ST. CLOUD (WJON News) -- Longtime Stearns County Commissioner Jeff Mergen is not running for reelection, meaning there will be a new person representing District 3 next year.

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Barry Belknap and Jeff Bertram are running for the seat that covers a good portion of southern Stearns County.

Belknap is an agriculture and commercial banker in Kimball. He also is a former U.S. diplomat who has worked in Germany and Guyana. It's those experiences that lead Belknap to believe he's the right man for the job...

I feel like I have the ability to relate to and understand people in all aspects of the county. I consider myself something of a bridge builder. By having those abilities to relate to people and kind of understand the needs and different perspectives, I think it's easier for me to understand where people are coming from and maybe help others around me interpret that and understand it as well.

Belknap says he is running for county commissioner to serve the community and residents of the 3rd district...

To me, I really think it is that bridge building. The commercial banker aspect...I'm working with people every day, businesses, farmers, and ordinary citizens. I kind of understand the pulse of what's going on. I'm running in basically a rural district and that's where I work, that's where I live and that's how I live. So, I feel like I've got a pretty good pulse on that and I have a pretty good understanding of the people in it.

Bertram works for West Central Sanitation and sits on the Stearns County Planning Commission. As a self-described conservative, Bertram wants a chance to trim the county's budget...

You know the whole taxation and spending...I mean people talk about taxing, but you can't do anything about lowering taxes if you don't talk about the spending. And, I think it's time we really have a fresh look at what we're spending on, are they priorities, how can we better address that and better serve the public at the same time.

Bertram says he'd work to reconnect the citizens to their county government...

The main thing I really want to do is connect the people back to the county government. There is a huge disconnect between the residents of the county and the residents of the 3rd district and their county government. A lot of people either don't know what the county government does or they're apprehensive. You know, they don't want to come to the county or to a department to ask for some help and that's gotta be changed.

Bertram says his time as a state representative and other civic positions he's held makes him the right choice for District 3.

Election Day is Tuesday, November 8th.


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