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Ramsey County voters will determine next week whether extensive experience trumps new ideas in two contested races for the County Board.

One race pits environmental program supervisor Girard Goder, who is seeking his first elected office, against Janice Rettman, one of the county's longest-serving ­commissioners.

The other features Rafael Ortega, a key driver of the Green Line light-rail transit route and the refurbishing of downtown St. Paul's Union Depot, against frequent candidate Charles Barklind, whose main economic goal is "to take from the rich and give to the poor."

The two races are the only contested elections of the six on the Ramsey County ballot this year. Commissioners Toni Carter and Jim McDonough drew no opponents, and ­neither did County Attorney John Choi or Sheriff Matt Bostrom.

Rettman spent several years on the St. Paul City Council before joining the County Board in 1997. She represents District 3, made up of Falcon Heights and the north-central area of St. Paul.

She said her experience and dedication "listening to ­people" and working behind the scenes warrant her ­re-election.

Immediate issues facing the county, such as what to do about the juvenile corrections facility Boys Totem Town and how to put tax-forfeited and vacant properties back on the tax rolls, require an experienced hand, she said.

Rettman said Ramsey County should be working with Washington and Dakota counties on a replacement for the antiquated Totem Town, rather than signing on to the proposed partnership with Hennepin County that the board is considering.

"It will keep our kids closer to home," she said. "Bigger doesn't always mean better. Hennepin is bigger than us. I don't want our folks to be dwarfed."

Another major issue is the future of the former Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant in Arden Hills, a huge parcel that the county bought and is nearly ready to sell for mixed-use redevelopment. Rettman said that key to any development will be attracting higher paying jobs.

Her work over the years, she said, has often been on ­so-called little things.

"They're not flashy," said Rettman, 66, of the issues she has taken on over the years. "But I have been effective."

Making a difference

Goder, 29, graduated from the University of Minnesota with degrees in geophysics and geology. He now leads an environmental team in Washington County.

He said he decided to run for the Ramsey County Board "to make an impact in the community, to make a difference in the community."

Goder called himself a "natural learner" who will push the board to make data-driven decisions on a variety of issues. He said experience has shown him that staff members are the real experts and the County Board must balance micromanaging staff and deferring too much to them.

"My philosophy is to hire and retain quality staff and to set clear expectations," he said. "And to keep those lines of communication open."

Rettman, who dealt with problem properties as a City Council member, cautioned against concentrating too much poverty in areas with large numbers of such homes and wants the county to do more to ensure economic diversity in development.

Goder said there are more than 1,000 vacant buildings in St. Paul alone. He said he would support projects that clean up and revitalize those properties and attract new businesses and residents.

'Big job to do'

Ortega, 62, represents District 5 — mainly downtown St. Paul, Highland Park, Macalester Groveland and the West Side. He has staked out a leadership role on light-rail transit and other transportation projects during his more than two decades on the County Board, and said he has no plans to slow down now.

"I still have a big job in transit to do," he said of proposed projects that would link St. Paul's West End with Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and the Mall of America — as well as the Gateway Corridor, connecting St. Paul to the east metro area.

Ortega led efforts to renovate and reopen Union Depot, calling continued development of the $243 million project a "work in progress" that nonetheless continues to spur economic development.

Barklind, 70, delivers newspapers and works as a golf caddie at North Oaks Golf Club. He also was once a 7-11 store manager.

He has repeatedly run for the board since 1972, he said, "because I'd like to give back to society."

Like Ortega, he said, he is interested in furthering the potential of light rail. If elected, he promised to donate his ­salary to Catholic Charities.

James Walsh • 651-925-5041