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Bigham's commissioner role to be filled by appointment

Karla Bigham

Washington County Commissioner Karla Bigham is set to vacate her seat after winning the Senate special election race Feb. 12.

At the Feb. 13 county board meeting, she stepped down effective Feb. 20, the date of the next county board meeting and the first day of the Legislative session.

Bigham represents Washington County District 4, which covers Cottage Grove, St. Paul Park, Newport, Grey Cloud Island Township and Denmark Township. In the Senate she will be covering areas of Washington County and Dakota County.

"I know that I'm going back to the state, but county government's where it's at," Bigham said. "You get so much done, and you can really have such a major impact on people."

Bigham was named board chair at the start of the year. Gary Kriesel — who was named vice chair at the same time — will become the 2018 board chair.

"It's kind of bittersweet for us," Kriesel said. "We're so pleased you got elected. We don't look at it as you're resigning; it's kind of a transfer. You're going to go down there and do a great job representing us, but it's very sad to lose you."

The board asked at the Feb. 20 meeting that anyone wanting fill out Bigham's term send letters of interest to County Administrator Molly O'Rourke by March 7.

The board will then hold a workshop March 13 and conduct interviews. There will be a public hearing March 20 for residents to give input on the applicants, who will be announced next month. O'Rourke said the board will either appoint the new member at that meeting or hold a special election if the board cannot decide.

The board can appoint a new member in Bigham's place because she has less than a year left in her term. She would have been up for re-election in November.

Commissioner Lisa Weik said she's heard from some constituents that they would prefer someone that won't run in the November election, but rather acts as a placeholder. She and the rest of the board will talk to residents between now and the interviews to see which kind of candidate to appoint.

Bigham has long opposed what she refers to as "unfunded mandates," or initiatives passed down from the state without giving counties or cities funding to fulfill them. During the Senate campaign she often said she would work on reducing them from the Legislature.

"We're going to get those unfunded mandates under control," she said at the board meeting. "We're going to make sure that the east metro gets their share of transportation funding. And we're going to work together. I hope you kind of almost consider me just an extension of the county board up there, because ... we're going to work together on making sure that our residents get the services, and that the state pays their fair share."