North Branch names four to new Water & Light Commission

After a half-year of the most active process of naming new North Branch Water & Light Commissioners, the North Branch City Council has put a cap on things by naming four new commissioners.

After calling for applicants for the four new seats to make up the commission, which was just expanded from three seats to five by the State Legislature, all six applicants were scheduled to be interviewed by the council during a special meeting held on Tuesday, June 30, after which the council would indicate their choices for appointment.

Following interviews with five of the applicants (Peter Schaps, who was the sitting chair of the Water & Light Commission, withdrew just prior to the meeting), the council chose Nathan Keech, Emil (Mic) Dahlberg, Terry Smith and Tom Hals to be appointed to the commission. 

“I appreciate we had a very strong slate of candidates,” Council Member Brian Voss said prior to the vote. “This has been a very, very good run.”

“I want to thank the council for letting all the candidates to speak,” said Mayor Jim Swenson. “And to let our citizens hear it. We made the decision, but they could see that we went through the process instead of just putting somebody on.”

The final motion was to approve appointing the four candidates en masse, which was approved unanimously.

Tom Hals was the lone applicant to receive votes from all five council members. A 1967 graduate of North Branch Area High School, Hals has 34 years experience owning and operating a sewer and water contracting firm. He also listed four years with a consulting engineering firm, plus seven years estimating for a sewer and water contractor. The council appointed Hals to a term expiring December, 2021.

Nathan Keech and Terry Smith each received four votes, with only Council Member Kathy Blomquist, who chose to only vote for two of the applicants, not voting for the two. Keech is the lone non-user to apply. He is owner of Keech Media and has worked closely with the city before, with the most recent occasion being the redesign of the city’s logo. His term will expire December, 2022.

Smith is the former mayor of Forest Lake, serving from 1998-2006. He worked for Dayton’s/Marshall Fields/Macys in furniture service and repair for 37 years. His term will expire December, 2021.

 Emil (Mic) Dahlberg received three votes, with Council Members Blomquist, Joel McPherson and Brian Voss voting for him. Dahlberg is a retired civil engineer. He is the former County Engineer/Public Works Director for Chisago County. He also worked for the cities of Hermantown and Duluth, plus St. Louis County and the State. His term will expire December, 2022.

The lone applicant to not be selected was James Baxter. Baxter, who listed his occupation as being a general contractor and being on the North Branch Chamber of Commerce, received votes from Council Member Kelly Neider and Mayor Jim Swenson.

Current commissioner Chris Bibeau will fill the fifth seat until his term expires in December, 2020. He is able to reapply for another term at that time.

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