both really wanted for hte community, and at the end I said, 'I wish you would run, because I think the people of New Ulm deserve a choice."
Name: Joel Albrecht
Occupation: Retired bowling proprietor
Thoughts about mayor's job: "The greatest single honor ever afforded me."
Albrecht is optimistic about the shape New Ulm's city government is in, especially as the state struggles with its finances and threatens to cut Local Government Aid yet again.
"Back when this all started in 2003, the problems with the LGA, so many councils decided they were going to dip into their reserves, that this was a one-time thing. They depleted their reserves to the point where the state said that's too low, that you need to have a certain percentage of your budget in reserve. Some of them had to borrow money while they waited for the next payment from the county or the state, or they've had big jumps in the tax rates."
Albrecht said New Ulm decided early on that it would protect its reserve, that it would cut spending and make the budget work. New Ulm's reserves are near the top of the range the state recommends, he said.
"So when a grant becomes available to do a project we think should be done, we have the money available for the matching portion of the grant," Albrecht said.
That is what the city is doing with the Legacy Fund grants for the trail connecting Riverside Park and Minnecon Park in New Ulm.
"We've been applying for grants all along," said Albrecht. "In three years, there may be so many other grant requests that we won't get any."
Albrecht puts a lot of time into being mayor, not just with office hours at city hall and attending meetings. He is active in a variety of regional and statewide organizations, representing the city on such issues as Highway 14 expansion, or lobbying the state with the Coalition for Greater Minnesota Cities.
The contacts he has made over the years are invaluable, he said.
"When you are struggling with an issue, it's good to call around and ask other cities what they have done with the same issues," said Albrecht. "When you know someone personally, you're more likely to get the truth, and the real background about the issue."
Albrecht said he talked with city council members about whether he should run again this year, and they all encouraged him, saying the council needs his experience.
Albrecht said being mayor of New Ulm "is the greatest honor that has ever been afforded to me," and hopes voters will allow him to stay in the job on Tuesday.