Candidates set for county board special election

Frethem, Jessup cruise through primary

Mike Munzenrider
executive editor

The results are in for the Ramsey County Board of Commissioners District 1 primary and candidates Nicole Frethem and Randy Jessup will be on the special election ballot this fall.

The Aug. 13 vote sought to winnow the field of nine candidates to two. Jessup, a former Republican member of the Minnesota House, and Frethem, who carried the DFL endorsement, came out on top by huge margins, the latter being the top vote-getter with 41% of the vote.

Jessup won 34% of the vote. Third-place finisher Marty Long won 9% of the vote, or 398 votes.

The special election will determine who will serve out the remainder of former commissioner Blake Huffman’s term, which runs through 2020. 

Huffman resigned his seat effective June 1 following the results of a county conflict of interest investigation looking into real estate dealings carried out by his former housing nonprofit.

District 1 includes Arden Hills, Gem Lake, Mounds View, North Oaks, Shoreview, Vadnais Heights and White Bear Township, along with small sections of Blaine and Spring Lake Park.

The special election is Nov. 5. Early voting begins Oct. 29. Find more information about registering and where to vote at


Speaking the day after the primary, Frethem credited the early success of her first run for office to getting her name out, speaking to voters, and her volunteers.

The 36-year-old Shoreview resident is a supervisor in the childcare services division of the Minnesota Department of Human Services. 

She said she’s passionate about human services and that joining the county board would be an opportunity to improve service delivery to county residents.

“You not only get to make that policy, but you get to have a role in that ongoing management and how it’s playing out,” Frethem said.

One of the key issues in the District 1 race is the impasse over the Rice Creek Commons development in Arden Hills, planned for 427 acres of county-owned land at the former site of the Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant.

Though Arden Hills and Ramsey County for the past half decade have worked together under a joint powers agreement on the development, work stalled in late 2018 as the county sought more residential density and affordable housing at the development. Arden Hills pressed for lower density as laid out in a previously agreed upon plan and the county is currently suing the city to dissolve the joint powers agreement.

Frethem was clear on where she stands on Rice Creek Commons.

“I do think there needs to be more density there, and I do think there needs to be affordable housing there,” she said, pointing out that stable housing is bedrock for successful individuals and families.

A shortage of affordable housing is a metro-wide issue that can force people into housing instability, something that Frethem said happens in District 1. “I think it’s a misconception that it’s not happening here in the northern suburbs.”

While she falls on the county’s side when it comes to density and affordability at the Rice Creek Commons, Frethem said she also sees a need to mend fences between the city and county to keep the development on track.

“I think we can disagree without disliking,” she said, adding that decisions made in the near future about the development will affect generations to come.

“I think for me, coming in as the youngest person involved in these discussions, this is going to be my community for a long time,” she said. “It’s really important that it’s done in a way that’s going to be lasting.”

Frethem also said she would press for improved transit in the north suburbs, including east-west routes, along with improved pedestrian facilities. Each would help combat climate change and support the area’s aging residents.

“We’re seeing a big shift and our population is becoming older,” she said, “and as they age I want them to be able to stay connected to their communities.”

High water in lakes throughout District 1 was also an issue in the primary. Frethem said she’d approach the issue holistically, looking to deal with it in the near term while perhaps putting together a county management plan to head off future flooding.


Speaking the morning after the primary, Jessup talked about attending the Aug. 12 Shoreview City Council workshop meeting, where residents and council members discussed lake levels.

He said a common point made by the 30-or-so residents and city officials at the meeting was a lack of attention from the regional government when it comes to lake flooding. 

“’We’re not getting any engagement from the county,’” Jessup said, echoing those in attendance.

From water levels to the Rice Creek Commons development, the 58-year-old Shoreview resident said he’d be a strong voice on the county board for the communities that make up District 1, “to really go to bat for cities and local residents.”

Jessup was District 42A representative from 2017 to 2018, owns five UPS Store locations and has served in leadership positions at his church. He said such experience helped propel his primary win and that it was humbling to have residents give him their trust.

“Hopefully I’ve had a consistent track record of responsibilities, where people in the past have put their trust in me and I’ve fulfilled that trust,” he said.

On Rice Creek Commons, Jessup said he falls with Arden Hills.

“I’ve clearly taken the side of the city in the argument,” he said, adding it’s unacceptable for one government entity to sue another, saying it’s not in the best interest of residents, taxpayers or voters.

Jessup said he’d work to shake up the way the county board does its business. One way to do that, he said, would be to switch its meeting times from Tuesday mornings to nights, making them more accessible to residents. 

Another would be by pushing for more discussion between commissioners about board decisions. For example, Jessup said, the board recently heard the county manager’s proposed budget, which includes a cumulative two-year property tax levy increase of 10%, with commissioners not questioning the budget.

“I don’t think that’s how it should work,” he said.

Referencing Huffman’s resignation, Jessup, an Eagle Scout, said his track record in business and the Legislature shows that he’d serve with integrity. Leaning on that legislative record, which he said includes plenty of bipartisan work, he said he’d meet his goals on the board by working with his colleagues.

“I want to have a collaborative relationship with the other commissioners,” he said. “I don’t want to come on and be the ‘no’ person.”


Huffman’s resignation
Huffman, a former longtime Shoreview City Council member and a retired vice president with Wells Fargo, was elected to the county board in 2012 and again, running without a challenger, in 2016. He briefly entered the 2018 gubernatorial race as a Republican.

In May he tendered his resignation from the Ramsey County Board after the results of the county investigation of his nonprofit organization’s use of government grant money.

The organization, Journey Home, used a federal grant administered by the county to purchase a home that it later sold to Huffman’s son, Zach. That’s according to a May 7 letter from Deputy County Manager Johanna Berg to officials in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The letter reports that Huffman’s son Alex also acted as realtor for the 2018 sale of the property to Zach. 

Founded in 2008 and dissolved in March of this year amidst financial troubles, Journey Home’s mission was to provide single-family homes for veterans and at-risk community members. 

Banks continue to go after the organization for missed mortgage payments and cities have begun to take action on Journey Home properties across the north metro that have been left only partially constructed or unmaintained in recent months.

Huffman has not returned multiple requests for comment about his resignation or the fallout created by his former nonprofit.


– Mike Munzenrider can be reached at or 651-748-7813. 

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